Ground Nut, Monkey Nut, Earthnut
As most people know nowadays a peanut is not technically a nut; it’s actually classed as a legume, thought to have originated in South America over 3,500 years ago. The Incas cultivated peanuts throughout coastal regions of Peru where they were offered to their gods in rituals, as well as consumed for their nutritional benefits.
Fast forward a few thousand years and they had spread all over the globe after the invasion of South America. The humble peanut finally arrived in North America in the 18th century where it quickly went on to become a national treasure. During the Civil War the boiled nuts were enjoyed by soldiers from both sides, who ate them as an easily accessible and protein rich snack, taking them home to be enjoyed by all the family after the war. Peanuts were finally immortalised as America’s favourite snack food in 1895 when Dr John Harvey Kellogg (of Kellogg’s cereal fame), patented a process for making peanut butter from raw peanuts. The rest, as they say, is history!
Many studies, including vast population studies, correlate eating peanuts with a lower risk of heart disease. Four of these studies were; Iowa Women’s Health Study, Adventist Health Study, Nurses’ Health Study and Physician’s Health Study. The Nurses’ Study was undoubtedly the most famous of the four, and was followed up in the Harvard Professionals Follow-up Study. All of these studies found that just a handful of peanuts eaten five times a week cut the risk of heart disease in half. Furthermore, eating peanuts twice a week reduces the risk of heart disease by 24%. In all of the studies, researchers accounted for unhealthy influences such as smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes, which were more prevalent in lower income brackets.
Peanuts, Peanut Oil and Peanut Butter (natural and additive free), are all high in heart healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and are free from trans fats. They are also rich in many heart protective nutrients such as niacin (vitamin B3) and folate (vitamin B9), potassium and magnesium. Magnesium’s heart benefits are hard to overstate, it helps to regulate heart rhythm, co-ordinating the activity of the heart muscle and the nerves that initiate heartbeat. Low magnesium levels can cause heart palpitations and arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats). Magnesium also helps to keep the coronary arteries from having spasms that can cause the intense chest pains known as angina. Peanuts are also high in the amino acid l-arginine which helps artery walls retain their flexibility, making them less prone to blood clots that can block blood flow.
Peanuts are high in many nutrients that are vital for a healthy pregnancy, most notably folate and biotin. In fact peanuts are one of the richest dietary sources of biotin which is critical to the growth and development of the foetus. It must be replenished daily - as a water soluble vitamin, biotin cannot be stored in the body and is used up more rapidly by pregnant women. Folate is necessary for the production of new DNA which is needed for the production of new cells. The growing life within the womb engages in constant cell division and the mother must expand her blood supply with the production of new red blood cells – activities which demand a generous supply of folate. A 35g serving of peanuts provides 42% of the RDA for folate and over 25% of the RDA for biotin.
Believe it or not Peanuts rival red wine for their antioxidant content! They are rich in resveratrol, the powerful antioxidant most commonly associated with the benefits of red wine. Peanuts are also high in p-Coumaric acid, a potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial compound. In fact, peanuts are comparable to strawberries and blackberries in terms of antioxidants, and contain more than apples, carrots or beetroots.
Help to Prevent Gallstones
The aforementioned “Nurses’ Study” also found that women who eat just 28g of peanuts or peanut butter per week have a 25% less chance of developing painful gallstones. It is thought that because gallstones are primarily made of cholesterol, peanut’s cholesterol busting properties are partly responsible for this phenomenon.
Peanuts can be eaten straight, boiled, dry roasted or crushed into a delicious, creamy butter. These versatile nuts can also be added to many savoury and sweet dishes.
The first references to peanuts appeared in South America around 7,500 years ago. Whilst Dr John Harvey Kellogg might have patented the process for making peanut butter just over a century ago, the Aztecs were mashing up peanuts into a smooth, creamy butter thousands of years ago.
Brazil's indigenous population, the Tupi, called the peanut "mani", meaning "buried". It was extensively consumed and is a deeply ingrained part of Brazilian culture to this day. Interestingly it was only the women who were allowed to tend to the peanut plants as it was believed that if men handled them they wouldn’t grow.
The Spanish first encountered peanuts when they conquered Mexico in 1521. A Franciscan monk by the name of Bernardino de Sahagun arrived in Santa Cruz where he spent the remainder of his life as a teacher. He learned the native language of the Aztecs, Nahuatl, and found that their word for peanut was "tlalcachuatl" which translates as "the chocolate bean that grows underground". This linguistic association between chocolate and the peanut suggests the Aztecs may have been the first to pair these two foods in a marriage of tastes made in heaven.
Peanuts contain; protein, fibre, mono and polyunsaturated fats, omega 6, vitamins B1, B3, B6, folate, biotin, pantothenic acid, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, copper, manganese. Antioxidants include resveratrol, isoflavones, p-coumaric acid and phytosterols.
Do not consume peanuts if you have a nut allergy.