When it comes to the health benefits of nuts, we tend to focus on almonds and walnuts, but the humble peanut has a host of health benefits, too!
While peanuts aren’t actually nuts—they’re technically legumes!—we treat them like nuts in cooking, and they have a similar nutrition profile to nuts. But peanuts don’t get the love they deserve when it comes to nutrition. Let’s look at the health benefits of peanuts and bust an outdated myth about peanuts and our health.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF PEANUTS
A one ounce (about two tablespoons) serving of peanuts contains only 164 calories but delivers seven grams of protein. That’s about 13 percent of your daily protein in just a couple of tablespoons!
Peanuts are a high fat food, with 14 grams of fat in that same serving, but most of that fat is heart-healthy unsaturated fat. Peanuts do contain two grams of saturated fat per serving, but as long as your overall diet is low in saturated fats, that’s nothing to worry about.
Peanuts actually give fruit a run for its money when it comes to antioxidants. A serving of peanuts contains 10 percent of your daily vitamin E, 19 percent of your niacin and 10 percent of your folate needs. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that supports brain health and protects you from bowel cancer. We need niacin, a B vitamin, to regulate hormone function. Niacin is also an anti-inflammatory that improves circulation. Folate supports brain and heart health, and there’s evidence that it also can help fight depression.
Peanuts are also a great source of magnesium (12 percent), phosphorus (10 percent) and manganese (29 percent). Magnesium supports heart and bone health and helps regulate blood sugar, while phosphorus helps your body process waste and supports healthy bones and cell repair. Our bodies need manganese to maintain a healthy metabolism, healthy bones and heal when we are injured.
PEANUT HEALTH MYTH
Unless you have a peanut allergy or sensitivity, peanuts can absolutely be part of a healthy diet, but there is a peanut health myth out there that’s as sticky as peanut butter.
Peanuts, like many other foods, are susceptible to aflatoxin contamination. Aflatoxin is a carcinogen, and in the past, eating aflatoxin-contaminated peanuts or peanut butter put people at increased risk for liver cancer. There is also a link between aflatoxin ingestion and cognitive issues.
That sounds pretty scary, but don’t let this keep you from enjoying a handful of peanuts or a bowl of peanut noodles! Peanuts sold in the U.S. are tested for aflatoxin, and are not allowed to exceed 20 parts per billion. Producers also use vastly improved handling and storage techniques to combat aflatoxin. Back in the day, peanuts were stored in big silos, which are a perfect environment for the mold that produces aflatoxin to grow.
Dr. Andrew Weil makes a great point about peanuts and aflatoxin: ”While we don’t know much about the dangers of long-term exposure to low levels of aflatoxin [...] there hasn’t been an outbreak of liver cancer among U.S. kids, who as you know, consume enormous amounts of peanut butter.”