- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 3, 2005

ALBANY, Ga. — Peanuts, a dietary outcast during the fat-phobic 1990s, have made a comeback, with consumption soaring to 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 health 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, executive 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 in 2003.

The amount of snack peanuts eaten climbed to 415 million pounds in the 2003-04 crop year, the highest since the mid-1990s. Peanut butter consumption soared to 900 million pounds, from a low of about 700 million in the 1990s.

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 with the American Dietetic Association. “It doesn’t clog our arteries like saturated fat. It helps keep the arteries clean.”

But that is only if you don’t overdo it, and that is the part that often trips up peanut lovers. Fourteen grams of fat are in one serving of peanuts, which is 1 ounce. A handful can have up to 200 calories.

“The problem is that the portions need to be low so you don’t overconsume the calories — that’s where the public has a disconnect,” said Madelyn Fernstrom, director of the Weight Management Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “It’s a well-spent 200 calories if you can limit it to that. The problem is volume. It’s very hard to have a small serving of peanuts, meaning a small handful.”

When peanuts were out of favor in the past decade, American consumers seemed to overlook the respectable list of nutrients — vitamin E, niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6 and minerals such as copper, phosphorous, potassium, zinc and magnesium. They also are a good source of fiber and protein.

Peanuts also have a small amount of resveratrol, the antioxidant in red wine that has been linked to the “French paradox” — a low incidence of heart disease among the French, despite their love of cheese and other high-fat foods.

Research at several universities suggests peanuts may help prevent heart disease, that they can lower bad cholesterol and that they can help with weight loss, possibly by making people feel satisfied so they eat less overall.

One Harvard study showed an association between peanut butter consumption and a reduced risk of diabetes.

Even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized a qualified health claim for peanuts and some tree nuts.

Producers can say they may reduce their risk of heart disease by eating 1 ounces daily.

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