As you probably already know, our Whole30 program and Dr. Loren Cordain’s Paleo Diet don’t include beans (legumes) of any kind. Most of our clients agree to live without lima beans and soy products pretty quickly… but then we mention peanuts. See, peanuts aren’t a nut at all. They’re a legume – edible seeds enclosed in pods. The confusion stems from the fact that, while their physical structure and nutritional benefits more closely resemble that of other legumes, their use in diets and cuisines more closely resembles that of nuts.
Our clients don’t typically balk at the removal of the actual peanuts from their diets – there are plenty of other nuts they can consume for healthy fats. The trouble comes when we take away their peanut butter. Long promoted as full of “good” fat and high in protein, peanut butter has probably been a staple in your diet since you were a kid, and unfortunately, PB has few comparable substitutes (as those of you who have tried almond butter already know). So for you hold-outs practicing “Paleo + Peanut Butter”… we get it, but we still want you to ditch the PB. Need convincing? Here’s why we don’t eat peanut butter – not even the organic, all-natural stuff.
It’s not the ingredients in the peanut butter we don’t like, it’s the peanuts themselves. When peanuts grow, they can harbor carcinogenic mold called an “aflatoxin“. This goes for conventional and organic peanuts. They longer they sit (during shipping, for example), especially in warm temperatures and high humidity, the more mold grows. And as it’s nearly impossible to buy peanuts “local”, as they are only grown in a few Southern locations, more likely than not that even your organic peanuts are suspect.
The far bigger concern, however, is that peanuts contain lectins which are believed to have inflammatory and atherogenic potential. Most plants contain lectins, some of which are toxic, inflammatory, or both. Many of these lectins are resistant to cooking and to digestive enzymes, and some have been scientifically shown to have significant GI toxicity in humans. Lectins from grains (especially wheat) and legumes (including peanuts and soybeans) are most commonly associated with aggravation of inflammatory and digestive diseases in the body. (As an aside, dairy from cows fed grain-based diets can also contain these grain-derived lectins.)
Recent research by Dr. Cordain has suggested that these lectins may effectively serve as a “Trojan horse” allowing foreign proteins to invade our natural gut defenses. Cordain reports, “An experiment conducted by Dr. Wang and colleagues and published in the prestigious medical journal Lancet revealed that PNA got into the bloodstream intact in as little 1-4 hours after subjects ate a handful of roasted, salted peanuts.” (Unfortunately, the abstract of this study is not available without a subscription.) The lectins can cause damage well beyond the gut – commonly in joints, brain, and skin of affected individuals. Continued exposure of the gut by these toxins leads to a persistent stimulation of the body’s defense mechanism in a dysfunctional manner, i.e. autoimmune disease. (Allergies fall into that category as well.)
So in summary… sorry, kids. Since the potential downsides of peanuts dramatically outweigh our fond memories of childhood PB&J sandwiches, we recommend you ditch the peanuts altogether. The good news is that we can offer you a reasonable replacement – a spread with much of the texture and taste of peanut butter without any of the down side. Sunbutter is made from specially roasted sunflower seeds, and is peanut, tree-nut and gluten free. And unlike other nut butters, it actually tastes like PB. Some variations (like the “Creamy” version) contain a small amount of sugar in the form of cane juice. We’re okay with that, but for you purists, the “Organic” version is free of added salts and sugars.
Looking for a way to take your new peanut-free diet for a spin? Try Melissa “Melicious” Joulwan’s Sunshine Sauce. Made with Sunbutter, this Thai-inspired alternative goes great with chicken, shrimp and all kinds of vegetables.