The World's Healthiest Foods
Peanuts, roasted

Synonymous with baseball games, circus elephants, cocktail snacks and, of course, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, the hardy, buttery and nutty taste of peanuts are ever popular in the American culture. Raw, roasted, shelled or unshelled, all forms of peanuts are available throughout the year.

Contrary to what their name implies, peanuts are not true nuts but a member of a family of legumes related to peas, lentils, chickpeas and other beans. Peanuts start growing as a ground flower that due to its heavy weight bends towards the ground and eventually burrows underground where the peanut actually matures. The veined brown shell or pod of the peanut contains two or three peanut kernels. Each oval-shaped kernel or seed is comprised of two off-white lobes that are covered by a brownish-red skin.

 


Health Benefits

In addition to being every kid's (and many grownup kid's) favorite sandwich filling, peanuts pack a serious nutritional punch and offer a variety of health benefits.

Your Heart Will Go Nuts for Peanuts

Peanuts are a very good source of monounsaturated fats, the type of fat that is emphasized in the heart-healthy Mediterrranean diet. Studies of diets with a special emphasis on peanuts have shown that this little legume is a big ally for a healthy heart. In one such randomized, double-blind, cross-over study involving 22 subjects, a high monounsaturated diet that emphasized peanuts and peanut butter decreased cardiovascular disease risk by an estimated 21% compared to the average American diet.

In addition to their monounsaturated fat content, peanuts feature an array of other nutrients that, in numerous studies, have been shown to promote heart health. Peanuts are good sources of vitamin E, niacin, folate and magnesium. In addition, peanuts provide resveratrol, the phenolic antioxidant also found in red grapes and red wine that is thought to be responsible for the French paradox: the fact that in France, people consume a diet that is not low in fat, but have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared to the U.S. With all of the important nutrients provided by nuts like peanuts, it is no wonder that numerous research studies, including the Nurses’ Health Study that involved over 86,000 women, have found that frequent nut consumption is related to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

Help Prevent Gallstones

Twenty years of dietary data collected on 80,718 women from the Nurses' Health Study shows that women who eat least 1 ounce of nuts, peanuts or peanut butter each week have a 25% lower risk of developing gallstones. Since 1 ounce is only 28.6 nuts or about 2 tablespoons of nut butter, preventing gallbladder disease may be as easy as packing one peanut butter and jelly sandwich (be sure to use whole wheat bread for its fiber, vitamins and minerals) for lunch each week, having a handful of almonds as an afternoon pick me up, or tossing some walnuts on your oatmeal or salad.(June 30, 2004)

Protect against Alzheimer's and Age-related Cognitive Decline

Research published in the August 2004 issue of the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry indicates regular consumption of niacin-rich foods like peanuts provides protection against Alzheimer's disease and age-related cognitive decline.

Researchers from the Chicago Health and Aging Project interviewed 3,718 Chicago residents aged 65 or older about their diet, then tested their cognitive abilities over the following six years.

Those getting the most niacin from foods (22 mg per day) were 70% less likely to have developed Alzheimer's disease than those consuming the least (about 13 mg daily), and their rate of age-related cognitive decline was significantly less. One easy way to boost your niacin intake is to snack on a handful of peanuts—just a quarter cup provides about a quarter of the daily recommended intake for niacin (16 mg per day for men and 14 for women). (August 23, 2004)

Description

Peanuts are almost ubiquitous in our country’s culture: baseball games, circus elephants, cocktail snacks, and the ever popular peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Yet, contrary to what their name implies, technically, peanuts are not nuts. They are, in botanical fact, legumes and are related to other foods in the legume family including peas, lentils, chickpeas and other beans.

Peanuts grow in a very fascinating manner. They actually start out as an above ground flower that, due to its heavy weight, bends towards the ground. The flower eventually burrows underground, which is where the peanut actually matures.

The veined brown shell or pod of the peanut contains two or three peanut kernels. Each oval-shaped kernel or seed is comprised of two off-white lobes that are covered by a brownish-red skin. Peanuts have a hardy, buttery and “nutty” taste.

Peanuts go by various names throughout the world with "goober" or "goober pea" being one of the most popular. Goober is derived from “nguba,” the name for peanut in the Bantu language spoken in parts of Africa. Peanuts are known scientifically as Arachis hypogaea.

While there are many varieties of peanuts, the ones most commonly found in the marketplace are the Virginia, Spanish and Valencia. Due to their high protein content and its chemical profile, peanuts are processed into a variety of different forms, including butter, oil, flour, and flakes.

History

Peanuts originated in South America where they have existed for thousands of years. They played an important role in the diet of the Aztecs and other Native Indians in South America and Mexico.

The Spanish and Portuguese explorers who found peanuts growing in the New World brought them on their voyages to Africa. They flourished in many African countries and were incorporated into local traditional food cultures. Since they were revered as a sacred food, they were placed aboard African boats traveling to North America during the beginning of the slave trade, which is how they were first introduced into this region.

In the 19th century, peanuts experienced a great gain in popularity thanks to the efforts of two specific people. The first was George Washington Carver, who not only suggested that farmers plant peanuts to replace their cotton fields that were destroyed by the boll weevil following the Civil War, but also invented more than 300 uses for this legume. At the end of the 19th century, a physician practicing in St. Louis, Missouri, created a ground up paste made from peanuts and prescribed this nutritious high protein, low carbohydrate food to his patients. While he may not have actually “invented” peanut butter since peanut paste had probably used by many cultures for centuries, his new discovery quickly caught on and became, and still remains, a very popular food.

Today, the leading commercial producers of peanuts are India, China, Nigeria, Indonesia and the United States.

How to Select and Store

How to Enjoy

Tips for Preparing Peanuts:

Peanuts can be chopped by hand using a chef’s knife and a cutting board or in a wooden bowl with a mezzaluna, the curved knife that has a handle sitting atop the blade. They may also be chopped in a food processor, yet care needs to be taken to not grind them too much since the result may be more like chunky peanut butter than chopped peanuts. The best way to chop peanuts in a food processor is to place a small amount in at a time and carefully use the pulse button until you have achieved the desired consistency. To make your own peanut butter, place the peanuts in the food processor and grind until you have achieved the desired consistency.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

Sprinkle peanuts onto tossed salads.

Add peanuts to healthy sautéed chicken and vegetables.

Make a simple southeastern Asian salad by combining sliced green cabbage, grated ginger, Serrano chilis and peanuts. Toss with olive oil-tamari dressing.

Instead of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, try peanut butter and banana, peanut butter and honey, or peanut butter and chopped apple, pear and/or raisins.

Safety

Peanuts are susceptible to molds and fungal invasions. Of particular concern is aflatoxin, a poison produced by a fungus called Aspergillus flavus. Although better storage and handling methods have virtually eliminated the risk of aflatoxin ingestion, aflatoxin is a known carcinogen that is twenty times more toxic than DDT and has also been linked to mental retardation and lowered intelligence. To help prevent aflatoxin ingestion, the FDA also enforces a ruling that 20 parts per billion is the maximum of aflatoxin permitted in all foods and animal foods, including peanut butter and other peanut products. If purchasing raw peanuts, it is still wise to ensure that the peanuts have been stored in a dry, cool environment (the fungus grows when the temperature is between 86-96°F and when the humidity is high). Roasted peanuts are thought to offer more protection against aflatoxin, plus roasting is also thought to improve peanuts' digestibility. If roasting peanuts at home, do so gently--in a 160-170 degree F oven for 15-20 minutes--to preserve the healthy oils.

Peanuts are among a small number of foods that contain any measurable amount of oxalates, naturally-occurring substances found in plants, animals, and human beings. When oxalates become too concentrated in body fluids, they can crystallize and cause health problems. For this reason, individuals with already existing and untreated kidney or gallbladder problems may want to avoid eating peanuts. Oxalates may also interfere with absorption of calcium from the body. For this reason, individuals trying to increase their calcium stores may want to avoid peanuts, or if taking calcium supplements, may want to eat them 2-3 hours before or after taking their supplements.

Although allergic reactions can occur to virtually any food, research studies on food allergy consistently report more problems with some foods than with others. Peanuts are included in the group of foods more commonly associated with allergy. Symptoms associated with an allergic reaction to food include: chronic gastrointestinal disturbances; frequent infections, e.g. ear infections, bladder infections, bed-wetting; asthma, sinusitis; eczema, skin rash, acne, hives; bursitis, joint pain; fatigue, headache, migraine; hyperactivity, depression, insomnia.

Individuals who suspect food allergy to be an underlying factor in their health problems may want to avoid commonly allergenic foods, including peanuts. Other foods commonly associated with allergic reactions include: cow’s milk, wheat, eggs, soybeans, oranges, corn, pork, chicken, beef, yeast, strawberry, tomato, and spinach. These foods do not need to be eaten in their pure, isolated form in order to trigger an adverse reaction. For example, yogurt made from cow’s milk is also a common allergenic food, even though the cow’s milk has been processed and fermented in order to make the yogurt. Ice cream made from cow’s milk would be an equally good example.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. For more detailed information on our Food and Recipe Rating System, please click here.

 

Peanuts, Raw
0.25 cup
206.96 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
manganese 0.71 mg 35.5 3.1 good
tryptophan 0.09 g 28.1 2.4 good
vitamin B3 (niacin) 4.40 mg 22.0 1.9 good
folate 87.53 mcg 21.9 1.9 good
copper 0.42 mg 21.0 1.8 good
protein 9.42 g 18.8 1.6 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%

References

  • Alper CM, Mattes RD. Peanut consumption improves indices of cardiovascular disease risk in healthy adults. J Am Coll Nutr 2003 Apr; 22(2):133-41.
  • Caster WO, Burton TA, Irvin TR, Tanner MA. Dietary aflatoxins, intelligence and school performance in southern Georgia. Int J of Vit and Nutr Res 1986 56:291-5.
  • Ensminger AH, Ensminger, ME, Kondale JE, Robson JRK. Foods & Nutriton Encyclopedia. Pegus Press, Clovis, California.
  • Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986.
  • Fortin, Francois, Editorial Director. The Visual Foods Encyclopedia. Macmillan, New York.
  • Morris MC, Evans DA, Bienias JL, Scherr PA, Tangney CC, Hebert LE, Bennett DA, Wilson RS, Aggarwal N. Dietary niacin and the risk of incident Alzheimer's disease and of cognitive decline. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2004 Aug;75(8):1093-9.
  • Tsai CJ, Leitzmann MF, Hu FB, Willett WC, Giovannucci EL. . Frequent nut consumption and decreased risk of cholecystectomy in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Jul;80(1):76-81.
  • Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988.

This page was updated on: 2004-11-20 18:18:34
© 2002 The George Mateljan Foundation