• Why Peanuts Make People Go Crazy

    Peanuts

    Nuts. Crazy.

    A few weeks ago, I posted an answer to a reader (hey Kyle H.!) question:  “Peanut butter. Yay or nay?” Poor Kyle. Little did he know he would spark a debate more heated than a Georgia peanut field on a hot July day, and I could feel the peanut frenzy building with comments like:

    “So eating a peanut isn’t paleo, but using kitchen chemistry to concoct paleo cakes and cookies is ok?” 

    “But are peanuts unhealthy???”

    “Still eating it. I love peanut butter and really don’t think a few tablespoons on my apple is going to hurt me.”

    “Native indians of south and central America have been eating peanuts for the last 7,500 years. I wonder if they’d consider them nutritious or not.”

    Peanuts are tasty and apparently quite controversial.

    (By the way, I am thankful for the dissenting opinions and questions and am in no way trying to single anyone out!) What became obvious to me is that certain Paleo guidelines aren’t well understood. You see, when I think of Dr. Loren Cordain – the first to write a book about this way of eating, cleverly titled The Paleo Diet – I picture his face superimposed on a painting of Moses with the Ten Commandments shouting things like:

    “Thou shalt not eat peanuts or any legume!”

    “Thou shalt not eat cheese! Haha, that one’ll really crush the dairy-loving spirit of the people!”

    Paleo’s come a long way since the movement started and as such, has evolved over time. People figured out that damn it, trying to eat a diet with no salt or no vinegar or no butter just wasn’t as sustainable as a lifestyle because it was, well, boring. What started out as “rules” rationalized by scientific evidence have faded into conversations like, “Well, this Paleo thing sucks because we can’t eat bread or cheese or peanuts or anything fun…,” without understanding the why.

    So here’s the downlow on peanuts. They’re NOT nuts. They are a bean – more technically called a legume. Legumes aren’t considered Paleo for a few reasons:

    • They contain a relatively large amount of a compound called phytate which binds to minerals in the food itself, limiting the availability to us when we eat it. (Interesting to note, so do nuts. Try not to crack out on them.)
    • Most legumes are very carb dense compared to the amount of nutrition they provide. If you’re saying you eat peanut butter for the protein, I’m calling you out 😉 You eat it because it’s delicious and fatty (and if those are your reasons, that’s fine). Peanuts are an exception to the high carb issue but fail the Paleo test for some of these other reasons.
    • Legumes contain lectins, specific proteins known to cause damage to the gut lining. The protein peanut agglutinin can do naughty things to your intestines.
    • Peanuts specifically are prone to contamination with aflatoxin.

    Legumes DO have nutrition. There’s no debating that. It’s not like opening your mouth and shoveling in a spoonful of rocks. You’re going to get fiber and protein and minerals and vitamins from legumes. What you’re NOT going to get is as much nutrition compared to equal quantities of meat or produce. Usually, legumes require soaking or sprouting to reduce the phytate, and most folks just don’t want to go through that effort to make them more edible / less harmful.

    It’s not always black and white, right?

    Most Paleo people have decided not to eat them because Cordain said so the downsides outweigh the upsides and so avoid them. If you feel like someone can just pry the peanut butter spoon from your cold dead hand and you’re not willing to give it up, then the good news is that it’s your choice. Simple, right? You can choose to be Paleo + peanut butter or Paleo + lentils if you want. I promise no Paleo police will show up at your door. Just be honest about maybe not feeling as good or being as healthy if you make it a regular player in your diet. If you’re willing to make the trade, it’s up to you. This is where finding what’s best for your body but being honest about how good you feel is so important.

    If you’re trying to get started with Paleo but you keep holding back because it’s hard to find a good source of reliable information, I’ve solved that problem for you in my new e-course.

    You may want to take all legumes (and grains and dairy) out of your diet for at least 30 days – using a protocol like Whole30, then reintroduce systematically to be more aware of any sensitivities you may have. Folks with Celiac disease or other autoimmune issues are highly recommended to avoid these foods completely, but even if you’re not in that boat, you may be somewhat sensitive to them.

    What to eat instead of peanut butter? Lots of other options exist, but remember that nuts also have phytate so overdoing it with those isn’t necessarily better. Virtually any nut or seed can be made into a butter. If it’s store bought, make sure it doesn’t have extra sugar and weird chemicals. Here are a few suggestions:

    If you want to make your own, you’ll need a food processor or a powerful blender.

    Do you still have questions about peanuts or legumes? Let me know in the comments below.

    Whole and chopped peanut on old wooden table

    Steph Gaudreau is a certified holistic nutrition practitioner, weightlifting and mindset coach, and the author of the best-selling Performance Paleo Cookbook. Her recipes and expert advice have been featured in SELF, Outside Magazine, Elle, and Greatist. Steph loves barbells, cats, and anything Lord of the Rings. She lives in San Diego, CA.

    36 thoughts on “Why Peanuts Make People Go Crazy

    1. Great post Steph!! I used to live on Peanut Butter as a snack on everything. Now it is Almond butter once in a while. It is great with banana slices and melted 85% chocolate though. 🙂

    2. Our “go to” is home made walnut butter using raw/soaked/dehydrated walnuts. Don’t care for sunbutter. I am trying to find a small farmer source of macadamia’s to make macadamia butter.

      1. Oh nice! I want to try walnut butter, and I’m with you on the sunbutter…I just can’t be into it. Do you have access to fresh macs?

    3. It’s also difficult to find a source of peanuts that does not contain mold. Really truly. You can’t see it, but it’s there.

    4. I loved peanut butter. I still do, but I don’t have it in the house anymore.
      While on holidays oversea’s my daughter had 2 allergic reactions to peanuts. the 2nd one resulting in anaphaltic shock. We are now in possession of an epi pen.
      So even though I still like peanut butter (and my son too), we don’t have it. Instead we have a love of sunbutter and almond butter.
      She still doesn’t like nut butters though – it’s a texture thing, but will eat it in a recipe. My son and I can eat almond butter straight from the jar, we’re awesome like that.

      1. Oh dear…that’s quite scary! I hope she’s okay!! It’s funny how we all have our different preferences for that sort of thing isn’t it? I like the almond butter, too 🙂

    5. Love this article! Thanks for posting. I have another question– what are your thoughts on Tahini (sesame seed paste)?

      1. Hi Katherine…sesame seeds are about half MUFA / half PUFA but they have a lot of antioxidants which may help stop the breakdown of these fats. I think it’s pretty darn tasty and a nice fat to rotate in and out of my diet for some variety.

    6. Thanks for this post! I have Crohn’s disease and I started my journey into paleo with the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) which allows peanut butter and some other legumes. Even though SCD-veterans will caution you to be cautious with peanut butter, after eliminating so many other foods it became my “food without brakes.” I couldn’t keep an open jar in the refrigerator… if I knew it was there, it would take all my willpower to resist just eating it straight with a spoon!

      No surprise then that my healing stalled out. No matter what else I was eating, the heavy dose of peanut agglutinin was ruining my digestive lining faster than I could repair it. I went cold turkey on the peanut butter and felt a 100 times better within just 48 hours.

      1. Jaime that’s huge!! I’m glad you added your perspective on it. So important to pay attention to our bodies because what works for one won’t for another. Big hugs!

    7. Wow, I had not idea about peanut butter. I use to feed it to my kids alot when they were little as a protein because they liked it. I’m very glad they grew up and like meat and vegetables. We do not eat alot of peanuts or peanut butter however I did find both of them last week (in my house) and have been eating to much of them. I am not on a Paleo diet I am trying to eat real food and looking into many Paleo recipes to help myself eat healthy. Thank you for this very informative information.

    8. So, it would appear that peanuts (and other legumes) are removed from the diet strictly for nutritional reasons, and not because our ancient ancestors never ate wild legumes that they happened across while hunting and gathering (there is no archaeological or paleontological reason to suppose that they didn’t). Doesn’t such arbitrary restrictions for “modern” reasons sort of undermine the premise of the “paleo” diet?

      1. From that perspective, it’s certainly a grey area. As with most things in Paleo, I let physiology be my guide and that’s where legumes fall short for me.

    9. I know about the problems with peanut butter but….Almond butter is mega expensive and to be honest just not as delicious as the PB! And Sunbutter, forget it, tastes terrible. I had a nutritionist who said that if you were going to do PB, do the kind with Valencia peanuts. Anybody know anything about that?

      1. Hi Emily…not sure about the deal with Valencia peanuts though I have to agree with you…sunbutter’s not my favorite!

      2. Yes, I try to stick with organic Valencia peanuts, because they aren’t contaminated with aflatoxin. I love PB and eat it all the time. 🙂

    10. I am easing into a personalized paleo thing because there are just some things I found it hard to go cold turkey on. I was one of those gallon-of-milk-a-week people (non-fat milk), so I phased it out by buying a half gallon of organic 2% milk and, because it was so pricey, I naturally began to ration it out, plus that little 2% of fat made it taste like cream to me (ick). It took that one 1/2 gallon of milk to get me to quit the stuff. Cheese has been a little harder to do without because I truly do have a friend in cheeses. However, I have discovered that cheese is not the friend I thought she was! (I am almost cheese free.) It was a lot easier to get over grains than I thought it would be, with the exception of oats. I love steel-cut oatmeal and I have not gotten over that; I might never get over it, hence, the “personalized paleo.”

      But, here is my good news: I feel SO much better just by eating real organic food than I did when I was shopping in the supermarket. That was the key for me….no more supermarket. I have a produce market where I spend more on organic fruits and veggies than I ever thought I would. I also have a very reliable butcher who sells grass fed meat, no hormones, no GMO, etcetera. Again, I spend more on these meats….but….guess what….I am saving money!! I buy no more junk/crap/icky stuff with ingredients in them. That is my “paleo” guide. If there is a list of ingredients, I just don’t have room for it in my kitchen. Restaurants no longer have the appeal they used to have, either (I can’t go into the kitchen to read their labels!).

      I am losing weight, sleeping better, and have more stamina than ever before. I really appreciate your validation of the way I am doing this….finding what fits for me and going with it. I don’t want rules, I want good ideas.

      BTW….my produce market also has a grinder and I can grind my own almond butter, so I make that my shopping-day treat. And, yes….I will admit to half an ounce of seriously dark chocolate (85% cacao) every other day.

    11. Hey there!
      Just starting out on my paleo journey and your blog is truly amazing. I just had a question because I was reading this article about all the different butters you can make with nuts as a substitute for peanut butter. I just bought some almond butter but once I got home I noticed the ingredients didnt seem as perfect as I thought they would be they include: blanced roasted almonds, evaporated cane juice, palm fruit oil, and sea salt. This brand “Barney butter” claims to be all natural, but are the addatives still paleo?!

      1. Lots of Paleo folks want to avoid added sugars so the cane juice would be in question. The palm fruit oil and sea salt are okay.

    12. It appears that the Paleo Diet and the Wheat Belly Diet have some real similarities. Where does “organic” peanut butter fit in the Paleo Diet? Also, the wheat belly diet totally allows cheddar cheese? I have kinda done a mixture of both with a little cheating every now and then…..and have lost 10 lbs in 3 weeks. I weighed 205 ( 5’11”) and now weigh 195. I cut out all breads, sweets, cereals, milk, cookies, chips…………all the good stuff. We eat apples with organic peanut butter for night snack from Publix. Thanks, Vince

      1. Hi Vince,

        A traditional Paleo template would say no to the peanut butter and the cheese.

        Sounds like you’ve made awesome progress so far!

    13. Hi! I’m so thankful that I came across your post, not because of all the things you said about why we should avoid peanut butter, but because you’re one of the first people who’s said “Hey, if you want to eat it, it’s okay.” I have a LOT of health issues, and the biggest one right now is pre-diabetes. I just tried a small tablespoon of peanut butter with a half a banana to curb my sugar cravings (as opposed to binge eating some other sugar because I feel deprived), and that small bit of fat really helped! My cravings are gone! Having a scoop of peanut butter once in a while will really help me with my carb cravings, and it’s a great alternative to avocado and coconut for a change! I realize that having a lot of health issues and eating a not-exactly-great-for-you-treat doesn’t combine well, but there’s nothing worse for me than eating tons of sugar. So thanks again, you saved the day!

      1. Thanks Catie! I think it’s really important that we realize big ol’ lists of “yes” foods and “no” foods are great when you start Paleo, but that’s no way to live a life. Sometimes, making less than optimal choices is going to happen, but if we’re making really great choices a majority of the time, that’s going to have a big positive impact.

    14. You’re right! It’s a choice and we are all grown ups, so if u want peanut butter
      go nuts! ;p That being said, I personally hate the stuff! Lol almond butter is so much nicer!! To each their own! 🙂

    15. What do you recommend for a child with peanut allergies? A lot of these tree nuts are run on the same line as peanut so to try to find “pure” tree nuts isn’t easy. I won’t risk my child’s life to use the nut flours and nut butters. Currently I am making meals for myself using them but when he’s home I can’t do that because of aerosols. I am currently doing a modified Paleo plan which gives me dairy and whole grains 1x per day. I can’t do almond or coconut milk in my coffee and I do like Greek yogurt and cheese.

    16. Hi, Steph! I have been on a 30 day Paleo Diet with NO dairy, fruit, soy, sugar and grains. I had been trying to eat fresh and organic for quite awhile but when my doctor said I needed to detox and do the strict Paleo, I went into stunned depression and felt lost. I admit I cheated a couple of times because I was going crazy trying to figure out what I COULD eat! I could tell I was starting to feel better but I was HUNGRY not knowing what to eat. And trying to get food out was a disaster. I needed something to eat in place of my starchy foods (ie. Potatoes, rice). I baked squash and soon tired of that eating it each meal. I enjoy vegetables but it seemed the choices were slim. I just need to find ways to fix and enjoy them. Your shredded sweet potatoes on your Tex-Mex Casserole sounds great! I might try those as a crispy snack because I miss something crunchy. I have never had a turnip but think I’ll have to try that too. *** I sure am using a LOT of bell peppers these days. Do you or any of your readers have suggestions on growing them or finding organic seeds? I have tried growing them before using the seeds from an organic pepper (red) but they would never change from green (my least favorite). *** A few of your readers mentioned dark chocolate. Is cacao allowed on Paleo? I was wondering if I would ever enjoy some sort of treat again. I happily found a recipe for Rice Pudding that said to substitute tapioca. Is that acceptable? And what about the chocolate or something creamy in texture? *** I am thankful to say, since finding some new yummy recipes, that I am now feeling content and more excited about Paleo. I survived the sudden shock!

      1. Hi Wendy…my best advice is to not treat it like a “diet” but rather focus on all the great foods you can try. Have fun with it and don’t take it so seriously. You sound really stressed about it, and that’s not a great thing to add into the mix of eating healthy food.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *