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Peanuts shell out many health benefits

| Tuesday, March 27, 2012

As familiar at ball games and the circus as they are on a plane or in a peanut-butter sandwich, Americans adore their peanuts.

Traced back to 2,500 B.C. Peru, peanuts were first cultivated by ancient Incans who offered them to the sun god in religious ceremonies. The once-favorite farm-animal food, also called "groundnuts" or "goobers," sustained many soldiers during the Civil War, when they were even ground into makeshift "coffee." At the suggestion of George Washington Carver, the peanut became a farm favorite in the '20s after the cotton blight, and the rest is history.

Contrary to their name, peanuts are not nuts at all. They are legumes, related to peas, lentils and beans. Unlike most of its vine-climbing relatives, the peanut plant ( Arachnis hypogaea ) grows as a ground flower that matures its pods underground. Processed into peanut butter, oil, flour and flakes, there are many ways to enjoy their nutty flavor and nutritional punch.

Peanuts pack a dose of folate, heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and resveratrol, the same polyphenol antioxidant as in red wine. And just one ounce, about a handful, provides 13 percent DV (daily value, the recommended intake based on a 2000-calorie diet) for protein, making them an excellent plant-based protein.

Peanuts have long been known for reducing the risk of heart disease when eaten daily in small amounts (1 ounce), and research has since linked them to the prevention of other chronic diseases, including diabetes and certain types of cancer. A 16-year study of more than 80,000 women in the Nurses' Health Study found that peanuts may improve glucose and insulin balance, suggesting a link between nut and peanut-butter consumption and lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

Fortunately, studies also show that increased yet moderate consumption of peanuts does not lead to weight gain. In fact, a study published in the September 2000 International Journal of Obesity found that eating peanuts can help with weight loss by increasing fullness.

Shelled, unshelled, raw, roasted or sweetened -- peanut varieties are as broad as they are tasty. Available year-round, both packaged and in bulk bins, dry and undamaged shells house choice peanuts. Shelled peanuts store best sealed and refrigerated, while unshelled peanuts require cool, dark storage. The versatile peanut makes a handy snack or a crunchy addition to most any recipe. Try them sauteed with vegetables, chopped into a coating for chicken or fish, or topping a green salad or frozen sundae. You can also easily grind them into a delicious butter to spread or dip.

Peanuts

Amount: 1 ounce, dry-roasted, unsalted

Calories: 164

Protein: 7 grams (14 percent Daily Value)

Vitamin E: 1.9 milligrams (10 percent DV)

Niacin: 3.8 milligrams (19 percent DV)

Folate: 40.6 micrograms (10 percent DV)

Magnesium: 49.3 milligrams (12 percent DV)

Manganese: 0.6 milligrams (29 percent DV)

Notes : Salted peanuts can significantly increase sodium content by up to 228 milligrams per serving.

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