Peanuts Are One of the Best Sources of Plant-Based Protein, According to RDs

Peanut butter included.

Ah, the humble peanut. It's not the trendiest snack these days (that would be something covered in carmelized sea salt), but it does check a lot of boxes in the healthy snacks column. Grazing on nutritious food is one of the keys to staying (mostly) sane throughout the day. After all, coffee alone can't (and shouldn't!) be the only thing to keep our energy levels—and our moods—up.

"The word 'snacking' can sometimes get a bad reputation," says Melissa Rifkin, MS, RD, CDN. "But when you're munching on a healthy food that's chock-full of nutrition, snacking can actually ward off late night hunger, which could ultimately assist with overall health, wellness, and prevent overeating." The key, according to Rifkin? Plant-based protein. And her favorite example is peanuts. "A 1-ounce serving of peanuts has 7 grams of plant protein that keeps you very well-satiated," she says. "I also love how peanuts and peanut butter are shelf stable, and they can be wonderful accompaniments to so many dishes. Not to mention the fact that a bag of peanuts can fit perfectly in a purse, backpack, or pocket."

peanuts-nutrition: peanuts in a shell
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The old saying is true: When it comes to the peanut, big things do come in small packages. The peanut is a nutrient-rich powerhouse. In fact, based on a mountain of research, this mighty legume deserves superfood status. In addition to protein, a serving of peanuts contains 19 vitamins and minerals, many of which fight heart disease (such a vitamin E, folic acid, niacin, magnesium, vitamin B6, zinc, copper, and potassium), antioxidants, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that help decrease "bad" LDL cholesterol and increase "good" HDL cholesterol, and heart-healthy fiber.

"Improving or maintaining health is imperative these days, and finding an easy, transportable snack that is also affordable can have a huge impact with beneficial effects on one's health," Rifkin adds. Chronic disease prevention is the name of the game—here's what science has shown about the peanut's role in good health.

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Cancer Thwarter

Results from the Netherlands Cohort Study published in 2018 found that eating peanuts daily was associated with a decreased risk of a hard-to-treat type of breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Another Netherlands Cohort Study found that men who consumed a teaspoon or more of peanut butter a day had a lower risk of pancreatic cancer.

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Heart Health Booster

A study published in the Current Atherosclerosis Reports in 2018 found those who consumed peanuts regularly had a reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. A 2017 study that examined more than 200,000 participants showed that regular peanut consumption was associated with a 15 percent reduced risk of coronary heart disease.

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Type 2 Diabetes Fighter

A 2016 study from Harvard University showed that substituting a serving of animal protein for a serving of plant protein, like peanuts and peanut butter, significantly reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes. Another landmark study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association had previously shown that peanut butter consumption reduced type 2 diabetes risk by 21 percent in women.

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Brain Health Preserver

Peanuts have high levels of niacin and are a good source of vitamin E, two nutrients that have long been known to protect against Alzheimer's disease and age-related cognitive decline. One study showed that, in almost 4,000 people 65 years or older, niacin from food slowed the rate of cognitive decline. Another study highlighted that vitamin E intake could delay functional decline in patients with Alzheimer's disease.

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