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Diabetes: Peanut Butter & Peanuts

Rising Rates of Type 2 Diabetes

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), rates of type 2, or adult onset, diabetes have tripled in the last 30 years. This is due largely to the global epidemic of obesity, a major risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. The connection is so strong that some health experts have coined a new term, “diabesity.”

Diabetes High-Risk Populations

Some populations are at an even higher risk of diabetes. Compared with Caucasians, African Americans have a 60 percent higher rate of developing diabetes and Hispanics have a 90 percent increased risk. Currently, the American Diabetes Association recommends that high-risk individuals get a fasting blood sugar test beginning at age 45. However, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) and the American College of Endocrinology (ACE) have new recommendations 1 that say individuals at high risk for diabetes may need to be screened as early as age 30. The new, stricter recommendations are consistent with world-wide standards.

Diabetes High-risk Individuals

High-risk individuals are those who:

  • Have a relative with diabetes;
  • Are overweight, defined as Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than 25;
  • Have heart disease, high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels or low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels -the “good” cholesterol;
  • Have had gestational diabetes or have delivered a baby weighing more than 9 lbs;
  • Have polycystic ovarian syndrome; or
  • Have impaired glucose tolerance detected by a blood sugar test.

    How Does Food Impact Blood Sugar Levels?

    Whether you have type 2 diabetes or you are trying to prevent it, the goal is to keep blood sugar levels in check. With type 2 diabetes, the body loses the ability to use insulin properly. When this happens, blood sugar levels rise and damage blood vessels, which can lead to kidney damage, vision loss, or other complications.

    To determine the effect of foods on blood sugar levels, both the glycemic index and the glycemic load must be considered.

    What is the glycaemic index (GI)?

    The glycemic index (GI) of a food indicates how quickly the carbohydrate in that food will turn to sugar in your body. GI was originally developed as a tool for research scientists.The glycemic index (GI) is a point scale used to compare how high your blood sugar and insulin levels spike after eating the same amount of carbohydrates from different foods. Foods that are digested more slowly release sugar gradually into the bloodstream, so they have a lower GI and are healthier. The GI content of foods is measured on a 100-point scale, with 100 representing the highest GI foods. Peanuts have a GI of 14, making them a low GI food.

    What is glycemic load?

    Glycemic load (GL) is a newer term that takes GI into consideration and gives us a better picture of a food’s overall effect on blood sugar levels. By definition, glycemic load is the amount of carbohydrate in a food multiplied by the glycemic index of that carbohydrate. In other words, glycemic load takes both the type and amount of carbohydrate into consideration, making it a more feasible measure when examining foods in the context of healthy diets. The “glycemic load” (GL) scale also measures blood sugar spikes, but uses the typical serving size of each food item instead of a standard carbohydrate amount, making it an even better tool to show how different foods can affect blood sugar.

    Peanuts and Peanut Butter Can Help Control Blood Sugar

    A study from the Harvard School of Public Health8 looked at the diet and exercise patterns of over 65,000 women from the Nurses Health Study who were free of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. The researchers found that eating low glycemic index foods such as peanut butter, broccoli, yogurt and beans along with a diet higher in complex cereal fiber can significantly reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Similar results were found in men.

    More recent studies examine the effects of glycemic load. Researchers at Harvard found that women who consumed high glycemic-load diets (heavy in both high GI foods and total carbohydrates) had lower high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels and higher trigylcerides, two risk factors for both diabetes and heart disease.

    Research has shown that peanuts can help control blood sugar in both healthy individuals and those with type 2 diabetes. Peanuts and peanut butter have even been shown to help lessen the spike in blood sugar when paired with high-carbohydrate or high-GL foods.

    Peanuts and peanut butter are both low GI and GL foods, as they contain healthy oils, protein, and fiber that have a positive effect on blood sugar control.

    Foods with a higher GI and GL can cause blood sugar and insulin to spike soon after eating, and after a meal, blood sugar can then drop even lower than before. This crash in blood sugar can make a person feel tired and hungry for more food, and this rollercoaster cycle of highs and lows can contribute to the development of pre-diabetes and diabetes. In addition, low-GI diets can significantly improve long-term glucose control in people with diabetes, similar to the amounts achieved with medication.

    A 2013 study by Reis and colleagues showed that, when eaten in the morning, peanuts and peanut butter positively impact blood sugar control throughout the day for women at high risk for type 2 diabetes. Not only did consuming 1.5 ounces of peanuts or peanut butter at breakfast help to decrease blood sugar spikes early in the day, but effects were also seen hours later when participants showed more even blood sugar control following a high-carbohydrate lunch in the absence of peanuts or peanut butter.

    Their findings were later supported by a 2018 study from the University of the Incarnate Word, which investigated the effect of peanut butter consumption with a high glycemic index breakfast on blood sugar. Investigators found that when peanut butter was added to the high glycemic index meal, the spike in blood glucose was significantly lower than without peanut butter. They explained that this effect may be due in part to its high protein and healthy fat content.

    Plus, eating peanuts/tree nuts can help with long-term blood sugar control. One study published in Diabetologia showed that eating mixed nuts (including peanuts) in place of high-carbohydrate foods improved long-term blood sugar control and lowered cholesterol in men and women with type 2 diabetes.

    How Peanuts And Peanut Butter Can Help In The Prevention And Management Of Diabetes

    1. Peanuts Can Control Weight Gain

    Being overweight is one of the biggest risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes. Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston have found that three times as many people were able to stick to a healthy moderate fat weight loss diet than those following the traditionally recommended low fat diet. Furthermore, they were able to keep the weight off for over 18 months, had better nutritional intakes and were more satisfied because they could eat some of their favorite foods each day such as peanut butter, nuts, peanuts, and unsaturated fat oils, in a healthy Mediterranean-style eating pattern.

    Recent research from Purdue University shows that snacking on peanuts and peanut butter is an effective way to control hunger without leading to weight gain. Subjects who snacked on peanuts and peanut butter self-adjusted their caloric intake spontaneously and did not add extra calories to their daily diets. These findings support previous long- and short-term studies that indicate that regular consumption of peanuts does not promote weight gain.

    2. Peanuts are a Good Source of Magnesium

    Magnesium has been shown to play a role in reducing the risk of diabetes due to its positive relationship with how insulin is released and absorbed in the body. Peanuts contain 12% of the daily value for magnesium, making them a “good source” of the nutrient, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In one study, individuals who ate peanuts every day for three weeks not only had a higher intake of magnesium, but blood magnesium also improved to above recommended levels.

    Clinical studies have shown that when individuals don’t consume enough magnesium, their risk of type 2 diabetes increases.

    Magnesium also plays a role in metabolic syndrome, inflammation, and insulin resistance in people of all ages. Studies show an association between magnesium deficiency and insulin resistance in children as well as inflammation and metabolic syndrome in middle-aged and older adults.

    3. Peanuts Can Reduce Triglycerides and Maintain Good HDL Cholesterol

    A low-fat diet was once recommended for most people. However, the American Heart Association has recognized that a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet may actually increase triglycerides in some people, which can promote diabetes and increase the risk of heart disease. Newer studies have shown that replacing some of the carbohydrate in your diet with poly- and monounsaturated fat will actually lower triglycerides and maintain good high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels, which may decrease the risk of heart disease.

    A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared a calorie-controlled diet that was higher in monounsaturated fat (MUFA) and included peanuts/peanut butter, olive oil, or peanut oil, with a calorie-controlled low-fat diet. The higher monounsaturated fat diet and the low-fat diet all lowered total cholesterol by about 11% and LDL cholesterol by 14% within a month. However, the peanut diet and olive oil diet had the added benefit of reducing triglycerides by 13% (vs. an 11% increase with the low-fat diet) and maintaining HDL cholesterol (vs. a 4% decrease with the low-fat diet).

    The study found that overall, the diet that included peanuts/peanut butter lowered cardiovascular disease risk by 21%, whereas the low-fat diet decreased the risk by only 12%.

    4. Plant Protein Reduces Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

    A major study from the Harvard School of Public Health shows that consuming peanuts and peanut butter reduces type 2 diabetes risk (Malik et al., Dietary Protein Intake and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes in US Men and Women, Am J Epidemiol, 2016).

    Powerful Plant Protein

    Harvard researchers assessed more than 20 years of data following more than 200,000 people in the United States. Their research centered on the relationship between plant and animal protein consumption and type 2 diabetes risk. Investigators found:

    • Study participants who ate high levels of plant protein reduced their risk of type 2 diabetes by 9%.
    • In contrast, those participants with diets higher in animal protein increased their risk of type 2 diabetes by 13% (see graph below)
    • In the study, “whole grains and peanuts and peanut butter were the most commonly consumed major food sources of vegetable protein” (p. 9-10)
    Healthy Substitutions Lead to Major Health Benefits in the Future

    Substitution of 5% of energy from plant protein (legumes, peanuts, peanut butter, other nuts and whole grains) was made for an equal amount of total carbohydrate, refined carbohydrate, or animal protein. These substitutions resulted in a 19-23% reduced risk of diabetes:

    Plant Protein Substitution For:


    Total carbohydrate

    22% lower risk of diabetes

    Refined grains and sugar

    19% lower risk

    Animal protein

    23% lower risk

    Substituting peanuts and peanut butter for animal protein, refined grains or potatoes resulted in 7-21% reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.

    Substituting peanuts and peanut butter for processed meat resulted in the largest diabetes risk reduction (21%).

    Peanuts vs. Almonds Health Benefits for Diabetics

    If you think pricier almonds are healthier than peanuts, it’s time to think again. In a study comparing the effects of peanut or almond consumption on the health of diabetic patients, both were found to be equally beneficial.

    Two groups of participants, a Peanut group and Almond group, were fed low-carb diets over 12 weeks. Each were instructed to consume approximately 2 servings of peanuts or almonds every day.

    After 12 weeks authors found that both groups showed improvement in hemoglobin A1c levels (a marker of long-term glucose control) and glucose levels. In fact, peanuts improved both fasting glucose levels and 2-hr postprandial glucose levels (glucose levels tested 2 hours after a meal).

    The authors noted that while nuts are routinely recommended for diabetics to help with glucose control, the higher costs of tree nuts can make them more difficult to acquire for some. Peanuts are a low-cost option that can help to keep diabetics healthy if consumed daily as part of a balanced diet.

    Peanuts and Peanut Butter are Healthy Food Choices for Type 2 Diabetes

    Guidelines for preventing diabetes include maintaining an appropriate body weight, being physically active, and making healthy food choices.

    Peanuts contain not only plant protein (in fact, they are higher in protein than other nuts), but they also contain fiber and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Protein, fiber and fat are crucial foods for maintaining satiety (feeling full) and supporting normal blood sugar levels—these are critical factors in maintaining your weight and preventing diabetes.

    Here is a great peanut recipe for diabetics! This recipe is quick, simple and is great for breakfast or a snack. Control your blood sugar all day with these easy to make Peanut Butter Protein Balls. For more diabetic recipes, make sure to check out this diabetic cookbook.


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