How Bad Are Peanuts Really?
The ancestral health community has been avoiding the humble peanut for years. I actually did it myself. Why can’t I have peanuts? You can ask. Because they are legumes, the standard answer would be. And that was it. The status of legumes was decided in the prehistoric and paleo worlds. Too many antinutrients, case closed.
In recent years, however, my stance on legumes has softened.
It turns out that the lectins and phytic acid that we are concerned about are mostly inactivated by heat and proper preparation. A bit of phytic acid can even be a good thing, provided you have the gut bacteria needed to turn them into useful micronutrients. Overall, legumes are proving to be a relatively nutritious source of resistant starch and other prebiotic fibers. If you can swing the carbs and feel great eating them, legumes are on the table.
Peanuts are the most popular legumes. It’s not necessarily a basic source of calories in most people’s diets – many sections of the population eat a variety of beans and lentils of various kinds – but nothing seems to hit the hearts and minds like a huge drop of peanut butter. In this country at least, peanut butter has a cultural status that arouses nostalgia. And let’s be honest, peanuts and peanut butter also have a household drain on many people. It’s generally cheaper than other nuts.
I thought I would reconsider the idea of peanut consumption in the context of a primitive way of eating. Does it fit? Does it hurt? What should we do with the peanut?
If you’re still hesitant about the “legume thing,” go back and check out the legume post I wrote a few years ago. You should get away with a greater respect for the legume and perhaps more consideration for its inclusion in your diet.
Diet in peanuts
Here is a basic overview of the peanut diet: 1
- Calories: 161
- Fat: 14 g
- Sodium: 5 mg
- Carbohydrates: 4.6 g
- Fiber: 2.4 g
- Sugar: 1.3 g
- Protein: 7.3 g
Micronutrients – Peanuts contain micronutrients like niacin, folic acid, thiamine, magnesium, and manganese.
Protein – They also contain complete protein with all of the essential amino acids, although I wouldn’t recommend that you rely on peanuts for your protein (it’s just a nice bonus).
Fat – The predominant fatty acid is monounsaturated, although there is a fair amount of polyunsaturated fat as well. All in all, the peanut is a standard example of an entire food. Not incredibly nutrient dense, not nutrient poor.
Peanuts and your gut
Peanuts seem to have an odd (and beneficial) relationship with gut bacteria and gut health in general.
Eating peanuts with probiotics seems to help these probiotics survive passage through the intestines.2 Reason to add peanut butter to your kefir smoothie?
Peanut kernel meal (flour made from the part of the peanut you eat) can promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria, and reduce the ability of pathogens to invade host cells
Peanut shells contain polyphenols that are not absorbed but instead interact with the intestines to improve elevated blood lipids
Recipes to try:
Chocolate peanut butter fat bombs
Instant Pot Sweet Potato and Peanut Stew
Original peanut butter cups
Aflatoxins in peanuts
As a peanut – a “nut” that grows in the ground rather than on trees – peanuts are much more exposed to soil-based fungi than many other foods they normally only see while in storage. One of the fungi they encounter produces a mycotoxin called aflatoxin. During storage, which usually takes place in warmer, more humid climates suitable for peanut production, the aflatoxin level continues to rise.
Aflatoxin is metabolized by the liver. Large enough doses of aflatoxin are, in high doses, a liver carcinogen5 (this is exactly what T. Colin Campbell used to induce liver cancer in mice during his China study crusade to accuse animal protein). In China, a study of people from different villages in a region known for liver cancer found positive correlations between the amount of aflatoxin ingested and the mortality rate from liver cancer.6 Villagers who consumed less aflatoxin from peanuts, peanut oil, and corn were less likely to have liver cancer to develop; those who took in more were more likely. However, hepatitis B rates were also increased in this population, and hepatitis B and aflatoxin synergistically increase the risk of liver cancer. If you don’t have Hep B and don’t eat peanuts as your main source of calories, your risk of aflatoxin goes down.
If you are worried about aflatoxins:
- Get Valencia peanuts. Valencia peanuts are grown in drier climates that are naturally resistant to the fungus that produces aflatoxin.
- Eat green stuff. Eating plant foods that contain chlorophyll (pretty much any green vegetable) can help protect against the effects of aflatoxins
- Don’t eat low protein. Protein can protect against aflatoxin-induced cancer development, at least in animals. 8
- Eat roasted peanuts. The roasting process alone destroys about half of the aflatoxin. 9
- Eat peanut butter. After roasting, blanching and grinding the peanuts, the aflatoxin content can be further reduced by 27% and 11%, respectively. 10
Peanut agglutinin, a lectin
Unlike most lectins, it is heat-resistant. It survives digestion and gets into your bloodstream. And this has been tested on living people, not just animals or isolated cells.
In isolated colon cancer lines, peanut agglutinin stimulates the growth of tumors.11 Peanut agglutinin may also mimic the effects of a known promoter of cancer metastasis (spread to other tissues) .12 Metastases kill most cancer patients.
In both cases, peanut agglutinin looks problematic in relation to existing cancer. It doesn’t seem to promote cancer development.
Peanut agglutinin (via peanut oil) has also been shown to promote atherosclerosis in animal models. 13
Almonds versus peanuts
Many people choose almonds versus peanuts after comparing their nutritional levels. Gram for gram, almonds have fewer calories, more fiber, fewer carbohydrates, and less aflatoxin concern because they grow on trees.
The judgment from the original perspective
When you look at the bigger picture, peanut consumption correlates with health. There is evidence that the people who eat the most peanuts might be at lower risk of several types of cancer, including colon cancer.14thEsophageal Cancer (in a high risk area in China, No. less), 15 and pancreatic cancer in Men16 as well as potentially lower all-cause mortality and mortality from heart disease.17 Of course, this isn’t evidence that they’re good for us or “against cancer,” but it is a blow to the idea that peanut agglutinin is a fully toxic promoter for cancer and heart disease. If the effect were that strong, it would likely show up in population studies.
It’s fun to deal with these topics. Just be careful not to base your opinion or diet on the effects of food components in isolated cancer cells in certain contexts. Read, don’t commit. Integrate with broader population studies to get a better picture of what is going on.
The entirety of the evidence suggests that peanuts are okay for most people in moderation.
Smeared salty peanut butter over a banana? A fantastic post-drink snack to replenish lost sodium and potassium. Knock out the carbs by eating a green banana.
Spoon peanut butter straight out of the jar? Just don’t let it get to five spoons.
But the absolute best way to consume peanuts is to mix them with tiger nut flour, sea salt, and a touch of honey using a food processor, roll the mixture into balls, and place them in the freezer.
Choose dry roasted peanuts
If you go for real peanuts, go for dry roasted peanuts. Whenever you see a nut that has been “roasted” in oil, it is basically a fried nut. Combine that with the fact that most roasted oils are fragile seed oils high in omega-6 and you have an unhealthy snack on your hands. Dry roasting solves this. The texture of a dry roasted peanut is even better. I don’t want the crispy glazed exterior of a fried nut. I want my nuts to be roasted.
That’s it for today folks. Share your comments, questions, and concerns about peanut consumption below. Thank you for reading!
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