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Friday September 22 03:02 AM EDT
Hungry or Overfed, Peanuts Can Help

By Janice Billingsley
HealthSCOUT Reporter

THURSDAY, Sept. 21 (HealthSCOUT) -- Putting peanuts in your diet apparently can do nothing but good -- whether you're hungry in Ghana or trying to shed some pounds after eating too much in the United States.

Eating 500 calories of peanuts in the morning will keep hunger at bay for about 2 hours, say Purdue University researchers.

For dieters, this means less urge to snack. But for people who can't find enough to eat, it also means fewer hunger pangs.

People who ate peanuts in a study sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) adjusted their caloric intake spontaneously and thus did not add extra calories to their daily diets, the researchers say.

"We show that peanuts do have a strong satiety effect. People feel full from a serving of peanuts," says researcher Richard Mattes, a Purdue professor and dietitian.

But the nuts also "contribute a useful form of fat in the diet, with no threat to body weight or heart health," Mattes says. "And for those who lack food, [they can] suppress the unpleasant sensation of hunger." Study results appear in the September International Journal of Obesity.

The study is the first of a number of projects sponsored by USAID to examine the potential health and economic benefits of nuts in both the United States and the African nation of Ghana, Mattes says.

"There is interest in building up this industry [in Ghana]. It is a sustainable crop in that environment, peanuts are a proven energy and protein source, and [producing them] may really help economically and nutritionally," he says.

Research is proving the health benefits of peanuts, including how they reduce cholesterol and cardiovascular risk, he says.

Maureen Storey, director the Georgetown Center of Food and Nutrition Policy, in Washington, D.C. -- which today is sponsoring a one-day conference called "Making the Claim for Nuts" -- says it's not surprising that the appetite-suppressing qualities of nuts could help dieters as well as the hungry.

"Everything can have a double edge," but she says "it's a tragedy" for people who have to use nuts for the appetite-suppressing effect.

In the Purdue study, 12 men and 12 women, aged 18 to 25, were given snacks of peanuts and of peanut butter along with six other foods. The researchers tested how long it took for the participants to get hungry again after eating the various snacks. The other snacks included rice cakes because of their volume, pickles because of their weight and chestnuts because of their carbohydrate rather than fat content.

The other snacks suppressed appetites for only about a half-hour, the study found.

Mattes says peanuts are healthy because they contain mono- and polyunsaturated fats rather than saturated fats. They've been shown to reduce cholesterol and the risk of cardiovascular disease.

An earlier Pennsylvania State University study found that two to three daily servings of peanuts or peanut butter lowered cholesterol by 11 percent to 14 percent and reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease by 21 percent, compared with the average American diet. A low-fat diet reduced the risk by only 12 percent, that study found.

"Nuts have been given a bad rap. When people became concerned about the fat in nuts, they got scared and reduced [their intake], but nuts are a rich source of mono- and polyunsaturated fats," Storey says.

What To Do

For a fact sheet on peanuts, visit the Peanut Council online. The group also provides answers to some frequently asked questions about peanut allergies.

Or, you might want to read previous HealthSCOUT articles on nuts.


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