You have a love affair with peanut butter - I totally get it (I was a JIF girl myself)! But why do some health professionals say peanut butter (and peanuts) are off limits, while other nut butters and nuts like almonds, pecans, and walnuts, are fair game?
Peanuts, unlike other nuts, are actually a legume - more related to things like soy, lentils, and beans. Some health experts suggest that legumes, grains, dairy, and sugar are highly inflammatory to the gut. Why does that matter? Our gut health is actually the cornerstone to our overall health, with some research indicating that it is directly related to our mental health (like depression or anxiety), our thyroid health, and our immune systems.
While peanuts do have a lot of health benefits, including protein, fiber, healthy lineloic acids and oleic acids, minerals like biotin, manganese, and magnesium, vitamins like thiamine and vitamin E, many of these same compounds can also be found in tree nuts, without the gut aggravation.
One ounce of walnuts (approx 12-14 halves) contains more alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) than any other nut. ALA is a plant source of heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. It also contains more antioxidants, like vitamin E, than peanuts.
One ounce of pecans (about 20 halves) is a great source of 19 vitamins and minerals, including manganese, which helps with energy and metabolism. It also provides 10% of your recommended daily fiber intake.
One ounce of almonds (about 23 almonds) packs in 13 grams of heart-healthy unsaturated fats. Almonds rank the highest of all nuts in protein, fiber, calcium, and vitamin E by weight.
Additionally, while peanuts and other legumes may harm gut health, research indicates that other nuts may help improve it because they are rich in fiber and are considered “prebiotics” for the gut bugs we need to stay healthy.
Lastly, peanuts (as well as other legumes and grains) may contain a dangerous mold that produces a toxin known as aflatoxin. Typically this mold grows on the shells of peanuts, and some varieties of nuts are at greater risk than others. It is also dependent on how the peanuts are stored, being more common in wet or damp conditions. Unfortunately, roasting, cooking, or baking the peanuts does not kill the aflatoxins, as they are highly resistant to heat and temperature.
In the US, food safety regulations have set a limit of 20 µg/kg in food products, while in Europe that limit is much lower (4 µg/kg). The problem is, even ingesting low levels of aflatoxins, which are considered both a carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) and a mutagen (mutates cell), is implicated in an increased risk of cancer, particularly of the liver.
*There are other substances that may contain aflatoxins, including wheat, corn, and other oilseeds like cottonseeds.
(This article has some great additional resources regarding aflatoxin consideration. Note that this is a website for Grass-Fed meats, which they promote in the article, but I think it summarizes it well. https://discover.grasslandbeef.com/blog/how-to-protect-yourself-from-the-little-known-toxin-in-4-common-foods/)
So, if you’re ready to make the switch, natural nut butters make amazing substitutes for your old stand-ins! My favorite nuts to snack on are pistachios or macadamia nuts, or I like roasting walnuts after soaking them in water and then sprinkling them with some cayenne, sea salt, and stevia. Almond butter makes amazing smoothies, dips, sandwiches, and desserts!
Which do you prefer, peanuts or tree nuts?