July 1/Albany, GA/PRNewswire -- New research on peanuts as a functional food indicates that fat-free peanut flour, whole peanuts and peanut oil deliver similar positive effects to reduce the risk of heart disease. The study, conducted by USDA-ARS scientist Dr. Timothy Sanders and North Carolina State University graduate student Amanda Stephens, both in Raleigh, NC, was released at the 2008 Annual Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Meeting. This research shows separate and significant health benefits in the non-oil portion of the peanut.

The study compared the effects of four diets in hamsters that contained similar amounts of fat, carbohydrates and protein. In three of the diets, peanuts, peanut oil or fat-free peanut flour were substituted for equivalent caloric amounts of food. The fourth diet served as a control. Compared to the control group, all three of the peanut diets significantly lowered total cholesterol and bad LDL cholesterol. In addition, the good HDL cholesterol remained steady, which has the positive effect of removing bad cholesterol from the blood.

"We now have shown that there are components beyond the healthy fat in peanuts that are having strong health benefits. The protein and other functional components in peanuts, which are in the peanut flour, also improve heart disease risk factors," said Sanders.

Over two-thirds of the nuts consumed in the U.S. are eaten as peanuts, peanut butter and peanut ingredients. Numerous studies have well documented the heart-healthy effects of peanuts, which received a qualified health claim from the Food and Drug Administration. Studies show that eating just one serving of peanuts or peanut butter a day can cut heart disease risk by half and diabetes risk by a quarter. The healthy oils in peanuts have traditionally been attributed with much of this effect. However, this USDA study and other research presented at the IFT session, "Peanuts: Mother Nature's Functional Powerhouse," is clearly showing that there is a lot more to peanuts than just the good fats.

"Peanut products are ideal ingredients for the health and wellness market," said Bruce Kotz of the Golden Peanut Company. "We see a rapidly growing demand for peanut flours in nutrition-based products."

The healthy fats, protein, arginine, fiber, folate, vitamin E, niacin, minerals, antioxidants and bioactives such as resveratrol and phytosterols in peanut products may be acting synergistically to improve health and provide satiety. Whether you choose peanuts, peanut butter, peanut oil or peanut flour you can have a significant impact on decreasing risk of disease.

From the July 7, 2008, Prepared Foods e-Flash