Why I Gave Up Peanut Butter

August 6, 2013 · 52 comments

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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.

Read more about boiled peanuts here.

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.

Aflatoxin

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.

According to Dr. Andrew Weil,

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.

Scary stuff.

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.

Where to buy soaked and dried nuts and nut butters

Shared at: Gluten Free Wednesday, Real Food Wednesday, Mommy Club, Allergy Free Wednesday,Healthy 2Day, Party Wave Wednesday, Whole Food Wednesday,Thank Your Body Thursday, Tasty Traditions, Gluten Free Friday, Barnyard Hop, Hearth & Soul Hop, Tasteful Tuesday

 

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{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Vicky August 7, 2013 at 5:25 am

This is scary stuff! Thank you for the information.

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2 Lyza@ Chic Shades of Green August 7, 2013 at 8:22 am

It’s so hard to know what to eat these days! I know that peanuts are on the lists of foods to avoid, but if you cut them out along with grains, and whatever else, it feels like there is little variety in the foods we eat. I still buy organic peanuts and peanut butter, but it isn’t like we have large serving sizes of them. I like to feed my daughter apples and peanut butter for lunch or snack because I think it’s good to avoid a grain that meal. Thanks for all the information, it’s very good to keep in mind.

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3 Judy @Savoring Today August 7, 2013 at 10:31 am

We stopped eating peanut butter a while ago, I think it was after I read The Maker’s Diet, but I’d have to look up why again. LOL Anyway, we switched to almond butter and other nuts, though I do still add a handful of peanuts to Kung Pao or prepare a Thai peanut sauce from time to time. Like you, it is not part of our regular diet.

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4 Judy @Savoring Today August 7, 2013 at 10:43 am

Hmm, I decided to go look it up and couldn’t find it specifically in The Maker’s Diet, though he does address soaking and sprouting. Must have been another resource I discovered through his book. Anyway, thanks for addressing this, so many use peanut butter as a staple for their kids.

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5 Brittany Ardito August 7, 2013 at 11:01 am

Be careful with Almonds. Make sure to buy RAW almonds as all almonds from California are now required to be toxicly pasteurized and most don’t disclose that on their labels. You can find raw or steam pasteurized (the safest pasteurization method) on Amazon.

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6 Brittany Ardito August 7, 2013 at 11:07 am

I forgot to mention that from what I have read, Bob’s Red Mill is the best quality organic peanut butter as far as avoiding mold. Also, a good alternative is Sunbutter made from sunflower seeds or Tahini.

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7 Meagan August 8, 2013 at 9:55 am

I’ve made my own peanut butter before. I first soaked the (raw) peanuts overnight, then boiled them for 1 hour, then roasted them until crispy (could dehydrate too but I don’t have a dehydrator), and then cooled them down and blended them with lots of coconut oil into peanut butter! It was VERY good and my mom and I ended up calling it “peanut butter of the gods” haha!

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8 Meagan August 8, 2013 at 9:57 am

But in the end, the omega 6 / omega 3 ratio of all nuts is extremely worrisome to me, so I’ve been decreasing my nut consumption here and there… I also don’t have the time to make NT’s crispy nuts, which would make me feel better. I just got a Vitamix last year and have been experimenting making my own nut butters, so I anticipate that will be much more nutritious for me if I want some nut butter!

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9 Jill August 8, 2013 at 11:40 am

Hi Meagan,
That sounds like a great idea!

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10 Hannah Jurgelis @ Dreaming of Perfect August 8, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Wow, what an eye-opener! I personally hate peanutbutter, but my husband loves it. I’ll have to look into switching him to a different nut butter.

I have a blog link-up on Fridays, called Free to Talk Friday, I hope you’ll come and join. It will be open late tonight at dreamingofperfect.weebly.com I think my readers would really enjoy this post.

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11 Brittany @ The Pistachio Project August 8, 2013 at 10:32 pm

I would imagine that fresh ground peanut butter at stores have the highest levels because the peanuts are just sitting there and thus collecting the mold. (ew). Not to say that if we bought peanuts that they too wouldn’t have the same issue.

In any case, one of my kids is allergic to peanuts (and some other nuts) so we don’t bother with it (except for the occasional bit for me) Instead we use homemade (soaked and roasted) sun butter. Granted the omegas are still an issue but it’s an easy way for me to get their calories in.

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12 Steph (The Cheapskate Cook) August 11, 2013 at 9:52 am

Interesting thoughts – your posts are always to thought-provoking. Thanks for sharing!

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13 Hope August 11, 2013 at 10:58 am

Does this apply to organic nut butters?

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14 Jill August 11, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Yes, organic butters have the same lipid profile and mold problems.

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15 Debb Jeffries August 12, 2013 at 12:20 am

Wow! What an eye-opener! I love nuts. I love peanuts. I love everything about nuts and would fall to the floor in grief if an allergy to nuts arose in my life. Typically I have a handful of nuts each day for years because some health specialist recommended it in the DASH diet. So basically what the hell are we supposed to do? Everything is poison and dangerous? It’s exhausting to keep up with this but I want to provide at least 3/4 of our meals at the healthy level proscribed. It’s just that I do not want to make it a full time job or an obsession. How is this lifestyle accomplished? It just sounds so painstakingly obsessive that it is off-putting for many people who just want to get the meal on the table. Can you please reflect and observe that so many people have an overbearing and insistent lifestyle that is near torture. Can you come up with some simple and non-terrifying suggestions for how the regular American family can incorporate some/maybe all of your fantastic knowledge?

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16 Jill August 12, 2013 at 10:21 pm

Hi Debb,
It seems over overwhelming at first but certainly some if not most of the principles of truly healthy eating can be accomplished.Here is one post I just wrote about this very topic.

http://realfoodforager.com/how-i-manage-a-busy-practice-a-busy-blog-a-family-and-still-have-time-to-cook/

Hope this helps!

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17 Lauren August 12, 2013 at 10:23 pm

Ironically, peanut butter is one of the few ‘nut’ butters (I know it’s considered a legume) that my daughters and I can eat. Maybe it’s the brand? I usually go with Laura Scudder’s or the 365 brand from Whole Foods, neither of which has anything added to it.

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18 Dawn @Transformed By Food August 13, 2013 at 9:16 am

I switched to Sunflower Seed Butter (Once Again Organic, Sugar and Salt Free, with a little honey and Celtic Sea Salt, if you like) and Almond Butter a while ago.

I never thought I’d eat a peanut butter cookie again, which was a favorite growing up. While I don’t usually eat power bars, I recently found one that tastes remarkably like a peanut butter cookie! And it’s great to have an on-the-go snack option. It’s a cashew/date/almond bar made by Clif – Kit’s Organic Fruit and Nut Bar – Cashew. It’s gluten, soy, and dairy free, which is perfect for people with multiple sensitivities like me. It tastes especially good with coconut butter on top!

As most nuts are highly allergenic, I eat them in moderation (like everything else), and rotate the kinds I eat.

Have a happy, gut healthy week!

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19 amber August 13, 2013 at 11:46 pm

I’m deathly allergic to peanut butter…so I never had to give it up, but I hope others read this and take it seriously!

As always, awesome information, Jill!

xo,
–Amber

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20 Julie August 14, 2013 at 3:11 pm

I love, love, love, peanut butter. I’ve been using the Holsum brand for years until recently I heard that they are a company to avoid. But the listing is just peanuts and salt. I tried the Once Again and it’s delicious. Hearing all of these warnings should scare me but I’m not giving up my peanut butter yet…. I’ve practically give up all grains but just cant’ let go of the peanut butter.

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21 micki August 14, 2013 at 3:37 pm

I use Maranatha peanut butter. Their site talks about aflatoxins in it’s FAQ’s.

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22 Allie August 15, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Good information, thanks for sharing.

I will continue to eat organic peanut butter, I don’t eat it every day and sometimes go weeks without it.
I’m going to choose not to be stressed a out it.

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23 Kate August 19, 2013 at 5:43 pm

Peanuts are certainly a problem when they are the typical GMO product manufactured and produced with Monsanto products. However I think that peanuts that are non-GMO and grown organically are not a problem. The rise in allergies came in tandem with the increase in Monsanto produced peanuts. It is the engineered peanut with pesticide cells grafted into them that are the problem. Not the natural peanut.
Having said that there is a product here in Canada called No Peanut Butter that contains no peanuts at all and can safely be taken to schools that have placed a ban on peanut butter. It tastes delicious and satisfies that graving for a pb ‘n j beautifully.

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24 Jill August 19, 2013 at 7:15 pm

HI Kate,
I did not know that peanuts were GM. Are you sure about that? And I wonder what is in the No Peanut Butter product?

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25 Kiki August 25, 2013 at 8:30 pm

The peanuts are not GM, however the oils they use in commercial peanut butters are most likely GM. The only legume that is GM is the soybean. I love peanuts and peanut butter, and occasionally I find myself craving my favorite PB(Organic Smucker’s PB), but I generally eat (Heirloom)Raw Organic Wild Jungle Peanuts, which has no aflatoxins at all.

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26 Jill August 25, 2013 at 9:40 pm

Hi Kiki,
Interesting! I didn’t know there were heirloom peanuts!

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27 Sofie August 27, 2013 at 3:15 am

Really, really great post. I did know peanuts had antinutrients but the rest of it is new to me. I’ll have to toss them I guess. Never really eat that much peanut, apart from the occasional sugar free peanut butter cookie. Maybe have to try baking them with almond!

X Sofie (Practically Pure)

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28 Margaret Flay August 29, 2013 at 11:02 am

We need Omega-6 fats in our diet for out body to function, but when they greatly out number the omega-3′s then we have a problem. Omega-6′s create damaging compounds associated with arthritis, Alzheimers, heart disease, stress, mood disorders and cancer. It’s wise to be aware of these facts and choose foods high in omega-3′s.
Of the nut butters, hazelnut (my favorite), macadamia, chestnuts, chia seeds and flaxseeds all have a good 6 – 3 ratio and give us good options.
Nice to see more and more blogs, like your great post, are addressing this issue very well.

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29 Vita @ EcceVita August 30, 2013 at 6:10 am

Great article! We don’t eat peanut butter either. Homemade almond butter is soooo much nicer and you can make a fresh batch every few days. You can even customise it however you want by adding cinnamon, cocoa powder, honey, etc.

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30 Sheryl Hernandez January 2, 2014 at 7:20 pm

I need help in understanding the Omega 3/Omega 6 ratio. I see that the chart lists peanuts at 5230 but if I just take 196 omega 3 divided by 35,578 Omega 6, I get a ratio of 181.5 What am I doing wrong?

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46 judy August 21, 2014 at 12:35 pm

I just found this website because I’ve been ill all morning and I blame it on the Holsum peanut butter I’ve been eating. I love peanut butter but have cut way back because of trying to lose some weight. Sometimes I’ll have a tablespoon at bedtime to curtail my hunger. But the last 2 jars have not tasted right or blended right. This last jar absolutely will not mix the oils and peanut butter together even in the refrigerator. I’m glad I found you. I’m off peanut butter for good.

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