Americans going peanuts

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Americans have apparently woken up to the health benefits of
peanuts and have been squirreling them away.

Americans ate nearly 1.7 billion pounds of the nuts last year, according to a report by the Associated Press, thanks to recent reports that they should be part of a heart-healthy diet.

In January peanuts were heralded as being healthy - despite their high-fat levels - as researchers suggested that they may be as rich in antioxidants as many fruits.

Scientists from the University of Florida found that peanuts often rival fruits in their levels of antioxidant.

"When it comes to antioxidant content, peanuts are right up there with strawberries,"​ said Steve Talcott, an assistant professor of food science and human nutrition at UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

"We expected a fairly high antioxidant content in peanuts, but we were a bit shocked to find that they're as rich in antioxidants as many kinds of fruit."

The Florida researchers found that peanuts contain high concentrations of polyphenols - particularly p-coumaric acid - and that roasting can increase the level of the compund, boosting overall antioxidant content by as much as 22 percent.

Talcott said roasted peanuts are about as rich in antioxidants as blackberries or strawberries, and richer in the chemicals than fruits such as apples, carrots or beets.

The researchers' findings were part of a broader study designed to measure the nutritional differences between traditional peanut breeds and the growing number of high oleic ("good" fat) peanuts now available to peanut growers. However, the tests showed no significant differences in antioxidant content between high-oleic and traditional peanuts.

Agronomy professor Dan Gorbet, heads of the University of Florida's peanut-breeding program, said it should be possible to breed the nuts with the purpose of creating high antioxidant levels.

This research followed hot on the heels of a from Pennsylvania State University suggested that one serving of peanuts or peanut butter a day could help children and adults meet requirements for nutrients often lacking in American diets.

Kristen Ciuba, a spokesperson for the The Peanut Institute that part funded the research, told FoodNavigatorUSA.com that although past studies had shown that peanuts are high in nutrients, this was the first time, to their knowledge, a study had shown that just one portion a day could provide enough nutrients.

Moroever, peanut butter and peanut eaters had increased levels of vitamin A, vitamin E, folate, calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron and dietary fiber in their diets.

The researchers also concluded that their study "helps to dispel the myth that higher-fat foods automatically lead to weight gain"​, with peanut eaters having leaner bodies than non-peanut eaters, as measured by body mass index (BMI), an indicator of body fatness. Peanut eaters also had lower intakes of "bad" saturated fat and cholesterol, and higher intakes of "good" monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat.

"Peanuts are higher in fats than other foods, but most of these fats are unsaturated,"​ said Ciuba.

And food manufacturers wanting to include peanuts in their products should have no problems finding a ready supply.

USDA figures released towards the end of February showed peanut stocks in 2004 were up four percent compared to the year before.

The government body reported 2.42 billion pounds of peanuts in commercial storage on 31 December 2004, against 2.33 billion pounds in 2003.

Edible grade stocks included 87.0 million pounds of Virginias, 353 million pounds of Runners and 22.1 million pounds of Spanish.

Peanut butter was still the favorite choice of use for the nuts, with the product absorbing 73.5 million pounds of peanuts. Meanwhile, 26.9 million pounds were used for peanut candy and 36.8 million pounds for snack peanuts; crushing for oil and cake and meal totaled 27.6 million pounds during the month of December.

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