Peanuts are so great they earned a whole month dedicated to them! March is “National Peanut Month” (who knew that was even a thing) so we are tipping our hats to this tasty nut with 5 facts to get to know them better.
1. Infants can have peanuts now before the age of 3??
- Until recently, the recommendation for parents was to not allow children to have peanuts or products containing peanuts until the age of 3. However, in 2015 the “Learning Early about Peanut Allergies” study was published and showed that an early introduction of peanuts to infants at high risk decreased their rate of developing a peanut allergy by about 80%. It was based off of this study that the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) made changes to their recommendations to prevent peanut allergies in January 2017. Children at a high risk for developing a peanut allergy (those that have severe eczema and/or an egg allergy puts them at high risk) should be introduced to peanut products at the age of 4-6 months under medical supervision. Children with mild-moderate eczema should be introduced to peanut products at 6 months, and those with no eczema or any food allergy can really have peanuts whenever their parents feel fit. This could make a huge difference in the number of peanut allergies and thus the number of deaths from a subsequent allergic reaction. Moral of the story- feed your kid peanuts. But not whole peanuts so they don’t choke, and do so under a specialist’s care if they are at high risk of developing an allergy.
2. But don’t peanuts have a lot of fat?
- Peanuts are indeed are a source of fat, but that is okay! Somewhere, somehow this country became deathly afraid of fat- all kinds of fat- when really it shouldn’t be feared! There are 3 different kinds of fat: trans fat, saturated fat and unsaturated fat. Trans fat is a manmade fat used to increase the shelf life of food products. It hides on food labels as “partially hydrogenated oils” and the FDA recently deemed them as no longer “generally recognized as safe”. They will soon be banned from all food products, but until then, check your labels (especially your peanut butter labels as many brands use trans fat to keep the peanut butter from separating) and try to avoid products with “partially hydrogenated oils” on the ingredient list. Saturated fat is typically solid at room temperature and the kind that is linked to heart disease when eaten in high amounts- it is recommended to keep <5% of your calories from saturated fat. And finally, unsaturated fats are the “good for you fats”! They are usually liquid at room temperature (hence why the oil in peanut butter separates to the top) and have positive health effects, like lowering cholesterol levels and reducing heart disease risk, when eaten in moderation. Good news- about 80% of all the fat in peanuts is unsaturated fat! Do yourself a favor, eat some peanuts.
3. There’s an entire grocery store aisle full of peanut butter- how do I know which one to pick?
- Not all peanut butters are created equal. Check out the label on the back of your peanut butter container- what does it say? Peanuts, maybe salt and maybeee palm oil? Good, that’s what it should say. “Partially hydrogenated oils” aka trans fat aka the fat that wreaks havoc on your body should not be on your peanut butter label. Find a brand you trust and stick with it so you don’t have to examine each peanut butter label every trip to the grocery store! P.S. our friends at Crazy Richards Peanut Butter keep things simple and the ingredients minimal i.e. peanuts being the only ingredient!
4. I’ve heard peanuts and peanut butters are a good source of phytosterols- what does that mean?
- Research has shown that phytosterols, also known as plant sterols, might reduce the risk of heart disease for people with high LDL or “bad cholesterol,” by lowering levels in the blood. It sounds counterintuitive since peanuts are high in fat, but the phytosterols compete with cholesterol to reduce the absorption of cholesterol. Some studies have shown that a diet high in phytosterols may reduce cancer risk, but more research is needed to confirm that claim.
5. Okay so peanuts sound pretty great- how can I incorporate more into my diet?
- Peanuts and peanut butters are really versatile, you can eat them in so many ways! A few ideas are to add peanut butter to your smoothie for a protein boost, dip fruit into peanut butter for a balanced snack, add peanuts to a salad for some crunch and protein, drizzle peanut butter over your favorite breakfast cereal to skip the protein enhanced cereal craze, or take a trip down memory lane and enjoy a PB&J.
Emily Fitz, RD, LD
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (2017). Addendum Guidelines for the Prevention of Peanut Allergy in the United States. Retrieved February 23, 2017. www.niaid.nih.gov/diseases-conditions/guidelines-clinicians-and-patients-food-allergy
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “FDA Cuts Trans Fat in processed Foods”. www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm372915.htm. Accessed February 23, 2017
Cheng Luo, Yan Zhang, Yusong Ding, Zhilei Shan, Sijing Chen, Miao Yu, Frank B Hu, and Liegang Liu. Nut consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr 2014 100: 1 256-269; First published online May 21, 2014. doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.076109
Atif B. Awad, Karen C. Chan, Arthur C. Downie, and Carol S. Fink. Peanuts as a Source of β-Sitosterol, a Sterol With Anticancer Properties. Nutrition And Cancer Vol. 36 , Iss. 2,2000