Adding to its list of benefits, new research suggests this powerful nut not only offers essential nutrients, but may also be a “smart snack” for helping to prevent obesity.
Published in the Journal of Applied Research on Children, the study “Benefits of a snacking intervention as part of a school-based obesity intervention for Mexican American children,” found that high risk adolescents who consistently consumed a daily snack of peanuts or peanut butter significantly decreased their Body Mass Index (BMI) over a 6-month period.
The 6-month, randomized study followed a large group of 257 Latino adolescents who were overweight and obese. Despite being at very high risk, the children who ate the peanut and peanut butter snacks more than four times a week showed better results than those that ate them less than once a week or not at all. The average age of the subjects was 12 years old, and both boys and girls showed similar benefits. The snacks consisted of 1 oz. of peanuts or 3/4-oz. of peanut butter that was often used as a dip for vegetables or fruit. Snacking patterns showed that peanut butter was consumed 56% of the time and peanuts 44% of the time.
Discussing the study, principal investigator Dr. Craig Johnston at the University of Houston commented, “We have shown that schools, aftercare programs and parents can easily replace unhealthy snacks with peanuts or peanut butter and it works on many different levels.”
According to USDA, about one quarter or more of daily calories come from snacks, about the same as calories from lunch. Therefore, it is important to make sure calories reduce hunger and provide essential nutrients to maintain a healthy weight.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act required the USDA to issue new “Smart Snacks in School” nutrition standards. “Based on these standards, peanuts were one of the ‘smartest snacks,’ with zero empty calories. Furthermore, the relatively high fat and protein content of peanuts helps to promote satiety while providing a healthy snack option for weight management,” the researchers stated.
Despite the plentiful benefits peanuts offer, some parents worry about giving them to their children over concerns of an allergic reaction. And rightfully so—peanut allergy is the most common food allergy, according to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE). The number of children in the U.S. with a peanut allergy more than tripled between 1997 and 2008. However, emerging research indicates that early exposure to peanuts may prevent the allergy later in life.
A recent study funded by FARE and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), established that most children previously enrolled in a pivotal peanut allergy prevention study in which they were introduced to peanuts early in life continued to tolerate peanuts, even after avoiding them for a full year.
Last year, researchers published results of the groundbreaking LEAP Study, a randomized clinical trial enrolling more than 600 infants at high risk for developing a peanut allergy, in which one group was fed peanuts early in life while the other group completely avoided peanuts until the age of five. For the children who were fed peanuts, sustained consumption was highly effective—with just 3% developing peanut allergy vs. 17% of those in the avoidance group.
In the new LEAP-On Study, the continuation of the LEAP Study, researchers sought to determine whether those children who consumed peanuts until age five would develop peanut allergy if they subsequently avoided peanuts for 12 months.
The results, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that the 12-month period of avoidance was not associated with a significant increase in the prevalence of peanut allergy. At age six, the prevalence of peanut allergy was 4.8% among those in the consumption group and 18.6% in the avoidance group.
“These findings are important because they demonstrate the potential for people to become tolerant to peanut, and not just desensitized,” said James R. Baker, Jr., MD, CEO and chief medical officer of FARE. “We are pleased to see that the results of the LEAP Study have begun to make an impact through the updates to NIAID’s clinical guidance for physicians, which will address the role of early consumption in prevention of peanut allergy, and we believe that the findings from LEAP-On provide additional evidence that will be helpful in further informing advice for new parents from their healthcare providers.”