A little while ago I became inspired to put together a FAQ about peanuts, because I have probably fielded more questions about peanuts than any other food item in all of my years of practice. To get a feel for what my community wanted to know, I reached out to my incredible followers with a survey on my Facebook page.
Before I dive into the nitty gritty, I have to brag about my patients and Facebook followers. What you are about to read are no ordinary questions, and they required a significant amount of research to answer (especially #20!). These are thought-provoking inquiries, and they clearly show that my peeps are highly educated and concerned for their health. These questions also let me know that these intelligent people don’t settle for anything but truth, and are trying to filter through the confusion that fills the Internet.
To everyone who participated in my survey: Thank you! This is for you.
1. What is a legume and why are they not good for our health as we thought?
Legumes are one of the most nutritious and versatile foods on the planet. Technically, they are referred to as fruits or seeds of a pod, or any other edible part of a climbing or erect plant that is used as food. Some examples of legumes that you have probably heard of include beans, green beans, peas, peanuts, soy, chickpeas and lentils. Yes, a peanut is a legume!
The humble legume is currently under the spotlight, because it is suspected that many are toxic in their raw state, and to make them safe to consume they need to be soaked, fermented, sprouted or cooked. By preparing them this way, the phytates and lectin content are reduced.
According to Mary-Ann Shearer, bestselling author of books such as Perfect Health The Natural Way, legumes can cause gas and flatulence due to the two trisaccharides or three molecule starches that they contain. Shearer claims that if you eat them regularly (1 – 3 times a week), the body adjusts to produce the specific enzymes, which are needed to digest the glucose molecules making them more digestible. (1)
Elisabetta Politi, RD, Nutrition Director at the Duke Diet & Fitness Center in Durham, NC agrees. Explaining that sprouting breaks down a seed and this means easier digestion, Politi says that in their sprouted state, legumes become less allergenic to people who suffer from grain protein sensitivities. (2)
2. What about lectins?
Here’s all you need to know about lectins:
- Lectins are found in all foods, but more so in some than others. They are potentially toxic in grains, dairy, legumes and nightshade veggies.
- Some types of lectins cause a variety of unwanted responses in the body, but there are also health-promoting lectins that can decrease risk of certain diseases.
- Different types of lectins have different levels of toxicity.
- Fungal infection or wounding of the plant seems to increase lectins.
- Consuming legumes and grains in their raw form can result in nausea, diarrhea and vomiting, but it’s always a case-by-case scenario.
- Dry heat may not completely destroy lectin activity.
- Cornell University reports that, “Several cases of human intoxication were reported due to ingestion of raw or partially cooked beans.” (3)
The bottom line is that it’s generally frowned up to consume raw or partially cooked legumes, but people have done so for thousands of years so it’s not an emphatic rule. Be safer than sorry, and always make sure your peanuts are cooked and (even better yet) sprouted!
3. Is there such thing as an organic peanut? GMO peanuts? Healthy peanuts?
Is there such as a thing as an organic, non-GMO peanut? Yes, technically speaking, peanuts can be organic is the strict sense of the word. However, this doesn’t guarantee its safety.
Remember, peanuts are not “nuts,” but legumes. As we have seen above, legumes can be a rich source of nutrition, but also comes with some health risks. So, yes, there is such a thing as a “healthy” peanut, but great caution and care must be taken to only consume organic and non-GMO varieties. Additionally, the #1 and #2 factors that determine the health benefits of peanuts are the manner in which they are grown and stored. The problem with peanuts is that they are prone to mold and a carcinogen known as “aflatoxin” (more on that below).
Because the peanut crop is one of the most pesticide-contaminated crops, and many peanut plants are genetically modified, it is a good idea to always go with the organic brand. (4)
4. How does the nutritional content of peanut oil compare to cold pressed extra virgin olive oil?
- The problem with peanut oil is that it contains high levels of omega-6 fatty acids and absolutely no omega-3’s, which can contribute to various chronic and inflammatory diseases. (5)
- Additionally, Udo Erasmus, Ph.D. recommends against using peanut oil because during processing many of the health benefits are removed. If the oil does not specifically say ‘unrefined’ on its label, it has been processed through modern manufacturing methods, which nullifies the oil’s benefits. (6) Not to mention, it’s probably loaded with pesticides and is genetically modified.
Olive oil, even the non-organic variety, is infinitely safer to consume because it is not ridden with pesticides and is rarely genetically modified; especially it is outsourced from Italy. Although rich in omega-6s, olive oil does contain some omega-3’s, which helps contribute to the ideal 1:1 omega3/6 ratio. (7)
5. What is a healthy amount of peanuts to eat in one day?
Obviously, if you have a peanut allergy, you shouldn’t consume any. Otherwise, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recommends 2 tablespoons of peanut butter or 1/3 cup of peanuts a day. (8) Again, keep it to organic, non-GMO peanuts if you want to include them in your diet.
6. Is it healthier to eat raw or roasted peanuts?
Most peanuts contain aflatoxin, the carcinogenic substance that develops in them when not grown in the right environment or stored properly. In a study by Dr. Colin Campbell, PhD, roasting peanuts at 160 C reduced aflatoxin by 51%. (9)
To boot, it seems that the process of making peanut butter dramatically reduces the aflatoxin content by around 89% of the initial peanuts. Blanching (skin removal) reduced it by 27%.
Grinding the peanuts into a paste removed another 11% of the aflatoxin, probably because of the heat.
The bottom line is that roasted is always better and raw peanuts should be avoided.
This is in contrast with actual nuts, which I recommend be consumed raw, though sprouted or soaked, whenever possible.
7. What is more processed and what has more mold content: organic or non-organic peanut butter?
This is a tricky question. If organic peanuts are not grown in the right environment or stored correctly after harvesting, they can develop mold just as much as their non-organic counterparts.
As to which is more processed, this depends entirely on the process used to create the peanut butter, and whether the manufacturer has added salt and sugar. If you are going to eat peanut butter, look for a “100% organic” labeled peanut butter without added salt or sugar.
It’s a stretch to even call this peanut butter! Watch out for added sugar, salt, and hydrogenated oils … even the label can be misleading!
8. Are peanuts “toxic?”
Peanuts as peanuts are not toxic. They are filled with nutrients. But eating them certainly becomes toxic if:
- The crop is sprayed with pesticides.
- The peanuts are contaminated with aflatoxin.
- People are allergic to them.
9. I have heard that Valencia peanuts are supposed to be better than the other peanut varieties. Is this true, and if so, why?
The Valencia peanut species grow in dry climates, which greatly inhibits the production of aflatoxin. Because most other peanuts are very susceptible to contamination by aflatoxin, you should seek to restrict peanut consumption to Valencia peanuts only.
10. Why are peanuts not an acceptable nut on the Maximized Living diet?
The initial reason peanuts were excluded from the ML core and advanced plans was because of their high omega-6 content and the risk of forming aflatoxins. Phytic acid, a serious problem in most diets today, is another concern because most people don’t sprout peanuts. The Weston Price Foundation candidly points out that the addition of phytic acid in Western diets due to the mass increase of grains has led to nutritional deficiencies, tooth decay, appetite disorders and digestive problems. (10)
In my opinion, it’s better to be safe than sorry and, because many people on these meal plans are either fighting or recovering from chronic diseases, I would advise them not to consume peanuts. However, for people who eat a variety of fresh fruits and veggies and steer clear from processed foods laden with vegetable oils, I don’t see why they cannot enjoy peanuts and peanut butter occasionally.
11. Why didn’t we hear about peanut allergies when I was growing up?
The exact reason for this is not known, but since 1997, there’s been an 18% increase in the amount of total reported food allergy cases among children.
In a 2008 report, Amy Branum, a statistician with the CDC National Center for Health Statistics claims that it’s possible the increase is due to increasing awareness among parents because of food allergies being reported in the media in recent years. (11)
It could also be because of the phytic acid in peanuts. According to the Weston Price Foundation,
“Phytic acid not only grabs on to or chelates important minerals, but also inhibits enzymes that we need to digest our food, including pepsin, needed for the breakdown of proteins in the stomach, and amylase, needed for the breakdown of starch into sugar. Trypsin, needed for protein digestion in the small intestine, is also inhibited by phytates.” (10)
Other reasons could be the new food proteins that were genetically engineered and introduced into the food we eat from the 1990s, as well as the increased amounts of herbicides on genetically modified crops. (4) As explained by the Institute for Responsible Technology, there could also be a link with soy:
“There is at least one protein in natural soybeans that has cross-reactivity with peanut allergies. That means that for some people who are allergic to peanuts, consuming soybeans may trigger a reaction. While it is certainly possible that the unpredicted side effects from genetic engineering soybeans might increase the incidence of this cross-reactivity, it is unlikely that any research has been conducted to investigate this. GM soy was introduced into the US food supply in late 1996. We are left only to wonder whether this had an influence on the doubling of US peanut allergies from 1997 to 2002.” (4)
Naturally, I get questions all the time as to whether peanut allergies could be associated with the increasing number of childhood vaccines since the 1980’s. More on this below…
12. What makes people become allergic to peanuts?
The Mayo Clinic claims that it isn’t known exactly why some people become allergic to peanuts and others don’t, but that an allergic reaction to peanuts occurs when the immune system incorrectly treats peanut proteins as something harmful, and releases symptom-like chemicals into the bloodstream. (12)
However, with all of the triggers that I discussed above, it’s easy to see how someone more exposed to these risks may develop an allergy over someone who isn’t. What is not known, however, is precisely why some individuals have a very low tolerance.
13. Is there peanut oil in vaccines, which are causing more allergies?
I do not blame natural health enthusiasts for asking this question, but this can not be proven. It’s not required by vaccine manufacturers to disclaim any inclusion of peanut binders within growth media in manufacturing. According to Lawrence Palevsky, MD, FAAP, who is a holistic pediatrician in New York:
“There is adequate scientific evidence that peanut oil has been used in vaccines since the 1960’s. If current vaccine package inserts do not contain the specific evidence that peanut oil, or peanut meal, is contained within the final vaccine product, it does not mean that peanut antigen is not in the final vaccine product. Vaccine manufacturers use different growth media on which to manufacture the vaccines. They do not report, and I believe are not required to report, the exact ingredients in all of the growth media.” (13)
So, peanut oil has supposedly been used since the 1960s — but we just don’t know. (14)
14. Why don’t schools allow kids to have any nuts in their lunch boxes, but they let kids drinks Coke?
I know! Great question! This is a perfect example of the eternal double standard propagated by Big Government! (We’ve got a lot of work to do.)
Here’s the technical answer. I’ll keep the politics aside!
- This is due to the reaction allergic kids would have to nuts, and what that would mean for schools.
- Since a peanut allergy has the potential to result in death, schools probably don’t want to have to deal with the consequences of that, whereas Coke usually does not produce such a violent allergic reaction.
But, I’ve written extensively for many years about the long-term health complications of excess sugar!
15. I was once allergic to peanuts, but now that I changed my eating habits I no longer experience any problems when I eat them. Still, my doctor told me that I need to stay away from them for the rest of my life or else I could re-trigger my old allergy. Is this true?
In a study about peanut allergies, children who outgrow peanut allergy are at risk for recurrence and, paradoxically, this risk is significantly higher for people who continue largely to avoid peanuts! (15)
Because of these findings, the doctors from the Journal of Clinical and Immunology now recommend that people who have outgrown their childhood peanut allergies should eat peanuts frequently and hang on to their medication until they show continual peanut tolerance. (15) Obviously, any re-introduction of a food to which someone was previously sensitive should be carefully supervised with the help of one’s doctor! The ability to re-introduce a food over time may differ greatly from person to person.
16. Is it really a nut allergy or are our bodies reacting to the intense amount of pesticides that are sprayed on the peanut plant crop?
There are a few possible answers to this question:
- Between 1997 and 2002, the amount of people suffering from peanut allergies doubled, and the number of hospitalizations related to food allergic reactions increased by a massive 265%! An allergic reaction to food occurs when the immune system reacts to a food protein as a foreign invader (just as it would do a virus or bacteria), which then triggers an inflammatory response.
- This begs the question: has something in our food changed from before? Now remember, the proteins in peanuts cause the allergic reaction. Since the 1990’s, when new food proteins were genetically engineered and introduced into our food supply, we have reason to believe that these new food proteins have been viewed by our bodies as foreign invaders and have caused our bodies to react in alarm.
- Increased herbicides on genetically modified peanut crops may cause food allergic reactions.
- As mentioned above, if a person eats soybeans (which are typically infected by a ton of pesticides), they may have a cross-reaction in people prone to peanut allergies. (4 )
17. How do aflatoxins affect the body physiologically?
The answer to this question depends on the person and the level of contamination. There are few specifics to refer to because aflatoxin contamination can cause a variety of health conditions and can affect the following systems: (16)
- Blood and blood cells
- Central nervous system
- Organs and tissues
18. Does introducing a baby to peanuts earlier than a year lower their chance of an allergy?
It is generally reported that pregnant women who eat peanuts may reduce the risk of their babies experiencing allergic reactions when they get older. (17) Dr. Michael Young, an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, agrees. Young says that there is growing evidence that early introduction of peanuts increases tolerance and reduces the risk of peanut allergy. (4)
19. When is it safe to introduce peanuts to children?
Pediatricians’ opinions on this vary; some feel that it is safe to introduce nuts to babies without a family history of food allergy between 12 – 36 months, whereas the general consensus of peanut consumption for the baby who has no family history of food allergies is between 24 and 36 months of age.
Personally, I recommend waiting until the kiddos are about 1 year or so to introduce tree nuts not because of allergies, but to give them time to develop teeth. I’ve written further on my blog about what babies and little ones should eat – and when.
20. Why is Lucy always a jerk to Charlie Brown?
In the early days of the Peanuts comic strips, Lucy is shown to be infatuated with Charlie Brown; later on in the comic strip’s run, Lucy hints at marriage to Charlie Brown. Just as in real life, having an innocent crush on Charlie Brown is probably the reason she is often a jerk towards him. (18)
Thanks for your questions! What’s the next survey I should put up on my Facebook page?