With USDA data showing peanuts to be the most frequently consumed nut in the U.S. — about half of all nuts eaten — a study by the prestigious Harvard Medical School has shown that daily consumption of 1 oz. of peanuts can reduce risk of death from all major health causes by as much as 20 percent.

The study also showed that those who ate peanuts were leaner, “another great reason to have a daily handful of peanuts,” says John Powell, executive director of The Peanut Institute, Albany, Ga., who discussed the findings at the annual meeting of the Mississippi Peanut Growers Association at Hattiesburg.

“Peanuts are a lot tastier than prescription drugs, and a lot cheaper,” he says.

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The study, “the largest and strongest to date looking at death from all causes in nut eaters,” was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers tracked almost 119,000 men and women from the Nurses Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study for a 30-year period, using multivariate analysis.

“Results showed that the more frequently peanuts were consumed, the lower the risk of death,” Powell says. “Compared to non-nut eaters, those who ate peanuts less than once a week reduced death risk by 7 percent; for weekly eaters, it was reduced by 11 percent; two to four times a week, 13 percent; and seven or more times a week, about 20 percent.

“When researchers looked at peanuts alone and compared them to a mixture of tree nuts, results were about the same. Dr. Charles Fuchs, who led the Harvard research team, said, ‘We don’t see any difference in the benefits between peanuts and tree nuts.’”

Previous research from the Harvard School of Public Health showed a 1 oz. serving or peanuts or a one tablespoon serving of peanut butter five or more times per week may reduce the risk of diabetes by 27 percent and 21 percent respectively. Additional Harvard work showed eating a handful of peanuts five or more times per week can reduce the risk of heart disease by 50 percent.

The study also showed that peanuts have more protein than any other nut, are a good source of fiber, vitamin E, folate, phosphorus, thiamin, copper, and magnesium, an excellence source of niacin and manganese, and are extremely high in phytochemicals.

“Nutrients in nuts … may confer cardio-protective, anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidant properties,” it said.