Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and many parts of the world. It is associated with various complications including atherosclerosis, or the build-up of plaque in the walls of arteries. This build-up can narrow the arteries and make it hard for blood to flow through, possibly leading to blood clots, heart attack or stroke.
Almost two decades ago, research pointed to the fact that frequently eating peanuts lowers the risk of heart disease. The effects are evident for people of all ages and genders, and even for individuals with various conditions, such as diabetes.
A 2018 review in Current Atherosclerosis Reports found that nut consumption doesn’t just reduce the risk of dying from heart disease; it also reduces high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and helps keep blood vessels healthy.
Another review published in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases included 25 years of research and showed a strong association between nut intake and decreased risk of fatal and non-fatal coronary heart disease, myocardial infarction, and sudden death. The authors noted that the unsaturated fats, l-arginine, minerals, phenolic compounds and phytosterols in nuts like peanuts appear to be of “paramount importance” for their health effects. They also highlighted that an “estimated 8.3% reduction in risk from coronary heart disease death ensues from each weekly serving (about 30g) of nuts.”
Other studies have found evidence pointing to additional components playing a part in peanuts’ heart-protective powers. Arginine, like that found in peanuts, may improve circulation and reduce heart disease risk. Peanuts are also a good source of vitamin E, which, when consumed in low quantities, can lead to benefits against coronary heart disease.
The question has been asked of whether peanuts have cholesterol, but the true question is what effect peanuts and peanut products have on cholesterol. And if you’re wondering whether peanuts raise cholesterol or lower cholesterol, the answer is good news: it can do both!
Peanuts, peanut butter, and peanut oil are filled with heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats lower total and “bad” LDL cholesterol as well as triglyceride levels, while keeping “good” HDL cholesterol high. A controlled study of people eating diets high in either peanut oil, peanuts and peanut butter, or olive oil, all of which are high in monounsaturated fat (MUFA), showed that levels of total cholesterol, bad LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides were lowered, while good HDL cholesterol levels remained high.
Peanuts have low amounts of saturated fat, which is found in many animal products, and have no trans fat at all. A 2001 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that levels of trans fat are non-detectable in all types of peanut butter—even the creamy kind.
After much scientific evidence regarding the positive health benefits of peanuts and nuts, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a report in 2003 that states, “Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces of most nuts, such as peanuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.”
Studies also show that including peanuts in your diet as a source of protein lowers blood pressure, which can decrease heart disease risk. Peanuts have a unique mix of functional components, vitamins, and minerals that help the body prevent heart disease. Eating peanuts and peanut butter isn’t just delicious—it makes your heart happy, too!
Peanut protein and bioactives help keep arteries healthy
An exciting study from Penn State University demonstrates one way in which peanuts are heart healthy. This study shows that eating peanuts can help keep your arteries flexible. (Liu et al., ‘Acute Peanut Consumption Alters Postprandial Lipids and Vascular Response in Healthy Overweight or Obese Men’, Journal of Nutrition, 2017)
- First study to show that peanut protein and bioactives help keep arteries flexible
- Peanuts prevent arteries from stiffening after a high-fat meal
- After high-fat meals, peanuts reduce the rise in triglyceride levels by 32%
Peanuts Help Keep Arteries Flexible
The human body has up to 100,000 miles of arteries, veins and capillaries. These blood vessels carry oxygen and nutrients throughout the body and must remain flexible in order to work properly.
After a high-fat meal, levels of fat in the blood tend to rise rapidly, causing blood vessels to become stiff. Over time, this stiffening causes the heart to work harder, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
In this study, participants who ate peanuts as part of a high-fat shake reduced the rise in blood triglycerides by 32% compared to a control shake. The control and peanut shakes were carefully designed to have the same fatty acid profile; therefore researchers attribute this response to peanut protein and bioactives.
Remarkably, peanuts also caused the participants’ arteries to remain open and flexible, despite the shake deriving a whopping 50% of its calories from fat.
Peanut Protein and Bioactives
Peanut protein, along with bioactives, vitamins and minerals, likely play a major role in preventing this stiffening response. Peanuts contain more protein than any other nut and more arginine than almost all other foods.
This is important because arginine is used to make nitric oxide, a vasodilator that helps keep blood vessels open and elastic.
This study is unique because it is the first to show that peanut protein and bioactives work together to keep arteries flexible after a high-fat meal.
Decades of research show that the healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats in peanuts lower blood cholesterol and significantly reduce the risk of heart disease. Peanuts received a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Qualified Health Claim for Heart Health in 2003, and peanuts are also included on the list of foods certified by the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check program.
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