Peanuts are eaten all over the world and have been for thousands of years. It’s only in recent years that they have been made into nut butters and processed, packaged and marketed to kids. In doing so, peanuts have been adulterated from the original healthy food they once were into something quite dangerous.
Traditional Preparation of Boiled Peanuts
Goober peas, as peanuts are called in the south, are gently boiled in their shells for about 8 hours. This preparation method — similar to the soaking of other legumes (beans) — releases the phytic acid and other enzyme inhibitors that prevent digestion. In turn, boiling the peanuts in this way makes them easy to digest and their nutritional content available for assimilation by the body.
The Problems With Commercial Peanut Butter
Peanut butter is an all American food — much like hamburgers and apple pie. Some people eat it every day for lunch with jelly, or banana or even pickles. It’s a comfort food. But even the best organic peanut butter has problems.
Peanuts may easily become moldy after being stored in warm, humid silos, with a toxic mold called Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus. This mold produces a very toxic substance called aflatoxin that can cause cancer. Of course other crops carry the mold — such as pecans, pistachios and walnuts, as well as milk, grains, soybeans and spices.
Aflatoxin is a potent carcinogen, known to cause liver cancer in laboratory animals and may contribute to liver cancer in Africa where peanuts are a dietary staple.
A few years ago, Consumers Union looked into the question of aflatoxins in peanut butter and found that the amounts detectable varied from brand to brand. The lowest amounts were found in the big supermarket brands such as Peter Pan, Jif and Skippy. The highest levels were found in peanut butter ground fresh in health food stores.
The U.S. government tests crops for aflatoxin and doesn’t permit them to be used for human or animal food if they contain levels over 20 parts per billion. While we don’t know much about the dangers of long-term exposure to low levels of aflatoxin, my colleague Kathleen Johnson, a dietician here at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, points out that there hasn’t been an outbreak of liver cancer among U.S. kids, who as you know, consume enormous amounts of peanut butter.
I must say, I was surprised to find out that the highest levels of aflatoxins were found in freshly ground peanut butter from health food stores. Hmmm.
While it is true that kids eat a lot of peanut butter and do not seem to suffer any consequences, I would be a little wary, because we just don’t have data on long term effects of low levels of aflatoxin. There were several years where I had quite the peanut butter tooth and consumed a lot of peanut butter.
Nutrition and Fatty Acid Profile
Peanuts, like most nuts and legumes have a mixture of proteins, fiber, starches and sugars. However, the overriding macro nutrient group is fat.
Although peanuts are high in good monounsaturated fats, there is a very poor omega 6 to omega 3 ratio — in one cup of peanuts there is 196 mg of omega 3 fats and 35578 mg of omega 6 fatty acids. According to this chart, the omega 6 to 3 ratio is a whooping 5230 for peanuts compared to 20.8 for pecans, 4.19 for walnuts and 6.2 for macadamia nuts.
Omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) tend towards inflammatory pathways, so too much is not good. In fact, studies have shown that diets with a high omega 6 ratio increase the risk of heart disease by 13%. There is also increased risk of other inflammatory conditions such as, diabetes, asthma, allergies, depression and weight gain.
In spite of all these fats, there is scarcely any fat soluble vitamins in peanuts, except for a drop of K and a little vitamin E.
Peanut Oil is Atherogenic
There has also been some research that indicates that the lectins in peanut oil contribute to atherosclorosis in rats, rabbits, and primates.
Additionally, this study published in the Lancet showed that the lectins in peanut oil got into the bloodstream intact in as little 1-4 hours after subjects ate a handful of roasted, salted peanuts. Even though the concentrations of PNA in the subject’s blood were quite low, they were still at concentrations known to cause atherosclerosis in experimental animals.
Lectins are moderately large protein molecules, and are among the substances in legumes, nuts, seeds and grains generally called anti-nutrients. Lectins can be irritating to the digestive tract, inhibit digestion and increase inflammation. Proper preparation of peanuts, as indicated above, is important to deactivate these enzyme inhibitors and anti-nutrients.
Hydrogenated — Rancid — Genetically Modified Oils
The commercial brands are mixed with refined polyunsaturated oils which are rancid — they are refined by a process that adds toxic chemicals, high heat and pressure that changes the chemical structure of the oil and renders them rancid.
The commercial brands of peanut butter are genetically modified now — not because the peanuts are GM, to my knowledge they are not — but because the soybean, canola, corn and/or cottonseed oils mixed in are most definitely genetically modified.
Another problem is that commercial peanuts are made by the big three: Jif, Skippy and Peter Pan (although this brand is fading) which means they have taken over the small peanut farms that used to exist in the south.
Peanut Allergies Are Serious
Peanut allergies are on the rise. The rate of peanut allergies among American children more than tripled between 1997 and 2008, going from 0.4 percent to 1.4 percent.
That may not seem like a lot, but it is when you consider that trace amounts of peanut can trigger a severe allergic attack and this person now has to carry an epipen and has to worry about going into anaphylactic shock from a peanut. Some folks are so sensitive, that even the fragrance of the peanut is enough to send them into anaphylaxis.
Additionally, many other foods are manufactured in plants that process peanuts and so may be contaminated with them. For allergic people, it is a long list of foods.
Interestingly, on the website of the Peanut Institute they say,
Research shows that highly refined peanut oil, which has had all of the allergic proteins removed, does not cause an allergic response in severely allergic individuals. A controlled human study published in the British Medical Journal that tested refined peanut oil in 60 severely allergic individuals, found that “refined peanut oil did not pose a risk in any of the subjects” who were allergic to peanuts.
The FDA Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act also state, “highly refined oils and ingredients derived from highly refined oils are excluded from the definition of ‘major food allergen’.”
If I were highly allergic to peanuts I would not listen to these comments, as they were not linked to the study and they also go on to quote the American Heart Association with this statement.
The American Heart Association says “Most of the fats you eat should be the “better” fats – monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats.” Vegetable oils (canola oil, olive oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil), avocados, nuts and seeds, and seafood are recommended sources of these fats.
They are still advocating vegetables oils… and rejecting saturated fats from animals. They just don’t get it.
I Love the Taste of Peanuts
I do miss the taste of peanuts and occasionally I will buy a jar of dry roasted peanuts that have only peanuts as the ingredient. Not surprisingly, this is very hard to find as most peanut manufacturers dress them up with artificial flavors, spices (MSG) and the dreaded rancid GM oils.
I know these dry roasted peanuts have not been soaked, but here in the northeast we don’t have the fresh peanuts that are used for boiling. I eat only a few and very rarely at that.
I suppose I could take raw peanuts and soak them and dehydrate them, but I am also somewhat concerned about the aflatoxins — as noted above. The highest amounts of aflatoxins were found in the freshly ground peanut butter at the health food stores. However, most troublesome is the very poor omega 3 to 6 profile.
Mostly, I use pecans, almonds and some macadamia nuts, soaked and dehydrated.
What about you? Do you still eat peanuts? leave a comment and let me know!
How to Activate nuts and seeds to make them more digestible.
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