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Peanuts heart-healthy in new research

Fat-free peanut flour, whole peanuts and peanut oil all may have cardio-protective properties, results from a new animal study suggest. Agricultural Research Service scientists presented the findings at the Institute of Food Technologists 2008 annual meeting in New Orleans, La.

For the study, male hamsters were randomly divided into four groups. Each group of nearly 20 hamsters was fed one of four different diets, all of which were high-fat and high-cholesterol.

Each diet consisted of nearly equal percentages of fats, carbohydrates and proteins. For three of the four test diets, equivalent amounts of food component were substituted with fat-free peanut flour, peanut oil or peanuts without skins. The fourth diet contained no peanut product and served as the control group.

After the hamsters had been on the test diets for six months, the researchers tested their blood lipid chemistry. Compared to hamsters in the no-peanut control group, those in each of the three peanut groups were found to have significantly lower total cholesterol and LDL “bad” cholesterol. Also positive, HDL “good” cholesterol levels held steady.

Other blood chemistry research has been published that links reduced heart disease risk factors in humans with consuming peanut butter and peanut oil, but this is the first animal study to exhibit such an effect from consuming the fat-free portion of peanuts.

While it is still unknown if the effect would translate to humans, additional research studies with peanut components continue.

The study was conducted by Tim Sanders, who heads the ARS Market Quality and Handling Research Unit, in Raleigh, N.C., and Amanda Stephens, a food science and nutrition graduate student at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

Stephens is participating in a cooperative program with ARS in which students gain course credit through laboratory training and experience. The ARS study was conducted in NCSU facilities under an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee approved protocol.

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