You’re probably familiar with the idea that nuts are good for your health.
After all, there has been a lot of research supporting this claim, and nuts can be a good source of some nutrients and protein.
But, nuts are not all the equal.
So, one question that needs to be answered is… are peanuts good for you?
After all, peanuts do tend to be the cheapest form of nut that you can buy. That makes them an appealing option for people on a budget, especially as other nuts can get pretty expensive.
But at the same time, most people don’t view peanuts as being healthy in the same way that almonds and some other nuts are.
One recent study found some interesting information in this area by looking at nut consumption and a range of health outcomes.
The nuts that the study considered were mostly peanuts, which is why the outcomes of the study are relevant for nuts in general and also for peanuts specifically.
The Study Itself
The study was observational in nature and used data from something known as the Guangzhou Biobank Cohort Study (GBCS).
The GBCS occurred from 2003 to 2008, and then follow-up data was collected from 2008 to 2012.
It included a large number of participants and considered many different aspects of food and lifestyle, as well as physical outcomes.
The authors of this study selected data from the GBCS that was relevant to their topic.
This included information on a range of health outcomes, particularly those related to heart health.
The most significant outcome measured was the Framingham score, which is a measure of heart disease risk based on a range of risk factors.
Additionally, the authors used information on nut consumption. This was measured in 25 g portions and the frequency of consumption was recorded.
The questionnaire looked at the following categories of nut consumption.
- Less than 3 portions per week
- 3 or more portions per week
The authors noted that 36% of the participants ate peanuts, while 10% consumed walnuts, 5% chestnuts, 2% almonds and 1% cashew nuts.
In their analysis, the authors tested the levels of nut consumption against the health outcomes.
As part of this process, they used statistical models that took into account potential confounders (things that could be masking the true relationship).
These confounders included sex, age, occupation, education, lifestyle and a range of other factors.
Additionally, the authors tested for reverse causality within their model. For anyone curious, the site pritikin offers a good explanation about what reverse causation is and how it is relevant to health research.
The authors found that higher levels of nut consumption were associated with higher socioeconomic position as well as with some aspects of lifestyle (like alcohol use).
However, the authors found no relationship between nut consumption and Framingham score in the whole population tested or in tested subgroups.
Likewise, no relationship was observed between nut consumption and the individual components that made up the Framingham score, like blood pressure or fasting glucose levels.
Strengths and Limitations
The first limitation of this study, as is often the case, is its observational nature.
Observational studies really are important for finding potential relationships, but this approach always limits how reliable the results of the study are. You can find out more details about research styles over at the site Psych Central.
In this case, the study design also relied on self-reported measures of nut consumption.
This approach can sometimes be unreliable, as people don’t always accurately report what they eat.
Sometimes that happens because they simply don’t remember.
In other cases, people may intentionally underreport what they consume.
For example, people are often embarrassed if they eat too much of a given food, especially if that food is unhealthy.
While nuts tend to be considered healthy, the same is not really true of peanuts.
That adds to the possibility that some people might be inaccurate in reporting their peanut consumption.
Another issue with the study was the way it looked at nut consumption.
The authors did have separate information for which nuts were consumed, but in general, their analysis simply looked at amounts of nuts consumed in general. This made it impossible to determine whether the observed effects would have still been true if the selection of nuts had been more varied, or if only peanuts were included in the study.
The measure of nut consumption was also unusual in that it only considered three tiers of consumption.
One of those tiers was no nut consumption, another was less than 3 servings per week and the last was 3 or more servings per week. Yet, having 3 or more servings of nuts per week really isn’t all that much.
The study might have found different outcomes if it had more categories of consumption.
After all, the effects of eating 4 or 5 servings of nuts per week are likely to be quite different than 10 or 11 servings per week, yet that difference isn’t accounted for in the measures that this study used.
Nevertheless, the study did have some strengths.
The key strength was its statistical models.
Although observational studies don’t look at cause and effect, authors can strengthen the study by using solid statistical models.
In this case, the authors tried to eliminate any confounding factors and the potential for reverse causality.
By doing this, the authors increase the chance that the observed effects are what was actually occurring.
The Geographical Factor
This study was particularly interesting because it was conducted in China.
The vast majority of our evidence for the health benefits of nuts comes from studies in places like the United States and Europe. But, it is very possible that the observed effects in one part of the world are not true in other parts of the world.
After all, eating patterns and lifestyle habits differ from one culture to the next. These aspects could potentially influence which food items have health benefits and which don’t.
For example, nuts could offer health benefits because of their protein content.
In theory, this would mean that they would be more beneficial in cultures where protein intake is typically low. In a group of people who traditionally have a high level of protein intake, the observed impacts of nuts could potentially be quite different.
There are many different potential mechanisms that could make the effects of nuts different from one culture to the next.
Another example is the way that nuts are prepared from country to country.
In the United States, people are often consuming heavily salted peanuts, which may also have artificial flavoring.
That practice may not be true in some other parts of the world.
Because of this, the study only really answers the question ‘are peanuts good for you’ in relation to China.
More research needs to be conducted to see whether the lack of relationship between peanuts and health is also true in other countries.
Additionally, it would be interesting to see more research focusing on peanuts specifically.
The most basic outcome of the study was that there was no relationship between frequency of nut consumption and heart health.
The outcomes also provide some answer to the question, are peanuts good for you. Specifically, the study suggests that they might not be healthy, but might not be harmful either (at least, in relation to heart health).
But… that’s not the whole story.
Realistically, the study doesn’t have the ability to determine the impact of nut (or peanut) consumption on health.
More targeted research is needed before we can know the answer to that question.
Nevertheless, the outcomes of this study do highlight the importance of studying peanuts and their impact on health.
Most research has focused on other nuts.
Finding out whether peanuts offer health benefits is very relevant, because many more people can afford peanuts than other types of nuts.
Nutritionally, each type of nut has its own advantages (as the table below shows).
Swipe left to view more columns
Data is for 1 ounce of nuts and sourced from SELF Nutrition Data
This suggests that the best approach is often to vary your choices - rather than sticking to a single favorite type of nut.
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What do you think? Are peanuts good for your health, or does that apply to other nuts only?