Research shows the nutrient-rich properties of peanuts can provide a profound impact on our daily health—helping to prevent disease, improve life expectancy and deliver positive effects throughout the body. This is just part of the reason peanuts have recently grabbed the “superfood” spotlight. Another important piece to this story, however, is understanding how peanuts also serve as a “functional food.”
What is a ‘functional food’?
“Functional foods are foods that provide beneficial effects to our health besides basic nutrition,” says Samara Sterling, Ph.D., director of research for The Peanut Institute. As you’ll see in the research below, this is a definition that peanuts can more than live up to.
Peanuts are a functional (Super)Food
As an important crop grown worldwide, the functional compounds in peanuts are as plentiful as they are beneficial. Peanuts are loaded with protein, fiber, polyphenols, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. In addition, research has found they are an excellent source of compounds like resveratrol, phenolic acids, flavonoids and phytosterols that block the absorption of cholesterol from diet1.
To really understand some of the functional benefits peanuts provide, however, we’ll break a few of their components down:
- Protein: With more protein than any other nut, peanuts provide the nutritional equivalent to meat and eggs for human growth and health.2 But unlike animal protein, they carry additional components with positive health benefits like fiber and unique bioactive components.
- Vitamins: Peanuts contain a wealth of vitamins, and are an excellent source of niacin, which aids in the functioning of the digestive system, skin, nerves, converting food to energy, and has been shown to help protect against Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline.3 Peanuts are a good source of vitamin E, which can help protect against coronary heart disease4. Vitamin E is also considered a hard-to-get nutrient, as it’s been shown over 90% of men and women fail to get the proper recommended daily amount5.
- Minerals: The combination of minerals found in peanuts have been associated with reduced inflammation6, and a decreased risk of type II diabetes7.
- Arginine: An amino acid that relaxes blood vessels, and is necessary to keep the liver, skin, joints and muscles healthy. And the best news? According to the USDA, peanuts have more than any other food8.
- Phytosterols: In addition to blocking cholesterol from the diet9, emerging evidence shows they might also help decrease inflammation and reduce the growth of various cancers (i.e. lung, stomach, ovarian, prostate, colon and breast)10.
- Antioxidants: Peanuts have a higher antioxidant capacity than green tea and red wine11, and when consumed with their skins, this number actually doubles12.
- Flavonoids: A high intake of flavonoids is thought to be protective against heart disease and cancer by various mechanisms.
In addition to the above benefits, regular peanut consumption has been associated with as much as a 40% reduction in mortality due to any factor, with a reduction in deaths due to cardiovascular diseases in particular13.
However, even with the extensive research already conducted on the peanut, there are likely many more discoveries to be made. But one thing is certain: the peanut is a superfood that is super functional for your body.
- Arya SS, Salve AR, Chauhan S. Peanuts as functional food: a review. J Food Sci Technol. 2016;53:31–41. doi: 10.1007/s13197-015-2007-9. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Cross Ref]
- FAO/WHO/UNU (2002) Protein and Amino Acid Requirements in Human Nutrition. In: Report of a Joint FAO/WHO/UNU Expert Consultation, World Health Org Tech Report No.935 [PubMed]
- Morris MC. Dietary niacin and the risk of incident alzheimer’s disease and of cognitive decline. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2004;75(8):1093–1099. doi: 10.1136/jnnp.2003.025858. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Cross Ref]
- Bramley PM, Elmadfa I, Kafatos A, Kelly FJ, Manios Y, Roxboroug HE, Schuch W, Sheehy PJA, Wagner KH. Review vitamin E. J Sci Food Agric. 2000;80:913–938. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1097-0010(20000515)80:7<913::AID-JSFA600>3.0.CO;2-3. [Cross Ref]
- Gao X, Wilde PE, Lichtenstein AH, Bermudez OI, Tucker KL. The maximal amount of dietary alpha-tocopherol intake in U.S. adults. J Nutr. 2006;136(4):1021–1026. [PubMed]
- King DE. Dietary magnesium and C-reactive protein levels. J Am Coll Nutr. 2005;24(3):166–171. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2005.10719461. [PubMed] [Cross Ref]
- Larsson SC, Wolk A (2007) magnesium intake and risk of type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis. J Intern Med 262(2):208–14 [PubMed]
- United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) (2014): http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search/. Accessed 21 Aug 2014
- Lopes RM, Agostini-Costa TDS, Gimenes MA, Silveira D (2011) Chemical composition and biological activities of Arachis species. J Agri Food Chem 59(9):4321–4330 [PubMed]
- Woyengo TA, Ramprasath VR, Jones PJ. Anticancer effects of phytosterols. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2009;63(7):813–820. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2009.29. [PubMed] [Cross Ref]
- Halvorsen BL, Carlsen MH, Philips KM, Bohn SK, Holte K, Jacobs DR, Blomhoff R. Content of redox-active compounds (i.e. antioxidants) in foods consumed in the United States. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;84(1):95–135. [PubMed]
- Craft BD, Hargrove J L, Greenspan P, Hartle D K, Amarowicz R, Pegg R B (2010) Recent Advances in food and flavor chemistry. Food flavor and encapsulation, health benefits, analytical methods, and molecular biology of functional foods, Cambridge, UK: R Soc Chem 283–296
- Fraser GE, Sabate J, Beeson WL, Strathan TM. A possible protective effect of nut consumption on risk of CHD. Arch Intern Med. 1992;152:1416–1424. doi: 10.1001/archinte.1992.00400190054010. [PubMed] [Cross Ref]