Peanuts are not nuts but crunchy and versatile legumes. They are a beloved snack and culinary ingredient in the world.
Beyond their delectable taste, peanuts boast health benefits that contribute to their role in a balanced diet. Whether you’re munching on them as a snack, or incorporating them into your favorite recipes, these legumes offer a delightful combination of taste and nutrition.
Keep reading to find out all you need to know about peanuts.
Did You Know?:Peanuts are a key ingredient in various international cuisines, from the famous Thai dish Pad Thai to African groundnut stew.
Table of Contents
- History & Facts
- Types of Peanuts
- Nutrition Facts
- Health Benefits
- Ways to Consume
- Potential Risks
- Frequently Asked Questions
History & Facts
The peanut (Arachis hypogaea), is also known around the world as the groundnut, goober, pindar, and monkey nut in various places (1). Hailing from the legume family, these little wonders are not true nuts but seeds that grow underground. It is widely grown in the tropics and subtropics, important to both small and large commercial producers.
Originating in South America, peanuts were cultivated by ancient civilizations like the Incas and Aztecs. Portuguese traders found these legumes in Africa during the Columbian Exchange in the 16th century. There they quickly adapted to the African soil and climate. In the 19th century, peanuts made their way to the United States.
Initially, peanuts were primarily used as livestock feed. Later, they were made a more prominent food source including alternative uses such as peanut butter and oil. Today, peanuts stand as a versatile and beloved ingredient. Deeply rooted in culinary traditions worldwide peanuts are included in savory dishes to the ever-popular peanut butter and beyond. China is the world’s largest producer of peanuts, followed by India and the United States (2).
Summary:Peanuts are versatile legumes originating in South America, prominent today in the United States as a beloved food source, including the popular peanut butter.
Types of Peanuts
There are four main types of peanuts, each with distinct characteristics and uses:
- Runner Peanuts: Runner peanuts are the most commonly grown type and are known for their uniform size and shape. They have a high yield and are often used to make peanut butter.
- Virginia Peanuts: Virginia peanuts are larger than other types, and known for their large kernels in a tight shell. They are often referred to as “ballpark” peanuts and are popular for roasting.
- Spanish Peanuts: Spanish peanuts have smaller kernels and are typically rounder. They have a higher oil content and are commonly used to make peanut oil.
- Valencia Peanuts: Valencia peanuts have three or more kernels per shell and are typically smaller in size. They are known for their sweet flavor and are often used for boiling.
Summary:There are four main types of peanuts—Runner, Virginia, Spanish, and Valencia—each with unique characteristics and uses.
Peanuts are often considered a nutritional powerhouse, which is no wonder why.
In one ounce (28 grams) of peanuts, there are the following macronutrients (3):
- Calories: 161 calories (kcal)
- Protein: 7.31 grams (g)
- Total Fat: 13.9 grams (g)
- Saturated fat: 1.78 grams (g)
- Monounsaturated fat: 6.92 grams (g)
- Polyunsaturated fat: 4.42 grams (g)
- Fiber: 2.41 grams (g)
Packed with protein, a serving of peanuts provides a satisfying crunch while delivering a substantial dose of essential nutrients (4). Peanuts are a reliable source of plant-based protein, making them a valuable addition to vegetarian and vegan diets (5). Just a small handful of these nutrient-rich legumes provide a healthy mix of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, contributing to heart health (6).
Summary:Peanuts, with 161 calories per ounce, offer a satisfying crunch and a substantial dose of essential nutrients, including 7.31 grams of protein and a healthy mix of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, making them a valuable addition to vegetarian and vegan diets.
Vitamins & Minerals
In one ounce (28 grams) of peanuts, there are the following vitamins and minerals (7):
- Calcium: 26.1 milligrams (mg)
- Iron: 1.3 milligrams (mg)
- Magnesium: 47.6 milligrams (mg)
- Phosphorus: 107 milligrams (mg)
- Potassium: 200 milligrams (mg)
- Niacin: 3.43 milligrams (mg)
- Folate: 68 micrograms (mcg)
- Choline: 14.9 milligrams (mg)
- Vitamin E: 2.36 milligrams (mg)
Beyond their protein and healthy fats, peanuts offer an array of essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin E, niacin, folate, and magnesium (8). Rich in antioxidants, these legumes may contribute to reducing oxidative stress in the body (9).
Summary:Peanuts provide an array of essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin E, niacin, folate, magnesium, and more, making them a nutrient-rich choice with antioxidant properties to potentially reduce oxidative stress in the body.
Peanuts offer an array of health benefits, some of which may surprise most.
Rich in Antioxidants
Peanuts are a great source of antioxidants, which help to reduce the risk of cancer (10). Peanuts contain resveratrol and quercetin, which are both powerful antioxidants (11). These compounds fight free radicals in your body and can prevent them from causing damage to healthy cells.
If you want to get the maximum health benefits from peanut butter, choose a brand that has no hydrogenated fats or oils. Hydrogenated fats are made by adding hydrogen to vegetable oils, which makes them solid at room temperature. They’re often used as ingredients in certain brands of peanut butter because they help keep the oil from separating from the rest of the product.
This type of fat can negatively affect your cholesterol levels and increase your risk of heart disease (12). If you have high cholesterol or heart disease, it’s best to limit your intake of hydrogenated fats as much as possible.
Summary:Peanut butter, with antioxidants like resveratrol and quercetin, may reduce cancer risk, but opting for varieties without hydrogenated fats is essential to avoid negative effects on cholesterol and heart health.
Manages Blood Sugar Levels
Peanuts have been shown to help slow down digestion and help prevent rapid increases in blood sugar levels after meals (13). This means that peanuts can be beneficial for people who have diabetes.
The protein in peanuts delivers amino acids that are metabolized into glucose, which is then used by the body for energy. So eating them may help prevent your blood sugar from dropping too low.
In addition to its ability to help manage blood sugar levels, peanut butter also has benefits for people who don’t have diabetes but are at risk for developing it.
Summary:Peanuts help manage blood sugar levels, making it beneficial for people with diabetes, and also offer potential advantages for those at risk of developing the condition.
May Boost Heart Health
Peanuts contain unsaturated fats that can lower bad cholesterol levels (14). Additionally, they contain arginine and tryptophan amino acids that help improve blood flow and reduce inflammation in the body (15).
Arginine even helps relax blood vessels and lower blood pressure. Peanuts also contain resveratrol, an antioxidant compound found in red wine that lowers blood pressure and increases blood flow to the heart muscle.
The Vitamin E found in peanuts may reduce plaque buildup inside your arteries by preventing oxidation of LDL or “bad” cholesterol particles (16). Researchers from Harvard Medical School found that eating peanut butter at least three times per week may reduce your risk of heart disease by 5 percent.
Summary:Peanuts are rich in unsaturated fats, arginine, tryptophan, and antioxidants like resveratrol and Vitamin E. These nutrients promote heart health by lowering bad cholesterol, improving blood flow, and reducing inflammation, potentially reducing the risk of heart disease.
Ways to Consume
Unlock the full potential of peanuts with these creative and delicious ways to enjoy this versatile legume:
- Make classic peanut butter on toast
- Mixed in your favorite trail mix
- Add it to a smoothie
- Elevate noodle dishes by adding peanuts on top or using a peanut sauce
- Cut them up and sprinkle them on top of a salad
- Make peanut-crusted chicken or tofu
- Peanut butter energy bites
- Make a peanut butter sandwich
- Peanut butter overnight oats
- Mix it into yogurt for a flavorful dip
From savory to sweet, these inventive ways to consume peanuts showcase the versatility and tastiness of this nutrient-packed legume. Whether incorporated into your meals, snacks, or desserts, peanuts can add a delightful and wholesome touch to your culinary adventures.
Fun Fact:March 1st is celebrated as National Peanut Butter Lover’s Day, recognizing the widespread love for this popular peanut product.
While peanuts are a nutrient-rich and delicious addition to many diets, it’s essential to be aware of potential risks, especially for individuals with allergies.
Peanuts are one of the most common food allergens (17). Allergic reactions can range from mild symptoms such as itching and hives to severe, life-threatening anaphylaxis. Cross-contamination is a concern, as peanuts and peanut products are widely used in various foods. Those with peanut allergies must be vigilant about checking ingredient labels and ensuring that their food hasn’t come into contact with peanuts during preparation.
May Lead to Excess Calorie Intake
One ounce (about 28 grams) of peanuts contains around 160 calories. This makes it easy to consume a substantial amount without feeling overly full. Eating large quantities of calorie-dense foods, including peanuts, without considering overall caloric intake can lead to an excess of calories (18). Over time this may contribute to weight gain.
Additionally, if peanuts are consumed in the form of peanut butter or processed snacks, they might contain added sugars or unhealthy fats. This further increases the calorie content. It’s important to enjoy peanuts as part of a balanced diet. Consider portion sizes and overall caloric needs, especially for individuals aiming to manage or lose weight.
For some individuals, peanuts may cause digestive discomfort. Peanuts contain certain compounds like fiber. While fiber is essential for digestive health, consuming too much at once can cause gas and bloating, especially for those not accustomed to a high-fiber diet. Peanuts also contain lectins and phytates. These are natural compounds that can interfere with nutrient absorption and may cause digestive issues in some individuals.
Peanuts contain a small number of fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAPs) (19). These are types of carbohydrates that can cause digestive symptoms in some individuals, particularly those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). While some people may experience digestive discomfort from peanuts, many others can enjoy them as part of a healthy and balanced diet without any issues.
As with any food, moderation, and awareness of personal health conditions are key to enjoying peanuts safely. Consult a healthcare professional with any further questions or concerns.
Summary:Peanuts, although nutrient-rich and tasty, require caution due to common allergies, potential for weight gain, and the possibility of digestive discomfort.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are peanuts okay to give to infants?
Introducing peanuts to infants can be done, but following guidelines to reduce the risk of allergies is important (20). It’s advisable to consult with a pediatrician before introducing peanuts to a baby’s diet.
Is it okay to consume peanut skins?
Peanut skins contain additional antioxidants and fiber, providing extra nutritional benefits. However, some people may find them slightly bitter.
Did You Know?:The term “Peanut Gallery,” often used to describe a noisy audience, originated from the cheapest and noisiest seats in a theater, where vendors sold peanuts.
Peanuts offer a variety of benefits, like supporting heart health contributing to bone strength, and offering a delicious source of protein. Whether enjoyed as a spread, tossed in salads, or eaten in its natural form, the humble peanut offers a delightful blend of flavor and nutrition.
Peanuts have rightfully earned their place as a go-to snack and a flavorful addition to a balanced and health-conscious diet. So, the next time you reach for a handful of peanuts, savor not just their taste but also the nourishment they bring to the table.