Plant Based Diets

Vegetarian and vegan cuisine has today become one of the most popular and influential culinary trends in the consumer market. Health benefits and taste preferences are reported to be the primary reasons for this growing trend. Large scale studies on populations in the Mediterranean and in China show a protective effect from their traditional plant based diets.

Because of their unique composition, peanuts can provide a number of nutritional benefits for vegetarian and vegan diets, including valuable plant protein, fiber, and vitamins and minerals.

The American diet is taking a major shift towards plant-based eating. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans advises us to eat a plant-based diet that includes plants as an important source of protein.1 In the 2015-2020 report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), peanuts were highlighted as the nut eaten most by Americans. The DGAC stated that adding peanuts to our meals “provides an important source of plant protein and other nutrients” we need each and every day.

What is plant-based eating?

We are moving towards a healthful, balanced way of eating, one that includes nuts, seeds, and oils. Eating peanuts and peanut products can help us move towards this healthful way of eating.

Plant-based eating is a way of expanding the variety of foods on our plate, with the added health potential as the cherry on top. It can be applied to today’s health-conscious world, while adding an exciting exploration of food flavors and combinations.

The report of the DGAC defined plant based eating as one “that emphasizes vegetables, dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds.”1 This report went on further to say that this pattern of eating can be done with an omnivorous diet. A plant-based eating pattern that includes peanuts, peanut butter, and other peanut products every day is in sync with these national recommendations; this pattern is also aligned with the way we look at foods now. 

Are peanuts and peanut butter vegetarian & vegan?

Peanuts certainly qualify to be part of vegan and vegetarian diets. They provide important healthy nutrients and are loaded with plant based protein. As with any vegetarian diet , reading labels before purchasing is always advised.

Vegetarian & vegan food pyramid

Oldways Vegetarian Network has created a Vegetarian & Vegan Pyramid, reviewed and updated by a scientific committee, which includes a prestigious group of nutrition researchers and numerous nutrition experts.7 The pyramid highlights plant-based foods that should be included in the diet daily and includes peanuts, peanut butter, and peanut oil in two of the tiers.

Benefits

There are many health benefits associated with following a vegetarian or vegan 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.

Lower BMI – Obesity

There are many studies that looked at plant-based eating patterns and how they can help us manage our weight, diabetes, and other obesity-related diseases. A study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital showed that those who are trying to lose weight had a higher risk of falling off their diet routine with a diet that is too restricted (i.e. low-fat diets).8 On the other hand, people who were on a moderate-fat diet plan, one that includes peanuts, stuck to their diet plan for a longer period of time.

Increased Nutrient Intake – Macronutrients

Protein 
 Peanut butter and peanuts have more protein than any other nut, and because of their popularity, peanuts are a major plant protein source for most Americans.  A 1-ounce handful of peanuts contains about 8g of protein, which is more than most cereal-based grains and comparable to a serving of beans.3

Unlike animal based proteins, peanut protein is low in cholesterol and saturated fat, and contains many beneficial nutrients like fiber, vitamins, minerals, and bioactives shown to help reduce the risk of many diseases.3,4 Peanut protein is a favorite food that is both affordable and convenient; and with most households already keeping peanut butter in their cupboard, making the switch to plant based eating becomes even easier.

Fiber
Plant foods are naturally high in fiber. Many people following a plant-based diet tend to have higher fiber intakes. Peanuts are high in fiber, providing 2 grams of fiber per ounce

Mono Saturated & Unsaturated Fats
Not all fats are created equal. Although most Americans need to lower their total fat intake, the type of fat consumed is also important to monitor. Nuts are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat and contain minimal saturated fat. Since they are plant foods, peanuts and peanut butter do not contain any cholesterol. Both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat have been shown to decrease total and “bad” LDL-cholesterol levels when substituted for saturated fat.

Disease Prevention

Numerous studies show that eating a vegetarian or plant-based diet can help reduce the risk of many diseases and even assist with weight maintenance.24,25 Plant-proteins, like peanuts, are associated with reduced cholesterol and lowered blood pressure. Furthermore, studies show replacing red meat with a plant protein, like peanuts, can decrease the risk of stroke, mortality, and type 2 diabetes.26-30 In fact, research from several major studies shows eating a handful of peanuts daily can cut the risk of heart disease by about 50%.31 In one study, obese mice on a high cholesterol diet fed peanut protein flour had decreased cholesterol.32 In addition, peanuts are very high in Arginine, a vasodilator that helps to open up blood vessels and improve blood flow, which may contribute to decreased blood pressure.33 In fact, peanuts contain more Arginine than any other food.3 They are also very low in lysine, giving them beneficial Arginine to lysine ration; studies show that a positive arginine:lysine ratio has been associated with lower levels of cholesterol

Heart Disease
The perfect balance of good fats found in peanuts and peanut products have been shown to reduce heart disease risks. A study by Purdue University in 2000 found that when men and women replaced bad fats from their diets with good fats from peanuts and peanut products, their cholesterol levels decreased.21 A review by The Journal of Nutrition, published in 2008, went on further to explain that the balance of good fats and other nutrients from peanuts may prevent cardiovascular diseases like stroke. They also stated that people who ate peanuts two or more times a week had a lower risk of heart disease.22

In the 2010 report of the DGAC, it was highlighted in a study published in 2009 that 5 servings of peanut butter a week greatly lowered cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease.23 The committee supports the idea of eating unsalted peanuts as part of a balanced diet can lower heart disease risks and improve cholesterol levels.20

Cancer
Resveratrol, vitamin E, and other powerful bioactives and antioxidants are found especially in peanuts, their skins and roots, and peanut butter.9-17 These antioxidants may decrease our risk of many types of cancers.18,19

A 10-year-follow-up study published in The World Journal of Gastroenterology in 2006 concluded that women who ate peanuts regularly reduced their risk of colorectal cancer, citing peanuts’ antioxidants as the benefactor.19 Another study, published in Nutrition and Cancer in 2000, stated that peanuts, peanut oil, peanut butter, and peanut flour have a specific antioxidant that may protect us from cancers.8

Diabetes
If you’re looking to increase the amount of protein in your diet without increasing your risk of type 2 diabetes, plant protein is the superior choice. Animal protein has been shown to increase diabetes risk, so harnessing the diabetes-preventing power of plant protein in vegan and vegetarian diets is very beneficial.


References

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