How Elephants Fit in a Two-Piece 

I heard a medical doctor on the radio say that a research paper showed eating peanuts would help you lose weight. I haven't been able to find any information on the Web and my own doctor has never heard of it. Aren't peanuts full of fat? Do you know where I can find the paper or the details of how many nuts I'm supposed to eat?

—Michelle

If it's true that peanuts can lead to weight loss, the airline industry should take note. A return to serving peanuts on flights could result in substantial savings for the ailing companies. Peanuts might halt the expensive retrofit of extra-wide seats to accommodate passengers' own extra-wide seats. In addition, the isometric exercises required to release the half-dozen peanut halves from the tiny packets (sealed tighter than post-lawsuit silicone breast implants) would also enhance the weight loss.

Peanuts are, in fact, a great food source. They are high in both fiber and protein and contain large amounts of potassium, magnesium and folate. You are correct: peanuts are high in fat, but 80 percent of it is unsaturated (the type that is best for your heart). And since they are a vegetable, peanuts have no cholesterol. Actually a legume, peanuts are truly beans and are unrelated to tree nuts like almonds and pecans. This news will come as a shock to Mr. Peanut, who, with his monocle and walking stick, clearly thinks himself an aristocrat rather than a common goober pea.

The research you heard about is true; eating peanuts has been shown to reduce appetite and assist in lowering total calorie intake. In 2002 and 2003, nutrition and obesity journals published a series of papers describing these results. Dr. Richard Mattes of Purdue University found, to his surprise, that when subjects ate a couple of handfuls of peanuts, either in addition to a normal diet or as a substitute for equivalent calories, they gained significantly less weight than predicted. These findings fit nicely with a couple of other large nutrition studies, which also showed unexpectedly, that people who ate about an ounce of peanuts, tree nuts or nut butters had a lowered Body Mass Index (a ratio of body fat to lean tissue like muscle).

How does this account for the body shapes of baseball fans in the bleachers above mountains of peanut shells? I'm not certain, but the studies did not include beer and corndogs. Larger minds have tackled the explanation of why goobers assist in reducing calorie intake. The best arguments deal with the high fiber and protein content of beans, which make peanuts slow to digest and, like Britney Spears and Kevin Federline, reduce appetite by their mere continued presence. Other theories cite an increase in metabolic rate following nut consumption or speculate that inadequate chewing results in poor calorie absorption. Regardless, Dr. Mattes has found that peanuts promote satiety (feeling full) for almost three hours compared to rice cakes, which last a mere 30 minutes.

It does seem to counterintuitive to use fat as an aid for a healthy diet, but the same set of studies showed that nuts can also produce a nearly 25 percent reduction in blood triglycerides. High levels of these circulating fats are among the risk factors for heart disease. Many worry about processed peanut butter containing trans fats, a modification of vegetable oil that is used to improve texture and shelf life. Trans fats tend to increase total cholesterol and negatively affect its good/bad ratio. Rest assured, repeated testing by our government, and other more reputable groups, show virtually no trans fats present in any major brand.

Adding peanuts to your daily meals should be fairly easy, assuming that you do not have allergies or aversions. The researchers used 500 calories worth of the roasted kind in the studies. That amount is equivalent to a half-cup of nuts or a third of a cup of peanut butter, and may be eaten all at once, throughout the day or used in recipes. Interestingly, satisfaction rates are higher and drop out rates lower for Mediterranean-type diets that encourage nut and seed consumption. All this gives me license to enjoy what passed for elegant hors d'oeuvres in my childhood household: celery stalks filled with peanut butter, sliced diagonally and served on the good Chinet.

This is about the simplest diet I've seen, but it's not magic. You still have to choose your foods carefully and eat modestly. I'd also be doing you a disservice if I didn't advise increasing your daily exercise. Taking a long walk after dinner a few times a week is an excellent idea as long as you don't make a routine stop at the convenience store. Using this research to rationalize eating four packages of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups makes us both look bad.

Dr. Ed Rabin is a chiropractor practicing at Life Chiropractic Center in Boise. Send jars of Skippy and health-related questions to theantidote@edrabin.com (on the Web at www.edrabin.com).

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