In this month of Valentine’s Day, we are reminded to think about heart health as well as other matters of the heart. In addition to nutrition, there are heart health and environmental benefits of eating raw roasted peanuts right from the shell. We often consider them nuts, but peanuts are a legume, more similar botanically to beans and lentils than to tree nuts like almonds, pecans, and walnuts. Regardless of their botany, peanuts promote heart health and other benefits to our wellness. Peanuts are a rich source of calories and monounsaturated fats (the good kind that help lower cholesterol). Peanuts are high in protein and provide amino acids needed for growth and development.
Anti-oxidants are highly concentrated in peanuts and help reduce the risk of stomach cancer. The anti-oxidant Resveratrol helps prevent heart disease, stroke, and certain types of cancer, nervous diseases, and viral or fungal infections. B-complex vitamins and minerals such as potassium, copper, calcium, magnesium, iron, selenium, and zinc are contained in peanuts and help maintain many healthy functions in the body. Peanuts provide fiber which is essential for the elimination of toxins and waste.
One advantage peanuts offer over tree nuts is that they generally cost less than tree nuts, so even people on a limited budget may gain the benefits of nuts by using lower-cost peanuts rather than almonds or pecans. A JAMA Internal Medicine study of large groups of people across diverse geographic, racial, ethnic, and income categories found that eating peanuts appears to be just as potent for preventing heart disease as eating other nuts. Further, the health benefits of peanuts seem to be sustained over racial and income differences.
It may be hard to stop at the recommended healthy portion of about an ounce of peanuts – roughly a small handful or ¼ cup a day – three to five times a week. One strategy to control serving size is to get the peanuts in the shell. The action of shelling slows down the rate and amount of consumption. In addition, the unshelled peanuts are subject to less processing and chemical treatments that loosen the protective peanut skin. The peanut hulls can then be composted for an environmentally healthy garden amendment.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourage eating a variety of protein foods and shifting from fattier animal foods to leaner meats and dairy and plant–based proteins such as nuts and seeds. Just remember to substitute nuts in place of other protein foods rather than adding peanuts to your usual meals and snacks. Look for unsalted single serving packs of peanuts, or make your own single servings by portioning peanuts purchased in bulk into individual snack sized bags or containers. You may use peanuts as an ingredient in a vegetable stir fry or as a topping for your cereal or yogurt.
A word of caution is in order here because unfortunately peanuts are among the most common foods causing allergies in children and persisting into adulthood. Recently the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases offered new recommendations for introducing peanut-containing foods to children as early as 4 to 6 months to prevent peanut allergy. If anyone in the family has a peanut allergy, then contact your pediatrician before introducing peanuts or peanut products to an infant. However, for those with a confirmed peanut or food allergy, the only way to prevent an allergic reaction is to completely avoid the food and any product that may contain it as an ingredient.
For the ambitious gardeners wondering if you can grow peanuts here in PA, a little USDA and Farmers’ Almanac research reveals that peanuts will grow in zone 5 or higher. Since most of PA is in growing zone 5 or 6, it is theoretically possible. Try an early-maturing variety, planted on a south-facing slope, and started by planting the seeds indoors 5-8 weeks before transplanting outdoors and you might be in luck. Once outside, the clover-like leaves yield small, yellow flowers that will grow toward the ground and push or “peg” into the soil. The pegs eventually become the peanuts. Unlike most plants that use nitrogen from the soil, peanuts fix nitrogen from the soil. This means they have the inherent ability to sustain their nitrogen needs and there is an added benefit to the environment.
To harvest, the plants are uprooted and turned over when the leaves yellow and right before frost. Then it’s a matter of allowing the peanuts to air dry for 3-4 weeks. A yield of 40-50 peanuts per plant would be considered successful. Roasting the dried and shelled or unshelled peanuts in a 350° oven for 20 minutes is the final step before enjoying this fiber-rich, protein-dense, and mono-unsaturated fat-containing snack.
The lowly legume otherwise known as the peanut has many beneficial properties for nutrition, heart health, and the sustainability of our planet earth.
Enjoy this peanut-based snack:
Peanut Snack Mix
Makes about 10 Servings
Unsalted, roasted peanuts are used in this snack recipe. Mix roasted peanuts with pretzels, cereal, and dried fruit for an easy snack mix.
- 1 cup roasted peanuts
- 1⁄2 cup chocolate chips (mini work well)
- 1⁄2 cup raisins
- 1⁄2 cup dried cranberries (if you like)
- 1 cup bite-sized pretzels
- Combine all ingredients together in a large bowl and mix well. If using dried cranberries, add that too.
- Store in an airtight container.
Nutrition Information for 1 serving (about ½ cup) of Peanut Snack Mix: Calories 180, Fat 9 g, Saturated fat 2.5 g, Sodium 60 mg, Carbohydrate 24 g, Fiber 2 g, Protein 5 g
Recipe adapted from Food.com