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Snacking on peanuts supports health

We have known for years tree nuts such as walnuts, cashews, pistachios and – my favorite – macadamias are good for your health. Nuts and seeds are loaded with nutrients – high in protein, vitamin E and omega-3 oils, all of which promote better cardiac health.

For far too long, we doctors were harping on the low-fat/no-fat diet to reduce heart disease. But look at where we started – Buffalonians in the 1960s ate a meat-and-potato diet high in animal fat and high in cholesterol. Combine that with smoking and no exercise and you had a heart attack ready to happen.

The low-fat bandwagon came out of this. A recently published article questions some of that initial data, but on the whole the advice was good.

With more and more research showing the king of diets is the Mediterranean diet, doctors have started to loosen up. The so-called “French paradox” – How can they eat more fat than we do and weigh less and have fewer heart attacks? – has called into question the idea that fat is bad.

The signature cookies of this no-fat time were the SnackWells. Remember them?

High in carbohydrates, high in refined sugar, but low in fat. Great name. Great packaging. Bad stuff.

Then there was the “margarine is awesome” mantra. I was on that on my radio show. I would discuss recipes by saying, “made with margarine, not butter.” I hadn’t learned about the evil of trans fats. Make a stick of margarine and you make trans fats. That’s the type that falls squarely on the “bad fats” side in the good fats-bad fats battle.

Peanuts are not nuts, they are legumes. They don’t contain omega-3 oils – part of the good fats team – like nuts and seeds. Their dominant oil is, guess what, peanut oil.

Peanuts were first brought from the New World to Spain for Queen Isabella (imagine her face when she ate her first one; I bet it glowed). Why is it called a nut when it technically isn’t? I couldn’t find the answer, but it’s probably because it looks like a nut, has the texture of a nut and tastes like a nut. Speculation on my part.

Getting back to our story, new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that peanuts may be just as good as tree nuts for cardiac health – at a fraction of the cost.

Researchers looked at 200,000 people living in the U.S. and China, many of modest means, who had a handful of peanuts a day and reduced their risk of a heart attack by 20 percent. Eating just 2 tablespoons of peanuts a day was all that was needed.

My spin: If you’re looking for a heart-healthy supplement try peanuts. They’re cheap. They work. And they taste good. Sounds like a 10 to me.

Dr. Zorba Paster hosts a radio program that airs locally at 3 p.m. Saturdays on WBFO-FM 88.7. Email him at askzorba@doctorzorba.com.