Peanut butter, peanut brittle, and just regular old peanuts—these are some snack-time staples. But what exactly is the big hype about these little nuts all about? Many tout the protein and fiber content of peanuts (and legumes in general), but let’s be honest—peanuts are tasty. Since they’re so popular and seem to be a great source of a few important nutrients, should Paleo-its be popping peanuts for a snack?
One of the reasons that no one thinks twice about munching on peanuts is probably because they’ve been around for a long time—think at least 3,500 years. It’s no surprise, then, that over the course of all that time, people eventually got the idea to try to eat them. Additionally, peanuts contain high amounts of fiber and protein; so much, in fact, that people who do not consume meat categorize peanuts in the “meat” category of their food plan.
If they’re that loaded with protein and fiber, what’s not to love? Well, as it turns out, peanuts are hiding a dark little secret. They contain lectins, which are proteins that plants make to keep things from eating them. If these lectins are a peanut’s defense mechanism against, well, us, it can’t be too great for us if we actually consume them. And it turns out that’s exactly right—some studies show that the lectins that peanuts produce contribute to leaky gut. Your intestines become inflamed and start sporting little tiny holes, where food particles can escape and enter the bloodstream. Needless to say, what’s in the stomach should stay in the stomach. And we haven’t even mentioned aflatoxins, which are a type of mold common in peanuts that may even contribute to cancer.
With some beneficial nutrients potentially outweighed by some toxins and their harmful effects, it can be difficult to see where peanuts rest on the Paleo spectrum.
What do the Paleo gurus say?
Sarah Ballantyne says: “There are several ways in which [peanuts] create holes in the gut lining. The best understood is the damage caused by lectins. While slowing down sugar transport from the gut to the bloodstream seems like a great thing on the surface…the irreversible increase in gut permeability is just not worth it!”
PaleoLeap says: “Like other legumes, peanuts are problematic because they contain lectins and phytic acid, but peanuts also bring a new guest to the party: aflatoxins. Unless you’re picking your peanuts directly from the farm, you’re probably getting some aflatoxins with them, and they’re not something you want: some research has linked long-term consumption to aflatoxins with risk for diseases like cancer and hepatitis B. Unlike many other types of lectins, peanut lectins are also very difficult to destroy by cooking.”
So are peanuts Paleo?
The lectins and aflatoxins in peanuts cause significant gut damage, which contributes to inflammation (and therefore all the inflammatory diseases, like heart disease and high blood pressure, among many others). Because even normally tried-and-true methods of toxin removal like sprouting and fermenting don’t remove the lectins from peanuts, they’re not a good choice for anyone trying to follow a wholesome, toxin-free diet.