A peanut butter sandwich was once a staple in sack lunches – whether it was for a child attending school or for an adult heading out to work for the day. Peanut butter has traditionally been an inexpensive food, and a little goes a long way. One serving is 2 tbsp – about 32 g. So a 1 kg jar of peanut butter contains more than 30 servings. That makes a lot of sandwiches!
A lot of more glamorous and expensive foods exist these days, many of them developed as a peanut butter substitute at the peak of the allergy craze. Between the broader options and concerns over peanut allergies, peanut butter sandwiches are not nearly as common as they used to be. But please don’t get the idea that you should give up on peanuts altogether!
The Vilification of the Humble Peanut
But the poor peanut has been a dietary pariah for decades now. First, doctors told heart patients to stop eating peanut because of concerns over the saturated fats it contains. But later, it was absolutely vilified because of the severity of some people’s peanut allergies. Schools banned any food containing peanut, parents of small children were told to withhold peanuts until age 3 or 4, and doctors even advised pregnant and nursing women to avoid eating anything containing peanut for fear it would promote the allergy in their babies.
These days, research shows peanut avoidance may actually have contributed to an increase in peanut allergies. It also shows that there is no scientific basis for the belief that someone with a peanut allergy can be triggered just by smelling or being in the same room with peanuts. All of the extreme measures schools took for a while are probably unnecessary too, and we are seeing a more relaxed approach that focuses on better hygiene rather than on complete banning of peanut products. This all falls in line with the decision to rescind recommendations of peanut avoidance for pregnant and nursing women, as well as for infants and toddlers.
Peanuts and Heart Health
When I was in my teens my father had a heart attack. During diet counselling afterwards, the doctor and the dietitian both expressed concern about the fact that Dad loved to eat peanuts. He was told this food was too fatty, and that he could no longer eat roasted nuts for a snack. I remember it being a pretty big deal for him, as this was one of the few foods he really looked forward to as a treat.
The good news is that health experts today aren’t telling people to stop eating peanuts anymore.
Whereas the lowly peanut was to be avoided a few decades ago, new research suggests that a peanut possesses a lot of the same health benefits as more expensive tree nuts like almond, pecan, or walnut. The heart-healthy monounsaturated fats in peanuts help to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol without causing weight gain, and may also help lower high blood pressure. A diet rich in monounsaturated fats may also prevent type II diabetes and help you fight belly fat. Peanuts also contain linoleic acid, an omega-6 essential fatty acid that our bodies need.
So I’m snacking on a handful of peanuts as I write this, and I am definitely going to continue enjoying my peanut butter! Next time I write about peanuts and peanut butter, I’ll talk more about the other nutrients and about how these groundnuts are actually more similar to legumes like Lima beans than they are like tree nuts.
Featured image credit: Peanuts by forwimuwi73/Pixabay (CC0 1.0)