Diets and Guidelines
With new diets coming out every other day, it can be confusing to know the right healthy choices to make. The good news is that many diets are healthy and many can work. New research shows that healthy eating patterns with different percentages of fat, protein, and carbohydrates can all promote weight loss when the right amounts of calories are consumed. Research also shows that peanuts and peanut butter can be a part of all these diets.
In a review of more than 600 studies assessing how dietary factors are associated with coronary heart disease, certain diets and individual foods notably popped out as key players in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease. Of these, the Mediterranean diet, the “prudent” diet, and a high-quality diet were considered beneficial.
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes a higher intake of vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, whole grains, cheese or yogurt, fish, and monounsaturated fat relative to saturated fat. The “prudent” diet is characterized by a high intake of vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, and fish and other seafood. A high-quality diet provides more nutrient density. Peanuts, known to the culinary world as a nut but classified as a legume because of the way they grow, fit in all of these diets.
In addition, both monounsaturated fat, high levels of which are in peanuts, and nuts themselves, also showed a strong association with a lower risk of heart disease. Visit the links below to learn more about how to make healthier dietary choices including peanuts. Also check out the eating recommendations to learn how peanuts can be a healthy part of your lifestyle.
Learn more about the role peanuts play in healthy eating patterns in a high-quality, printable format.
Healthy Lifestyles & Weight Loss
There are many ways to lead a healthy lifestyle and lose weight, but research shows many diets have peanuts in common!
Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) is an eating plan that emphasizes whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts and peanuts, and grains.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a global public health concern. It is often referred to as the “silent killer” because its symptoms are not always evident. In America, hypertension affects one out of every four people, or 25% of the population. In the United Kingdom, the rate of hypertension is 23%.
In a clinical study supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, scientists found for the first time that elevated blood pressure can be reduced with an eating plan low in saturated fat, total fat and cholesterol, rich in fruits, vegetables, grains, peanuts and nuts, and plentiful in magnesium, potassium, and calcium, as well as protein and fiber.
A significant finding in another study was the short amount of time it took to see results. Subjects who followed the DASH diet for just two weeks saw their blood pressures drop. Furthermore, the reduction in blood pressure stayed for as long as they stayed with the DASH diet.
In 2012, the DASH diet was ranked “Best Overall Diet” by U.S. News “for its nutritional completeness, safety, ability to prevent or control diabetes, and role in supporting heart health.” The DASH diet also topped the list for the “Best Diabetes Diet” and the “Best Diet for Eating Healthy.”
The OmniHeart Diet was developed to take the DASH Diet a step further by replacing some of its carbohydrates with unsaturated fat or protein. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2005 found that the high-protein diet and the high-unsaturated fat diet both delivered even greater health benefits than the high-carbohydrate DASH-like diet did; these diets improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels even more. Peanuts are the perfect food to include in these diets, since they are high in both protein and unsaturated fats!
A “Mediterranean-style” diet includes an abundance of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, and whole grains; some dairy products, fish and poultry; and very small amounts of meats. The main source of fat, which constitutes 35-40% of calories, is monounsaturated fat from olive oil and nuts and omega-3 fat from fish.
The MIND diet (or Mediterranean-DASH diet Intervention for Neurological Delay) combines components from two existing diets that are recommended for overall health: the Mediterranean and DASH diets. The MIND approach incorporates foods from each that have been shown to be particularly beneficial for the brain. And the best part? Peanuts and peanut butter are a part of all three! With a wealth of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, unsaturated fats and polyphenols, peanuts aren’t just brain food—they’re brain superfood!
So it’s no surprise that when the MIND diet was created to bring together the most brain-boosting foods, peanuts and peanut butter were on the list. Many studies have been conducted that prove the benefits of the MIND Diet.
In 2015, 460 MIND diet participants were followed over the course of 4.7 years. Researchers observed that a higher adherence to the MIND diet “substantially slows cognitive decline with age.”1 A study on the relationship between MIND diet adherence and Alzheimer’s Disease examined a total of 923 participants, ages 59-98, for an avg. of 4.5 years. They found high adherence reduced risk of Alzheimer’s by 53%, and a significant reduction with even mild adherence.2 In 2018, researchers examined how following the MIND diet could impact rates of Parkinson’s disease and its progression. In that study, they found that closely following the MIND diet was associated with a decreased risk of Parkinson’s Disease, as well as a slower rate of progression.7
Peanut Butter Diet
A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that replacing saturated fat with good monounsaturated fat (MUFA) instead of carbohydrate lowers levels of total and LDL cholesterol as effectively as a low-fat diet, with the additional benefits of lowering triglyceride levels and maintaining high HDL levels in the blood (Kris-Etherton, PM et al). High-monounsaturated fatty acid diets lower both plasma cholesterol and triacylglycerol concentrations (AJCN 1999; 70:1009-15.v). This study is important because it shows that other food sources rich in MUFAs, specifically peanuts, peanut butter and peanut oil, can be used in designing heart-healthy, higher MUFA diets. By following higher MUFA diets, subjects saw heart-healthy results in just four weeks. During the course of this controlled study, subjects made small changes in their diets. They used peanut butter instead of butter on bagels, toast, and waffles, and snacked on peanuts instead of chips, crisps or pretzels.
With diabetic diets, it is important that carbohydrates, fat and protein are balanced to ensure blood sugar levels stay as stable as possible. On a 100-point scale, peanuts have a low glycemic index (GI) of 14 and a glycemic load (GL) of 1. Glycemic load factors in the amount of carbohydrate in a standard serving and research shows that foods with a low GI and GL may help keep blood sugar and insulin levels in optimal ranges.
Plant-based (Vegetarian) Eating
There are many health benefits associated with following a vegetarian diet. Compared to non-vegetarians, studies show vegetarians have lower mortality rates and a reduced risk of developing coronary heart disease, hypertension that can lead to stroke, non-insulin dependent diabetes, obesity, and some cancers. There is no single vegetarian cuisine or eating pattern. The bulk of calories for vegetarian diets usually comes from fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds. Eggs and dairy products may or may not be included. Because of their unique composition, peanuts can provide a number of nutritional benefits for vegetarian diets, including valuable plant protein, fiber, and vitamins and minerals.
US Dietary Guidelines, 2005
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is a panel of scientific experts that reviews the research and provides an advisory report to government agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS). The agencies in turn use the report to draft the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, a policy document that allows government agencies to have a uniform voice on nutrition recommendations; these guidelines are the cornerstone for policy, education, and food assistance. The Dietary Guidelines are the authoritative advice for people two years and older about how good dietary habits can promote health and reduce the risks of major chronic diseases. They are updated every 5 years.
Throughout the process of updating these guidelines, there has been a growing focus on plant-based diet patterns and consuming more nuts, seeds, and oils among a balanced diet. Consuming unsalted peanuts and tree nuts, specifically walnuts, almonds, and pistachios, has a favorable impact on cardiovascular disease risk factors, particularly serum lipid levels. Peanuts, because they are the most popular nut eaten in the United States, provide an important source of plant protein and other nutrients.
2005 Recommendations on Fats
- Consume less than 10% of calories from saturated fatty acids and less than 300 milligrams per day of cholesterol; keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible.
- Keep total fat intake between 20 to 35% of calories, with most fats coming from sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, such as fish, nuts, and vegetable oils.
- When selecting and preparing meat, poultry, dry beans, and milk or milk products, make choices that are lean, low-fat, or fat-free.
- Limit intake of fats and oils high in saturated and/or trans fatty acids, and choose products low in such fats and oils.
For more information on the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: health.gov/dietaryguidelines/
For more information on the development of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines: dietaryguidelines.gov
US Dietary Guidelines, 2010
New Dietary Guidelines Encourage Peanuts Daily!
For the first time, a Key Recommendation in the new 2010 Dietary Guidelines says to consider protein foods with lower fat contents—like peanuts! They emphasize eating more plant-based proteins, such as peanuts, because they contain healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and other important nutrients.
The new Guidelines recommend replacing “protein foods that are higher in solid fats with choices that are lower in solid fats and calories and /or are sources of oils.” The report explains, “the fats in meat, poultry, and eggs are considered solid fats, while the fats in seafood, nuts, and seeds are considered oils.” Not only do peanuts and peanut butter contain healthy oils, but they also contain the most protein of any other nut: a whopping 7 to 8 grams of protein per one-ounce serving. No wonder peanuts account for 67% of the nuts eaten in the U.S. Consumer data highlights taste, health benefits, convenience, and affordability as the reason for their popularity.
Numerous studies show that peanuts help manage weight because of their high satiety value, meaning they keep you full, and consumers don’t tire of them. Multiple studies found that participants who ate peanuts and peanut butter had a lower Body Mass Index (BMI) and more nutritious diets. Peanuts and peanut butter also contain hunger-fighting dietary fiber. The Guidelines highlight fiber as one of the main nutrients lacking in the typical American diet. Consuming more plant-based protein sources, such as peanuts and peanut butter, can help you stay fuller longer and lose weight.
American Heart Association
The American Heart Association’s Nutrition Committee strongly advises these fat guidelines for healthy Americans over age 2:
- Limit total fat intake to less than 25–35% of your total calories each day.
- Limit saturated fat intake to less than 7% of total daily calories.
- Limit trans fat intake to less than 1% of total daily calories.
- The remaining fat should come from sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as nuts, seeds, fish and vegetable oils.
- Limit cholesterol intake to less than 300 milligrams per day, for most people. If you have coronary heart disease or your LDL cholesterol level is 100 mg/dL or greater, limit your cholesterol intake to less than 200 milligrams a day.
The AHA also recommends:
- Burn off at least as many calories as you take in. Prioritize regular physical activity, at least 30 minutes per day.
- Eat a variety of nutritious foods from all the food groups.
- Eat less nutrient-poor foods.
- Choose lean meats and poultry without skin and prepare them without added saturated and trans fat.
- Select fat-free, 1% fat, and low-fat dairy products.
- Cut back on foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans fat in your diet.
- Cut back on foods high in dietary cholesterol. Aim to eat less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol each day.
- Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars.
- Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt. Aim to eat less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day.
- If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. That means one drink per day if you’re a woman and two drinks per day if you’re a man.
- Follow the American Heart Association recommendations when you eat out, and keep an eye on your portion sizes.