Columbia University Medical Center

Is Peanut Butter A Health Food?

New Study Aims to Provide the Skinny on Kids’ Diets

White Plains, NY (September 2000) – Parents trying to provide their children with a healthy low-fat diet may be surprised to discover that childhood favorites, such as peanut butter, are actually quite nutritious, since they contain protein, fiber, lots of unsaturated fat, very little saturated fat, and substantial amounts of such nutrients as vitamin E, magnesium, copper, zinc and phosphorus. A study, currently underway at the Columbia Children’s Healthy Heart Center, located at the Westchester Division of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital (21 Bloomingdale Road, White Plains), will investigate the effects of such foods on good and bad cholesterol.
By now, just about everybody has heard of the difference between “good” cholesterol (HDL cholesterol), which tends to keep arteries cleaned out, and “bad” cholesterol (LDL cholesterol), which can build up in arteries and cause blockages. However, in trying to provide their children with a healthy diet, low in cholesterol, parents may be confused about which kinds of fat kids need and which are more harmful.
Dr. Christine Williams, a specialist in pediatric nutrition and preventive cardiology who is clinical professor of pediatrics at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and Director of the Children’s Cardiovascular Health Center at Babies & Children’s Hospital, says, “I’ve often noticed that when parents find out that their child’s cholesterol is high, they cut as much fat out of the child’s diet as possible.” This reduces both the good and the bad cholesterol, and it ignores how important some fat is to a healthy diet. According to Dr. Williams, children should consume about 30 percent of their calories from fat.
“It is the type of fat that we need to be careful about,” says Dr. Williams. “Mono-unsaturated fat — found in olive oil, canola oil, and peanut butter–or the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil and flaxseed — is OK. Saturated fat, as in meat, is more problematic.”
The study, which began in June, is seeking to enroll about 50 children over the next six months. Half of the children will have high blood cholesterol levels to start with, and half will have normal blood cholesterol levels. For two months, the children will eat diets high in fat — but mostly mono-saturated fat from peanuts and peanut butter — and for two months they will eat diets with less fat and more carbohydrate. Their “good” and “bad” cholesterol levels will be tracked.
“The results of our study should help us advise families with high cholesterol, and also to develop clearer guidelines for healthy diets for all children,” Dr. Williams says.
To find out more about the study, please contact Dr. Christine Williams at 212-305-6701 or chrisw@pol.net.

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