I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I say, nuts are super healthy.
But wait up… are peanuts healthy? Perhaps it’s only a problem when you eat too many, right?
Well, let’s back up a little and define “peanuts” first of all.
As you probably know, peanuts aren’t actually nuts, they are pulses belonging in the legume family, along with peas, beans, lentils and soybeans.
And, they grow under the ground, too, not on trees.
They are a great source of protein for a plant food, and a good source of vitamins and minerals, like biotin, copper, folate, vitamin E, thiamin, and magnesium.
But, although they are different to nuts like almonds and Brazil nuts etc., do they still have the same health benefits their counterparts are renowned for having?
Let’s take a closer look…
Are Peanuts Healthy: Benefits
One of the biggest nutritional myths of all times is that eating foods high in fat will make you fat.
As a result, people are often fearful of nuts.
While it’s true that peanuts are high in fat – mostly monounsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, but also some saturated fat – studies suggest this does not appear to contribute to weight gain.
In well-controlled trials, no change in body weight was observed in the participants.
But, let’s look more specifically at some of the research.
1. Highly Satiating
One study found that when peanuts were added to the diet everyday for 8 weeks, the peanut group naturally compensated for this energy increase in their overall dietary intake.
Despite being energy dense, peanuts have a high satiety value and chronic ingestion evokes strong dietary compensation and little change in energy balance.
2. Reduced Energy Intake At Subsequent Meals
One study compared peanuts to potato chips, and found that overall energy intake was reduced in the peanut group.
This reduction was apparent on the day the participants were studied, but more interestingly, it was also evident 4 days following the test.
The findings suggest peanuts may be a preferred snack food to include in the diet for maintaining a healthy weight.
3. Beneficial For Heart Health
Peanuts have also been linked with having a protective effect against coronary heart disease.
In one study, when nuts (peanuts, walnuts, almonds and other nuts) where substituted into the diet in place of carbs, it was associated with a 30% reduction in cardiovascular disease risk.
The researchers concluded:
Given the strong scientific evidence for the beneficial effects of nuts, it seems justifiable to move nuts to a more prominent place in the United States Department of Agriculture Food Guide Pyramid.
Regular nut consumption can be recommended in the context of a healthy and balanced diet.
Another study suggested that eating nuts and peanuts regularly would significantly reduce the risk of heart disease at a population level:
Nuts and peanuts are food sources that are a composite of numerous cardioprotective nutrients, and if routinely incorporated in a healthy diet, population risk of CHD would therefore be expected to decrease markedly.
4. Beneficial For Diabetics
And, it’s not just whole peanuts that are healthy, peanut butter is also a great choice, too.
One study found that in those with diabetes, regularly eating nuts and peanut butter could significantly reduce their risk of cardiovascular heart disease.
These data suggest that frequent nut and peanut butter consumption is associated with a significantly lower CVD risk in women with type 2 diabetes.
So, regardless of how peanuts aren’t seen as the “perfect” diet food in a world of low fat dieters, they are actually a really great weight loss tool, being super satisfying, reducing subsequent energy intake, and also being cardioprotective.
Are Peanuts Healthy: Adverse Effects
Unless you are allergic to peanuts, the adverse effects aren’t very significant. However, there are a few things to be aware of…
1. Aflatoxin Poisoning
Unfortunately, some peanuts can become contaminated with aflatoxin, which is a carcinogenic mold.
The risk of aflatoxin contamination depends on how the peanuts were stored, and it is more common in warm, humid conditions.
This contamination can, however, be effectively prevented when the peanuts are properly dried after harvest, and by keeping the temperature and humidity low during storage.
If you are able to determine where your peanuts or peanut butter of choice are produced, it will give you a better idea of the production conditions (more on that later!)
2. Pesticide Contamination
Peanuts are also one of the most pesticide-contaminated crops.
And thus, this is why paying a bit extra for an organic version is a really wise choice.
3. Omega 3/6 Unbalancing
Almost all nuts are higher in omega 6 fats vs omega 3 fats. And so, eating too many nuts can actually upset this ratio within your body.
This is another reason to avoid oils like corn oil, safflower oil, soy bean oil, and canola oil, as well as deep fried foods, margarine and shorting, because they are very high in omega 6 fats.
So, although nuts do contain polyunsaturated fats, if you are eating a balanced diet, that is rich in omega 3 fats, then eating nuts in moderation is not something to be concerned about.
To lower the content of omega 6 fats in peanut butter, you can pour off the oil that settles on the top of the jar, instead of stirring it back into the peanut butter again.
If your peanut butter becomes too dry, stir in a little olive oil or macadamia nut oil, as these are both low in omega 6 fats.
How To Choose The Healthiest Peanut Butter
The best peanut butter I’ve ever tasted came from a health food store in Kingston, Tasmania, when we lived there!
Try your local health food store, too, because they often make their own peanut butter in-store, and it’s often a really awesome option.
Here are a few additional things to look out for when choosing peanut butter:
1. Avoid Added Oils
Many of the cheaper peanut butters have extra oils added.
These are usually hydrogenated oils to help improve the texture, however they also add a trans fat source to your diet, that is super unhealthy.
Your best option is to buy peanut butter with no added oils. Check labels for options that state “peanut only.”
2. Skip Added Sugars
Some peanut butters have around 1 teaspoon per 2 tablespoon serving, and it’s totally unnecessary – peanut butter has a flavor all of it’s own, and doesn’t require sweetening.
Check the label for sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, corn syrup solids, molasses, honey, etc. to see if your favorite peanut butter is a good option.
3. Avoid Low Fat
If you go for low fat peanut butter you are undoubtedly going to get a dose of sugar and other additives that are added in to replace those healthy fats they have removed.
Don’t do it!
Just buy the full fat version instead, and eat less, if you really have to!
How To Choose The Healthiest Peanuts
When you are choosing peanuts, go for raw, unsalted, and un-roasted.
Here are some more specifics to look out for when you are choosing peanuts…
1. Check For Moisture
When you are purchasing peanuts, make sure that there is no sign of moisture or insect damage.
If you can, smell them, as that is the best way to notice if there is a rancid or musty smell.
When you are buying whole, unshelled peanuts, if possible, pick up a peanut and shake it. It should feel heavy for its size, and it should not rattle, because that means the kernel has dried out.
You should also check the shells for cracks, dark spots and insect damage, and avoid if you see any signs of these.
2. Store Peanuts Correctly
Shelled peanuts ought to be stored in an airtight container in the fridge, or even the freezer, to protect them from excess exposure to heat, humidity or light, which can make them become rancid.
If your peanuts are still in the shell, they can be kept in a cool, dry, dark place, however keeping them in the fridge will extend their shelf life even further.
Tips For Adding Peanuts To Your Diet
A serving of peanuts is roughly a small handful, while a serving of peanut butter is up to two tablespoons.
Here are a few tips for adding more peanuts to your weekly diet:
- Sprinkle a handful of peanuts over salads.
- Add peanuts to cooked meals, like sautéed chicken and spinach.
- Snack on celery sticks with peanut butter, or peanut butter with banana, apple or pear.
- Add half peanut flour in your baked recipes.
- Have a handful of peanuts as a healthy snack.
In summary, peanuts are an excellent, plant-based source of protein, that are a good source of various vitamins and minerals.
And, they can certainly be a useful part of any healthy diet, even if you are trying to lose weight.
What do you think… are peanuts healthy? How do you include them in your weekly diet?
Interested in more? Read the 12 nuts and seeds you should add to your diet.