Who would have thought that one of America’s favorite comfort foods could help manage weight? In the right portions, peanuts, peanut butter, and peanut oil can all be successfully included in weight loss diets, the data shows.
Since peanuts are a high-fat food, experts have avoided recommending including them in diets for weight loss. But the days of blindly shunning high-fat products are over. In 2005, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines increased their fat recommendation up to 35% and gave a lower limit of 20%. Scientists are learning more about the role of fat in diets, and how not all fats are created equal.
Studies clearly show that diets with higher fat can be more fulfilling to some and easier to follow. The “Pounds Lost Study” published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2009 showed that peanuts and peanut butter could fit into low-fat, moderate-fat, and high-fat diets (Sacks, 2009). All of the diet plans promoted weight loss, proving you don’t need to go low fat to lose weight.
In another study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, when over 300 overweight people in Israel were put on a low-fat diet, a Mediterranean diet, or a low-carbohydrate diet, they all lost weight (Shai, 2008). But more weight was lost on the Mediterranean and low-carbohydrate diets, which were high in healthy unsaturated fats, like those found in peanuts.
Considerable evidence shows that incorporating peanuts and peanut butter into a diet does not lead to weight gain or higher body weight (Mattes, 2008). Click the links below to learn how peanuts can be included in a healthy diet without promoting weight gain.
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Weight Loss and Maintenance
Losing weight by following a healthy diet doesn’t mean giving up the foods you love! Consuming a small serving of peanuts or peanut butter daily has been proven to positively impact the success of weight loss diets.
Harvard researchers have shown that a moderate-fat weight loss diet incorporating peanuts, peanut butter, and peanut oil as healthy options in place of bad fats was easier to stick with compared to a traditionally recommended low-fat diet (McManus, 2001). Both groups in the study lost weight, but the moderate-fat group kept more weight off 18 months later, whereas the low-fat group did not.
These benefits extend to all ages too. An ongoing childhood weight loss study carried out in schools with high-risk children is replacing unhealthy snacks with peanuts every day(Johnston, 2007). So far, this study has found similar results. Two-year data published in the journal Obesity showed that two-thirds of children fed peanuts in the treatment group lost or kept weight off, while two-thirds of the control group gained weight (Johnston, 2009).
In looking at a population of almost 9,000 people in Spain, researchers found that those who ate peanuts were less likely to gain weight (Bes-Rastrollo, 2007). Those who consumed peanuts at least two times per week were 30% less likely to gain than those who rarely ate them.
Plus, eating peanuts as part of a healthy diet to lose or manage weight can benefit your body in other ways. When peanuts, peanut butter, and peanut oil were part of high monounsaturated fat weight loss diets, compared to low-fat diets, they had more favorable effects on cholesterol. Additionally, a study carried out at Penn State University found that the composition of the diet during weight loss and maintenance had an impact on what was happening inside the body (Kris-Etherton, 1999). During weight maintenance, researchers found that, compared to a moderate-fat diet that included peanuts, peanut butter, and peanut oil, a low-fat diet caused triglyceride levels to increase—to levels higher than before the study began.
Adding peanuts to a low-fat diet helped promote weight loss, too. Researchers compared a low-fat diet to one that added peanuts as a healthy monounsaturated fat source. The low-fat group eating peanuts reduced their total and bad LDL cholesterol levels, but the low-fat group without peanuts did not (Pelkman, 2004; Ob’Byrne, 1997).
Whatever your method for weight loss, the nutrients in peanuts can help you keep the weight off in the best way for your body and your long-term health.
Beyond their nutritional effects, when eaten in small amounts daily, peanuts and peanut butter can help you feel fuller, longer. They control hunger and reduce your desire to eat, promoting weight loss and maintenance.
Foods high in protein and fiber, such as peanuts and peanut butter, have been shown to help reduce appetite and promote satisfaction after eating them. Peanuts contain about 8 grams of protein per ounce, which is more than any other nut, and comparable to a serving of beans. They also contain about 2.5 grams of fiber per ounce. Fiber absorbs water in the body, making us feel fuller and more satisfied after eating.
Peanuts and peanut butter are a great snack to keep you satisfied longer. Researchers at Purdue University showed that people had improved feelings of fullness and better satisfaction from eating peanuts and peanut butter than other high-carbohydrate snacks, such as rice cakes (Kirkmeyer, 2000).
In addition, research shows that those who eat peanuts naturally compensate for up to three-fourths of calories consumed from the peanuts, because they don’t later add additional calories to their daily diets (Alpher and Mattes, 2002).
One study found that peanut butter and peanuts can help decrease appetite throughout most of the day. In the study, including peanut butter or peanuts with breakfast increased secretion of a hormone called peptide YY, which promotes fullness and satiety. In addition, participants reported a decreased desire to eat for 8 to 12 hours later (Mattes, 2013).
The fact that peanuts help with hunger management is one of the reasons why they were chosen as a healthy snack replacement for a major weight loss program currently being conducted in high-risk children in Houston schools. The Family Lifestyle and Overweight Prevention program provides peanuts to children each day and 2009 marked the start of its sixth successful year. Weight loss data published at six months in the journal Pediatrics and at two years in the journal Obesity show that kids in the treatment group who are eating peanuts daily have lost weight and are keeping it off compared to the control group (Johnston, 2007; 2009).
Whether you’re young or old, thin or heavy, eating peanuts or peanut butter each day can help fend off hunger and satisfy your appetite.
Body Mass Index
The numerous findings showing that peanuts help you manage your weight all fall in line with population studies showing that people who eat peanut and peanut butter tend to have a lower Body Mass Index (BMI) (Sabate, 2007).
- The Adventist Health Studyshowed that those who ate more peanuts and nuts were less obese (Fraser, 1992).
- The Nurses’ Health Studyshowed that women who ate more peanuts and nuts were leaner (Hu, 1998).
- The Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals(USDA 1994-96) showed that children and adults who reported eating peanuts and nuts had lower BMIs.
When researchers at Purdue University conducted the first human study to explain this evidence, they gave participants peanuts as a substitution for other calories in the diet or added them to the diet as additional calories (Alpher, 2002). The researchers discovered that people naturally decreased what they ate at other times of the day when eating peanuts. This may be why there is little or no change in body weight with peanut consumption.
The fact that eating peanuts reduces hunger may contribute to this occurrence. In addition to containing protein and fiber that promote fullness, peanuts have a low glycemic index. This means that your blood sugar may not shoot up and dip down, which can cause an increased appetite.
Research also suggests peanuts may not be fully digested by the body, so some of the peanut may pass through your system without being absorbed.
In combination with these other factors, research shows that peanuts increase energy expenditure, also known as burning fat. One study in which participants ate 3 ounces of peanuts daily for 19 weeks showed an 11% increase in resting energy expenditure (Alpher, 2002). This was confirmed in a second study and was also found to be true among obese individuals.
Although the research is still emerging as to why peanut eaters tend to weigh less and have more control over their weight in general, different mechanisms are probably contributing to this effect. The great thing is, we don’t have to wait to figure it out; we can still enjoy the benefits of eating peanuts, knowing that, regardless of the cause, they’re helping us lose weight and keep it off.
Peanuts and Peanut Butter May Hold the Key to Preventing Obesity
A 2015 USDA-funded study by investigators at Baylor College of Medicine, University of Houston, and Texas Women’s University shows how peanuts and peanut butter may hold the key to preventing obesity.
Study Result Highlights:
- High-risk Mexican-American adolescents who consistently consumed a daily snack of peanuts or peanut butter significantly decreased their Body Mass Index (BMI) over a six-month period compared to adolescents not on the snacking intervention.
- Swapping protein-rich peanuts or peanut butter for high-carbohydrate snacks 3 to 4 times a week resulted in healthier weights and improved overall health in the children studied.
More About the Study:
Children in the United States consume between two and three snacks each day on average, an amount providing more than a quarter of their daily energy needs. Adolescents are susceptible to unhealthy, irregular eating and snacking patterns that contribute to excess weight gain. Hispanic youths in particular are at risk for acquiring health conditions associated with obesity.
In this study, overweight or obese children, primarily of Mexican-American descent, completed a daily 12-week intensive behavioral program of nutrition education, physical activity, and a peanut-snacking intervention. One group of students was provided with peanuts (1 ounce) and peanut butter (3/4-ounce) snacks every day of the 12-week intervention, and continued to be offered and encouraged to consume the peanut snacks daily over a period of six months. The control group of children were not given peanuts and ate less than one ounce of peanuts a week.
At the end of six months, the group receiving the peanut snacking intervention had greater reductions in BMI than the group that did not receive the intervention.
Simple Snacking Swaps with Peanuts
By replacing high-carbohydrate, energy-dense snacks in the children’s backpacks with protein and fiber-packed, nutrient-dense peanuts and peanut butter, the study results support peanuts and peanut butter as “smart snacks” for weight management.