The peanut (Arachis hypogaea) is one of the most popular legumes in the world due to its nutritional value, taste, and affordability. Its beneficial effects on heart health have also attracted much attention from both consumers and scientists. Its plant-based protein, unsaturated fat, and fiber (complex carbohydrates), which are the main components that make up peanuts, have been proven to be healthy nutrients for the human body.
Studies have found that eating peanuts not only reduces the risk of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases but is also beneficial for cognitive function enhancement and stress response. However, some traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioners also point out that although peanuts can offer many benefits, five types of people should avoid eating peanuts.
Peanuts Can Reduce Risk of Cardiovascular and Cerebrovascular Diseases
In a research report published in September 2021 in the American Stroke Association journal Stroke, the research team surveyed 74,793 participants aged 45–74 for up to 14.8 years (median follow-up) in their investigation.
The results of the study showed that compared with those who did not eat peanuts, those who ate an average of 4–5 peanuts a day had a 16 percent lower risk of stroke overall, a 20 percent lower risk of ischemic stroke, and a 13 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease. However, no significant correlation was found between eating peanuts and the risk of hemorrhagic stroke or ischemic heart disease.
Nutrients derived from nuts may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) by improving one’s lipid/lipoprotein profile, enhancing blood sugar control, suppressing inflammation, and lowering blood pressure levels, the study reported. Peanuts are rich in unsaturated fatty acids, especially monounsaturated fatty acids, and polyunsaturated fatty acids (linoleic acid), which can improve blood lipid levels, and lower blood pressure levels, thereby helping to reduce the risk of CVD.
Another study published in January 2021 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a universally acclaimed journal in the field of nutrition, found that a daily intake of peanuts to replace some refined grains can reduce the risk of cardiometabolic disease in high-risk populations without gaining body weight.
The researchers conducted a 12-week randomized controlled trial of 224 participants with or at risk of metabolic syndrome (cardiometabolic abnormalities including abdominal obesity, hyperglycemia, dyslipidemia, and hypertension). The participants all had peanuts added to their diet as a snack to replace white rice.
The results showed that substituting peanuts for refined grains did not significantly change blood sugar or blood lipid parameters. But it reduced the participants’ overall risk of metabolic syndrome without increasing their weight.
Therefore, it is healthy to replace refined grains of similar energy content with some peanuts in the daily diet.
Peanuts Have Beneficial Effects on Cognitive Function and Stress Response
A study published in Clinical Nutrition in September 2021 showed that consumption of peanuts and peanut butter has beneficial effects on cognitive function and stress response in a healthy young population (18–33 years).
The researchers conducted a 6-month intervention research with 63 participants (19 men and 44 women). The results found that compared with the beginning of the study, participants who ate peanuts and peanut butter had significantly higher real-time memory scores and improved memory. In addition, participants who ate peanuts felt less anxious and depressed than those who did not eat peanuts or peanut butter.
According to the research analysis, the benefits of eating peanuts and peanut butter on cognitive function and stress response may be related to the intake of polyphenolic compounds and elevated levels of short-chain fatty acids.
Polyphenolic compounds may enhance the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factors through the interaction with gut microbiota, thereby indirectly affecting cognition and mood. Short-chain fatty acids, the main metabolites produced by gut microbiota, have immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory properties that exert protective effects against depression and neurodegenerative diseases.
Peanuts have health benefits when eaten in moderation and may increase memory function and stress responses in healthy young adults, as the research highlights. However, as the relevant biological mechanism has not been fully clarified, more clinical trials need to be set up to increase the number of participants and conduct longer follow-up periods to completely clarify the beneficial effects of eating peanuts on cognitive function.
Caveat: 5 Types of People Not Suited for Eating Peanuts
Although peanuts are good for our health, moderation in consumption is key. So, what constitutes a healthy daily amount?
He Wenxing, a TCM physician, said in his Youtube video that moderate consumption of nuts as a daily diet is immensely beneficial to human health. It is recommended to consume an average of 70 grams (2.5 ounces) a week, which is equivalent to about 10 grams (0.4 ounces) a day.
When eating peanuts, it is best to soak or boil them with vinegar and add as little oil or salt as possible. Peanuts cooked with too much salt or oil are not considered healthy.
He reminded us that peanuts can be contaminated with aflatoxin. Aflatoxins, produced by the fungal species Aspergillus flavus, are highly toxic and carcinogenic secondary metabolites that are of high concern in food safety. Therefore, once peanuts become moldy or turn black, or taste bitter, they should be discarded.
He also emphasized that the following five groups of people are not suited for eating peanuts.
- People allergic to peanuts: Allergic reactions to peanuts can cause symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, urticaria, angioedema (swelling of lips, face, throat, and skin), and in severe cases, asthma, and even anaphylactic shock.
- People who have recently undergone a cholecystectomy: Peanuts contain an abundance of fat, and bile plays a very important role in the digestion and absorption of fat. After a cholecystectomy, eating peanuts will bring more burden to the digestive system.
- People with hyperuricemia: Peanuts contain a large amount of purine (96.3 mg per 100 grams), which will produce uric acid after metabolism in the body and induce gout attacks.
- People with chronic kidney disease: The protein content in peanuts is high, and the metabolism and reabsorption of protein have much to do with the kidneys. For people with kidney disease, especially those with impaired glomerular filtration function, can induce proteinuria and further aggravate the condition by eating peanuts.
- People with hyperviscosity: Because the red sheath on the outside of peanuts has the effect of stopping bleeding and coagulation, it is best to remove that sheath before eating.
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