ALBANY, Ga. – Peanuts, a dietary outcast in the fat-phobic ‘90s, have made a comeback, with consumption at its highest level in nearly two decades and more doctors recommending nuts as part of a heart-healthy diet.
When peanut butter and snack peanuts plummeted as Americans switched to low-fat diets, the peanut industry responded with studies showing the healthful benefits of peanuts.
“Mothers gave us peanuts and peanut butter. Now we’ve figured out that mom was right. But it took a lot of researchers and universities to figure that out,” said Don Koehler, director of Georgia’s Peanut Commission.
Total consumption of peanuts jumped last year to nearly 1.7 billion pounds compared with 1.5 billion pounds the year before.
The amount of snack peanuts eaten climbed to 415 million pounds in the 2003-2004 crop year, the highest since the mid-1990s. And peanut-butter consumption soared to 900 million pounds from a low of about 700 million pounds in the ‘90s.
The federal government’s latest dietary guidelines say peanuts, which contain unsaturated fats, can be eaten in moderation.
“Now we know that the type of fat found in peanuts is actually good for us,” said Lona Sandon of the American Dietetic Association. “It doesn’t clog our arteries like saturated fat. It helps keep the arteries clean.”
That’s if you don’t overdo it, but that’s the part that trips up peanut lovers. There are 14 grams of fat in one serving of peanuts, which is 1 ounce. A handful can have up to 200 calories.
When peanuts were out of favor in the last decade, American consumers seemed to overlook the list of nutrients – vitamin E, niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B-6 and minerals such as copper, phosphorus, potassium, zinc and magnesium. They also are a good source of fiber and protein.
Peanuts also have a small amount of resveratrol, an anti-oxidant in red wine linked to the “French paradox” – a low incidence of heart disease among the French despite their love of cheese and other high-fat foods.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized a qualified health claim for peanuts and some tree nuts. Producers can say people may reduce the risk of heart disease by eating 1 1/2 ounces daily.