The peanut, has made a comeback and consumption has soared to its highest level in nearly two decades with more and more doctors recommending the nuts as part of a heart-healthy diet.
The federal government's latest dietary guidelines now acknowledge that peanuts, which contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat, can be consumed in moderation.
Lona Sandon with the American Dietetic Association says it is now known that the type of fat found in peanuts is actually good for us, it doesn't clog arteries like saturated fat and it helps keep the arteries clean but only if peanuts are consumed "in moderation," as a handful can have up to 200 calories. Madelyn Fernstrom, director of the Weight Management Centre at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre says portions need to be low so you don't overconsume the calories.
During the fat-phobic 1990s peanut consumption dwindled when the government began requiring nutrition labels on food products, which show peanuts to be high in fat and consumption of peanut butter and snack peanuts plummeted as Americans switched to lowfat diets. The peanut industry responded with studies showing the health benefits of peanuts and the campaign worked with consumption of peanuts increasing last year to nearly 1.7 billion pounds.
In the 1990s American consumers overlooked the fact that the humble peanut contains a respectable list of nutrients and are a good source of fibber and protein.They also contain a small amount of resveratrol, the antioxidant in red wine that has been linked to the "French Paradox" - a low incidence of heart disease among the French, despite their love of cheese and other high-fat foods.
Research at Penn State University, Harvard Medical School, Purdue University and the University of Florida has shown that peanuts may help prevent heart disease, that they can lower bad cholesterol and that they can help with weight loss, possibly by making people feel satisfied so they eat less overall. One of the Harvard studies showed an association between peanut butter consumption and a reduced risk of diabetes.
"Mothers gave us peanuts and peanut butter. Now, we've figured out that mom was right. But it took a lot of researchers and universities to figure that out," said Don Koehler, executive director of Georgia's Peanut Commission.
The FDA supports health claims for peanuts and some tree nuts which producers say may reduce their risk of heart disease.
Research by Anna Resurreccion, a University of Georgia food scientist, on the resveratrol found in peanuts found that the resveratrol level greatly surpassed that found in red wine.
The development raises the possibility for new food products, such as enhanced peanut butter, that may help prevent cancer and heart disease and could also be a way of getting resveratrol into the diets of children.
Seattle nutrition consultant Lola O'Rourke says the recent research provides scientific backup for what nutritionists have known all along and is good news in that people are realizing that some fat is OK and fats in peanuts are healthy.