Many people consume peanuts in the form of peanut butter, candy bars, and roasted and salted snacks. But how may eating peanuts affect people with diabetes?
People with diabetes need to make sure their blood sugar levels do not rise too quickly and too far. For this reason, they need to think carefully about their diet. They may wonder if peanuts are suitable or not.
Peanuts have a low glycemic index score and glycemic load, and they contain important nutrients, making them a good choice. However, there may be some risks, too.
This article explores a few things that people with diabetes should be aware of before deciding to eat peanuts.
Peanuts are not actually nuts but legumes, like beans or peas. They have properties that make them similar to legumes, but they are also similar to nuts.
Plenty of evidence suggests that both legumes and nuts are good for a person’s health.
A study published in Nutrients found that nuts and peanuts are rich in nutrients, including:
- healthful fats
- vegetable protein
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), one ounce (oz) or 28.35 grams (g) of raw peanuts contain the following nutrients:
- calories 161
- protein 7.31 g
- carbohydrates: 4.57 g including sugar (1.34g) and fiber (2.4g)
- saturated fat: 1.78 g
- unsaturated fat 6.93 g
- monosaturated fat 4.41 g
- calcium: 26 milligrams (mg)
- iron: 1.3 mg
- magnesium 48 mg
- phosphorus 107 mg
- potassium 200 mg
- sodium 5 mg
- zinc 0.93 mg
Peanuts are not only valuable for their nutritional content. They also have a low impact on blood glucose levels.
The glycemic index (GI) rates foods based on how quickly they cause an increase in blood sugar.
Foods with a low GI score tend to convert to sugar slowly and steadily. High-GI foods release glucose quickly into the bloodstream.
A person with diabetes will need to consider these numbers when deciding how much insulin they need, and what and when they can eat.
The GI scale goes from 0–100. An item with a score of 0 would not affect blood sugar, such as water. A score of 100 is pure glucose.
Another common measurement is the glycemic load (GL). This takes into account the GI score of a food and the serving of carbohydrate in a portion. It better evaluates the impact the food will have on blood sugar levels. Foods with a GL of 10 or less are considered low-impact foods.
Peanuts have a GI score of just 14 and a GL of 1, making them one of the lowest-scoring GI foods.
This low impact on blood sugar levels is one reason why peanuts can be a good snack for people with diabetes.
Cardiovascular disease is a common complication of diabetes. People with diabetes need to make dietary choices that not only help manage blood sugar levels but also lower the risk of stroke and heart disease.
The minerals and fiber that are present in legumes — which include beans and peanuts — are good for the heart, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
They can help decrease blood pressure, and the fiber can leave a person feeling full. Fiber can also help reduce blood sugar levels. These are important factors for people with diabetes.
High blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and obesity are all direct risk factors for diabetes and many of its complications, including cardiovascular disease.
Any food that protects the heart may be helpful for anyone with diabetes.
A study of data for over 200,000 people from a variety of backgrounds found anyone who regularly ate peanuts and other nuts had a much lower risk of dying died from any cause, and especially heart disease.
This suggests there may be a link between eating peanuts and heart health, although more research is needed to confirm this. The study appeared in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Reasons for this might include the fiber content and the minerals present in peanuts.
Potassium can reduce the negative impact of sodium intake, say the AHA.
The nutritional and health value of peanuts will also depend on the processing, which can add a lot of salt, sugar, and fat.
Peanuts, like beans and legumes, contain fiber. The American Diabetes Association encourage people with diabetes to eat fiber as people because it can:
- help lower cholesterol levels
- make a person feel full for longer and after eating less
- reduce or slow the absorptions of glucose
The same factors that reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes also lower the risk of it progressing and leading to complications.
Peanuts contain omega-6 fatty acids in higher quantities than other nuts.
Some research has shown that high levels of omega-6 oils may contribute to inflammation in the body. Inflammation can worsen diabetes over time. Experts recommend achieving a balance between omega-3 and omega-6 oils.
However, other research indicates that omega-6 fats may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
A 2016 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people with higher concentrations of omega-6 fats in their blood had a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
This study involved men who did not already have diabetes, and more tests are needed to find out the exact role omega-6 fats play in diabetes.
If a person is going to eat peanuts regularly, they should also consume foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, such as walnuts, flaxseed, and oily fish like sardines and salmon.
Peanuts may have some benefit for diabetes, but not all peanut-based foods are helpful. Peanut candies are high in sugar, and peanut butter may contain added salt, oil, and sugar.
The added fats are generally trans fats or saturated fats, which are more inflammatory and less healthful for the heart.
However, a simple, natural peanut butter with little or no added salt or sugar may be a good addition to breakfast, for example, as it helps a person to feel full for longer.
Learn more here about the benefits and drawbacks of peanut butter for diabetes.
Various peanut butters are available. Check the ingredients and choose one that contains no sugar, or, better still, one that contains only peanuts.
Peanuts can be high in fat and calories, but some research suggests that, in moderation, they may help with weight loss and management of weight and body mass index (BMI).
Research published in Nutrition Journal found that people with diabetes who added peanuts to their diet plans improved the number of nutrients they were getting.
They also experienced better management of weight and certain fats in the blood.
Peanuts can be a good addition to the diet of many people with diabetes, but there may be some risks.
Allergies: Some people have an allergic reaction to peanuts, resulting in life-threatening reactions. A person should be sure that they do not have an allergy before adding peanuts to their diet.
Sodium and other additives: The increased sodium, fat, sugar, and other flavorings in store-bought peanuts are unlikely to be healthful for a person with diabetes. It is better to buy unsalted peanuts, roasted or raw and roast or boil them at home, adding a little seasoning to taste.
Calorie content: One ounce of raw peanuts contains 161 calories, and store-bought peanuts will contain more. It also contains carbohydrate. People should check the carb and calorie content and account of peanuts in their diet, if they are watching their weight and carb intake.
Aflatoxin mold: A mold that is often present on peanuts produces a toxin called aflatoxin. This is acceptable in the U.S, at varying levels, but people who have diabetes and liver problems should limit their exposure to aflatoxins.
Reduced nutrition: Some peanut-based products — such as PB2, a powdered peanut butter — are highly processed. They are unlikely to provide the same health benefits as whole peanuts.
Unlike nuts, peanuts taste different when raw. A person must cook them before eating them, for example by roasting them in an oven or a skillet or boiling them.
Add garlic or a pinch of chili for flavor, instead of salt.
As peanuts have fewer carbohydrates than starches, people with diabetes can eat them in moderation. They should however be aware that any added fat, salt, or sugar can lead to weight loss and other problems, such as high cholesterol and blood pressure.
Plain peanuts can have a positive impact on blood glucose, cardiovascular health, and possibly maintaining a healthy weight.
This can make them a more healthful option than other snacks, such as a bag of chips. Adding a small handful of peanuts to the diet each day can be a great way to manage the appetite while keeping the blood sugar stable between meals and getting essential nutrients.
However, peanuts are also high in calories, and some brands may contain oil and added carbohydrates. Processed peanuts may include high amounts of sodium, sugar, fat, and other additives.
For this reason, people should check the nutritional label of any premade peanut snacks, and account for the calories and carbs in their dietary tracking.