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December 2017 -  Is snacking on peanuts or walnuts really healthy for you? I was skeptical. Of course, we have all heard that advice but how can a food that has a lot of calories and fat (1 oz. of peanuts have 161 calories and 71% fat) be good for you?

A recent comprehensive review in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology titled “Nut Consumption and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease” 2017; 70:2519-2532 has convinced me I was wrong to be skeptical.

The researchers analyzed the diets and health outcome of more than 200,000 men and women who were followed for up to 32 years. With that huge amount of data (5,063,439 person-years) and information on 160 food items, a lot of valid conclusions can be drawn. I learned a lot.

First, that peanuts are not nuts but are legumes that grow in the ground as opposed to “tree nuts” which are a fruit. Examples of tree nuts are walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, pistachios, and pecans. Regardless, both peanuts and tree nuts were found to have protective benefits against heart disease.

Eating 2 one-ounce servings a week of peanuts or tree nuts reduced the risk of heart attacks by 18%. Walnuts, in particular, have the most powerful protective value and just one serving a week gave the same benefit. There was a trend for slightly more benefit from eating more than just one or two servings a week of nuts but not dramatically. More bang for the buck with just a few servings. By the way, one ounce is about 28 peanuts or 14 walnut halves.

Much to my surprise, eating nuts, even with a lot of calories, actually is associated with weight loss rather than weight gain- it is thought because they “fill you up” better than some other snacks.

Sadly, peanut butter does not provide any benefit. It was looked at specifically. The thinking is that peanut butter is often processed with added sugar and sweeteners which may neutralize its effects.

Finally, roasting nuts probably lessen their favorable properties, so it is recommended to eat them unprocessed and unpeeled.

I’m switching to eating a handful of walnuts as my snack.