So while I do love sitting down to a healthy breakfast made up of yogurt, fresh fruits, whole grains and the whole kit and caboodle, my day will get off to a shaky start if I don’t include some toast and peanut butter. My taste buds practically demand it as an accompaniment to my coffee.
As far as I know, the peanut is the only legume (aka pulse) that masquerades as a nut. While it has the typical taste of a nut, not to mention the right texture and appearance, it grows like every other legume out there. Originally from South America, it’s grown today in tropical and subtropical regions of the U.S., Africa, China and India.
In some parts of Africa, peanuts are a staple. Roasted, crushed and added to sauces along with spices, the simple peanut becomes maafe, a stew that typically also features rice, vegetables and meats. Asian spicy peanut sauces known as satays are also hugely popular in the West now.
Closer to home, in Virginia, hot boiled peanuts are sold at just about every corner store. Fresh peanuts, not the dehydrated ones, are boiled in the shell in very salty water, sometimes with Cajun spices. The resulting boiled peanuts have a soft texture, sometimes so soft that you can eat the shell too. In Africa, Asia and Latin America, boiled peanuts are typically sold by street food vendors.
In Canada, peanut butter definitely owns the title of most popular bread spread. The classic “PB on white bread,” with its sticky, comforting texture, still evokes fond childhood memories for me. But as a result of the exploding number of serious peanut allergies among the population, this yummy but potentially dangerous treat is generally banned in elementary schools today. Fortunately, soy and sunflower butters make for perfectly respectable substitutes. With respect to allergies, there’s hope on the horizon; I’ll get back to that later. In addition to its use as a bread spread, peanut butter is sometimes used in cookies. Thank you, o peanut butter gods!
Now that white bread has been banished from my diet, natural peanut butter on toasted whole-grain toast is one of my breakfast staples. To sweeten things up a bit, my kids tend to like topping it with banana or strawberry slices, whereas my teenager likes adding it to... wait for it... grilled cheese sandwiches! Er... yum? As an after-school snack, I recommend apple or celery slices with a dip made with peanut butter, Greek-style vanilla yogurt and a touch of cinnamon.
A ray of hope
Getting back to the allergy issue, peanut allergies are both the most widespread and those whose incidence is increasing the fastest. For a while now, immunotherapy’s potential as a treatment for food allergies has been intriguing researchers, including Dr. Mimi Tang at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia. Last year, she and her team published the findings of a study that showed that an 18-month course of immunotherapy not only worked, but was still effective four years after it ended. The children who participated in the study took a probiotic (Lactobacillus rhamnosus) to which a specific peanut protein had been added, daily for 18 months. The therapy continued to work long after the treatment stopped.
When researchers tested the children’s tolerance a month after treatment, 80% of them were able to eat peanuts without any allergy symptoms. Four years later, 70% of them could still do so without any issues. To date, the treatment used in the study has proved to be the most effective over the long term.
The benefits of peanut butter
As you might have gleaned from what I’ve written so far, peanut butter is my non-guilty pleasure! The nutty pulse is jam-packed with nutrients:
- Excellent source of good fats, including phytosterols
- Excellent source of zinc, manganese, copper and vitamin B3
- Good source of phosphorus, magnesium and vitamin E
- Source of potassium, iron, selenium, pantothenic acid, vitamins B1, B6 and B9, and dietary fibre
What’s it all mean? Phytosterols are plant lipids (aka fats) whose structure closely resembles that of animal cholesterol, yet which have the added benefit of lowering the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) in humans. Lower LDL translates directly to improved cardiovascular health—the benefits of peanuts on both these points has been established in scientific studies.- The nutrients in peanuts are more than just a good source of energy: they also give them their powerful antioxidant qualities. For people who need to monitor the acidity of their diet, note that peanut butter is categorized as moderately acidifying.
Peanuts contain an invaluable element called resveratrol. Despite having an off-putting name that sounds like some kind of rat poison, resveratrol is actually a hyper-antioxidant substance believed to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. My bread spread is earning its stripes!
There’s peanut butter and there’s peanut butter
All the above-mentioned benefits apply to peanuts and, by extension, to natural peanut butter, the kind made with nothing but crushed peanuts.
That’s why you need to read the ingredients list carefully. Too many “food” manufacturers add all kinds of stuff to their peanut butter: sugar (in all shapes and forms, including glucose, confectioner’s sugar and corn syrup), salt and hydrogenated oil. The latter of these additives keeps the natural peanut oil from separating from the peanut paste, but is bad for cardiovascular health.
You’ll notice that with natural peanut butter, a layer of oil comes to the surface after a while. All you need to do is stir well before eating it. And if you put it in the fridge, the oil will thicken and won’t separate from the paste. Besides, if you don’t go through peanut butter quite as fast as I do (and that’s fast), it’s best to keep it in the fridge anyway. Perhaps the greatest benefit of all-natural peanut butter is its taste. After all, what could be better than the nutty flavour of roasted peanuts?
And now that I know all this great stuff about peanut butter, I’m even more in love with my morning toast!
- The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health. Volume 1, Issue 2, pp. 97-105, October 01, 2017
- J Nutr. 2005 Sep;135(9):2082-9. This study examined nuts and peanuts.
- J Am Coll Nutr 2003 April;22(2):133-41