Peanuts for our health and the environment

How much do you know about peanuts?

Up until recently, I knew very little about the bizarre underground legume (yes, it’s a pea, not a nut!), but last Autumn I was invited on a peanut education tour in Georgia, USA, the heart of peanut country, to learn all I could about this nutrition-packed crop.

Not only are peanuts a versatile ingredient for cooking, new research has explored their environmental and nutritional benefits. Below, you'll find a few key facts on how peanuts are good for the planet.... and for you!

“Peanuts are an incredibly versatile food, and can be used in a wide variety of recipes.”

For starters, peanuts are classified botanically as a legume (of the pea and bean family) but nutritionally they have a similar profile as tree nuts, such as walnuts and almonds.

Unusually, for a pea species, peanuts grow underground as seeds, or pods, in the roots of a peanut ‘bush’. They grow in sandy, loamy soils and, after a short growing season they are harvested with a machine that lifts the entire bush out of the ground, shakes off the dirt and inverts it onto a windrow where it dries for the next few days.

From there the peanuts are separated from the bush, and the remainder of the plant is dug back into the soil, enriching it. They also add nitrogen to the soil instead of depleting it, like many other crops do.

Peanut crops require significantly less water than, say, almonds (only 4.7 gallons of water per ounce, while almonds require 80.4 gallons). As a sustainable, significant source of protein (7 grams of protein per ounce of peanut, more than any other nut!), they require 20 times less land than beef and generate 20 times fewer greenhouse gases.

Peanuts are a nutritional superfood too, containing bioactive compounds that can deliver huge health benefits beyond typical nutritional support. They’re a significant source of the amino acid arginine, which can help keep our arteries flexible and lower blood pressure, and they contain resveratrol, which can improve longevity, block the growth of cancer cells and decrease inflammation. They also contain phytosterols, which may block the absorption of cholesterol from our diet and flavonoids which may help reduce the risk of heart disease or stroke.

“Peanuts are classified botanically as a legume, but nutritionally they have a similar profile as tree nuts, such as walnuts and almonds.”

Did you know, a study tracking the long-term health of more than 200,000 Americans found that substituting one daily serving of plant protein (such as peanuts or peanut butter) for one daily serving of an animal protein decreased the risk of developing type 2 diabetes?

With regards to peanut allergies, new research has suggested that introducing peanut foods into a child’s diet at a younger age may be a way to build tolerance and prevent the development of a peanut allergy. US government guidelines have changed over the decades, originally recommending that babies and toddlers avoid peanuts, to now recommending introducing them at a younger age.

Peanuts are an incredibly versatile food, and can be used in a wide variety of recipes. As a significant source of protein peanuts could become be a key component in the plant-based diet which is being recommended to help combat the issues of climate change.

“Peanuts are an affordable, sustainable, nutritious option to help support the health of our planet and our population.”

In conclusion, peanuts are pretty awesome. They’re an affordable, sustainable, nutritious option to help support the health of our planet and our population.

Elizabeth Atia

Mum, daydream adventurer, ex-pat Canadian & quite possibly Britain's most northerly award-winning food blogger. Calls Shetland home. https://www.elizabethskitchendiary.co.uk/

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