Tuesday, December 18, 2012


   For many folks peanut is one of those comfort food that brings back childhood memories. For me consuming peanuts reminds me of my family and winter months; that is when the street vendors came by and sold roasted warm peanuts. What can I say, we all like to hold on to some of our past, may it be only peanuts....Peanuts are also one of the staple snack foods sold in many recreational sporting events like baseball. Texas Road House, a national steak house chain offers peanuts by the buckets, while patrons are waiting for their steaks to arrive they can consume a heap of peanuts. Peanut oil, cotton seed oil, soybean oil, and sunflower seed oil are few of the most common oils used in commercial cooking today. You can pick up any commercially packaged snack like potato chips or trail mix and you will most likely find one of these oils on the ingredient list. Cashews, almonds, and many other snack foods popular in the hiking circles sold at local grocery stores often are fried and coated in peanut oil. Nuts are also a popular snack choice in the paleo circles. The folks who are just starting out on paleo tend to snack on almonds, cashews, and other nuts in between meals to fight the hunger pangs. The health industry and governmental agencies also present nuts as positive healthy choice for snacking. Most breakfast cereals loaded with sugars often tout a crunchy nutty bite, or heart healthy benefit as a ploy to sell their product. Are nuts healthy snacking choice? Should we consume peanuts by a bucketload while sitting waiting for our steak to arrive? The answer is----absolutely NOT----overall, nuts and seeds are a poor snacking choice and their consumption should be kept to an absolute minimum, and let's get this out of the way, peanuts are not nuts but legumes, and for multiple reasons discussed below, they should be avoided.

   In order to understand the nutritional value of nuts and seeds a simple pros and cons list must be compiled before the nut or seed can be labeled good or bad. Here are the first set of cons, most nuts and seeds contain anti-nutrients, phytic acids, enzyme blockers, and bad proteins. The oils or fats extracted from these nuts and seeds are high in polyunsaturated fats, especially in omega 6. Once again, the society has long demonized saturated fats and crowned polyunsaturated fats as heart healthy. So by default, the nuts and seeds receive a passing mark from the nutritionists and from the governmental authorities. Phytic acids is nature's way of keeping a nut or seed from germinating before the conditions are just right. This is a survival mechanism built in most seeds and nuts. Phytic acids can be eliminated from nuts and seeds by soaking them in warm salty water for few hours. Phytic acid acts in our digestive system as a mineral binding agent. Phytic acid binds to calcium, iron, and magnesium and does not allow these minerals to be absorbed in our bodies. So some nuts that are naturally high in these minerals are nutritionally useless because phytic acid keeps the minerals bound and unavailable for absorption. Phytic acid problem is easily solved by soaking the nuts and seeds in salty water. But, the other anti-nutrients, and bad proteins are a problem, and can not be eliminated easily. The anti-nutrients and bad proteins are purely defense mechanisms for the plant to protect itself. The bad proteins like lectins cause gut irritation, and lead to systemic inflammation in our gut. The third and the last problem with nuts and seeds are the polyunsaturated fats in their oils. So as most nuts contain good source of carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins, but their beneficial nutrients are bound by phytic acids and are unavailable to the consumer.

   Getting back to the peanuts, there are more serious problems with peanuts. Peanuts like many other cereal grains and corn are susceptible to mold or a fungus. This fungus only grows when peanuts are not stored properly. It is not a big issue in the United States but it is a big problem in many third world countries where food storage procedure and methods are sub par. This particular mold evolves into aflatoxin, a carcinogen known to cause liver cancer in the rats. Aflatoxin poisoning cases have been reported in the United States, but there is still no conclusive link to liver cancer in humans caused by this carcinogen  Most likely consumption of peanuts few times will not cause aflatoxin toxicity, we are talking about  a long time consumption, basically a chronic situation. Again the food storage procedures and methods are better in the United States than in the third world countries. There are actually lot more cases of hepatitis, infection of the liver, in the sub-continent countries. I personally believe the hepatitis is caused by bad food supply and aflatoxins may play a major role in it. Many of these hepatitis cases may eventually develop into liver cancer, again due to bad data and lack of better diagnosis, many of these cases may go unreported. Another major problem with peanuts is that it contains many allergens. If a person can have a severe allergic reaction like stop breathing after consuming peanuts, that is reason enough for me to eliminate peanuts from my diet. Why people develop peanut allergy is still unknown and the only treatment is to vigilantly monitor all food intakes. We are not done with peanuts yet, the last problem with peanuts is their bad lipid profile. Peanuts contain a high amount of polyunsaturated fats high in omega 6. The polyunsaturated fats are highly unstable and react with oxygen in our body to create free radical particles that end up causing problems in the gut and also end up binding to many useful minerals and vitamins. However, most often peanut oil is touted as a healthy cooking choice.

   The final verdict on the peanuts from a paleo perspective is not favorable. With all of the cons listed above the nutritional value left behind is very marginal and not optimal. Anytime, there is a potential for allergens, carcinogens, and polyunsaturated fats, that food can not be good for us. There are plenty of vitamins and minerals in peanuts but they are bound by phytic acid and are simply not available for the body to absorb. Recommendation is to eliminate peanuts all together and use other nuts sparingly. A handful of macadamias, cashews, almonds, walnuts, and pecans eaten occasionally for snack is perfectly OK, but should not be a substitute for good healthy fats, proteins, vegetables, and seasonal fruits. Beware of healthy snack packages sold in supermarkets, most of the salad dressings, potato chips, trail mix, and nuts use peanut and soybean oil. In the light of above evidence my paleo vote is cast against this legume.

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