I’ve had a couple recent clients mention that they eat a lot of peanut butter. They wanted to know if there is a reason to switch out of it if they were not allergic. There are many reasons why advocates of the paleo/primal/realfood lifestyle avoid peanuts, and I will try to cover all of them. Many people think that peanuts are nuts, however, they are actually legumes! What is a legume? legumes are seeds within a pod such as beans, chick peas, and beans.
What is the difference between a nut and a legume?
Nuts usually have one seed within a shell, legumes tend to have multiple seeds within a casing. The focus on this piece is peanuts which are legumes.
Some people in the paleo community eat small amounts of legumes, some avoid them all together. The reason why some (including myself) choose to avoid legumes is because they contain anti-nutrients (phytates and lectins) that help protect the plant from being eaten by bugs. These anti-nutrients can contribute to inflammation in the body, digestive issues, and leaky gut. You would want to avoid legumes if you have autoimmune conditions. However, when properly soaked and sprouted many of these anti-nutrients can be removed, making legumes easier on digestion. Some legumes are also high in complex carbohydrates which is not good for those struggling with balancing their blood sugar. However, they do contain fiber to slow the absorption of sugar in the system. So legumes are not the worse thing you can eat. They are not the best source of nutrients in terms of nutrient density, but in my opinion are better than many of the processed food options out there if properly prepared (soaked, sprouted).
Now onto peanuts…
Peanuts (in my opinion) might not be a good choice even if you are keeping some legumes in the diet.
According to Dr. Mercola:
- Peanuts are high in omega-6 fats that distort the omega 3:6 ratio. High omega 6 consumption leads to inflammation in the body.
- Peanuts are contaminated with a carcinogenic mold called aflatoxin
- Peanuts are one of the most pesticide-contaminated crop (unless organic)
In our culture we eat a very high omega 6 diet, and low omega 3. Many of us are not consuming grass-fed/pasture raised meats which have a better fatty acid profile (higher in omega 3). We also consume high omega 6 vegetable oils. Here is a piece I wrote about oils (which to avoid and why). Even when you try to avoid the “bad” oils at home, you still consume them when you go out to eat. Very few restaurants cook with healthy oils. So why eat even more omega 6 fatty acids by eating peanut butter regularly? Just something to think about.
Some experts link the mold on the shell of the peanuts to peanut allergies. Some deny the link all together. Regardless of the trigger for allergies, peanuts are still very high in aflatoxin, and that is another reason to avoid them.
According to the FDA:
“Aflatoxins produce acute necrosis, cirrhosis, and carcinoma of the liver in a number of animal species; no animal species is resistant to the acute toxic effects of aflatoxins; hence it is logical to assume that humans may be similarly affected. A wide variation in LD50 values has been obtained in animal species tested with single doses of aflatoxins. For most species, the LD50 value ranges from 0.5 to 10 mg/kg body weight. Animal species respond differently in their susceptibility to the chronic and acute toxicity of aflatoxins. The toxicity can be influenced by environmental factors, exposure level, and duration of exposure, age, health, and nutritional status of diet. Aflatoxin B1 is a very potent carcinogen in many species, including nonhuman primates, birds, fish, and rodents. In each species, the liver is the primary target organ of acute injury. Metabolism plays a major role in determining the toxicity of aflatoxin B1; studies show that this aflatoxion requires metabolic activation to exert its carcinogenic effect, and these effects can be modified by induction or inhibition of the mixed function oxidase system.”
According to Mark’s Daily Apple:
“Peanuts are high in aflatoxins. Aflatoxins are naturally occurring fungal toxins, or mycotoxins, produced by certain members of Aspergillus, a type of fungus found pretty much everywhere throughout the world. Aspergillus tends to colonize any monosaccharide and polysaccharide it comes across, as long as the conditions are right, but peanuts are particularly susceptible. Most crops are colonized after harvest and during storage, but since Aspergillus is found in the soil (among other places) and peanuts grow underground, peanut colonization often occurs well before harvest. The result is that peanuts are among the most contaminated crops, along with corn and cottonseed.”
There are alternative nut-butters such as almond butter or nut-free seed butter like sun butter (made with sunflower seeds), I use these for dipping fruit and carrots in rather than peanut butter. I also occasionally bake with them. Remember, nuts contain anti-nutrients (phytates and lectins) as well, which is why you want raw soaked/sprouted nuts and seeds to ease digestion. However, they are not heavy on the molds like peanuts. When our ancestors started consuming nuts/seeds, they knew how to prepare them properly to ease digestion. It was harder for them to forage and shell them, so they weren’t consuming massive amounts from the food industry like we are today. If you are switching to alternative nut/seed butters do so in moderation or consider making your own with soaked nuts. If you are one of those peanut butter lovers who just cannot give it up, I suggest cutting down on the amount you are consuming, or try converting to an alternative nut/seed butter. Now that I am more in tune with my body, I notice that I get very bloated after eating almonds and almond butter. However, sunbutter doesn’t bother me. Listen to the messages your body is sending you!
Kathryn Kos is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) through The Nutritional Therapy Association, and a Certified Lactation Educator/Counselor through The University of San Diego. Her undergraduate degree is in Movement Science from Westfield State College. Her Master’s degree is in Rehabilitation Counseling from Springfield College. Kathryn is a nutrition blogger over at Primal Bliss Nutrition, where she shares whole food recipes and articles pertaining to health and wellness. She specialize in healing digestion, balancing blood sugar, balancing hormones, autoimmune conditions, weight loss, and feeding infants and children.
“My own health struggles occurred through years of following mainstream western nutritional advice led me down this path. I was eating what I thought was a very healthy diet (following conventional medical advice). However, I was struggling with feeling good inside and out. I ended up being diagnosed with several Autoimmune Conditions. I was having horrible gall bladder attacks and living on antacids. My thyroid was enlarged, and I struggled with anxiety and insomnia. My endocrinologist wanted to wait until my thyroid stopped functioning, and put me on a medication. That was the only solution offered. Doctors wanted to put me on medications.
My philosophy is to find and heal the root cause of the problem, rather than fix the symptoms by taking a medication or removing an organ. Through my own intense research, I began my real food journey. My health changed drastically and my autoimmune markers went way down. I started to feel amazing and wanted to share my experience on a big level. I am so excited to share my knowledge with you! I am dedicated to helping you realize what your bio-individual nutrition needs are, and giving you the tools to make positive changes in your life!”
-Kathryn Kos, NTP