What's wrong with peanut butter?

by 130 · August 01, 2013 at 10:28 PM

I recently discovered the brilliance of peanut butter after previously hating it when I was younger. However I saw an old post on here saying peanut butter was bad for a paleo diet?

Can anyone enlighten me as to why this is? I am only eating 100% natural peanut butter - no added sugar, salt or other nasties.

Thanks :)

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7 Replies

2282 · May 03, 2013 at 4:40 PM

I really found this article by Mark Sisson pretty informative:

"It generally contains aflatoxins.

Aflatoxins are naturally occurring fungal toxins, or mycotoxins, produced by certain members of Aspergillus, a type of fungus found pretty much everywhere throughout the world. Aspergillus tends to colonize any monosaccharide and polysaccharide it comes across, as long as the conditions are right, but peanuts are particularly susceptible. Most crops are colonized after harvest and during storage, but since Aspergillus is found in the soil (among other places) and peanuts grow underground, peanut colonization often occurs well before harvest. The result is that peanuts are among the most contaminated crops, along with corn and cottonseed.

Aflatoxin, being a toxin, is metabolized by the liver. Large enough doses of aflatoxin are a liver carcinogen in high doses (it’s actually what T. Colin Campbell used to induce liver cancer in mice during his China Study crusade to indict animal protein). Early exposure and elevated bloods level of aflatoxin are associated with stunted growth in children.

It contains peanut agglutinin.

As of now, the harmful effects of peanut agglutinin, a peanut lectin, are mostly speculative, but still compelling:

In isolated human colon cancer cells, peanut lectin is a mitogen, or growth-promoter. You generally don’t want cancer cells to divide and increase in number.

Altered glycosylation may be at the heart of inflammatory bowel disease-related cancers, like colon cancer.

Peanut agglutinin causes colon cancer cell proliferation via altered glycosylation, in an in vitro study.

That said, those are just in vitro studies. They don’t tell us what happens when peanuts are eaten. However, in real live human subjects who ate real peanuts, peanut agglutinin has been shown to make it through the gut lining to end up in the blood stream. That’s a little worrisome, don’t you think?

I want to reiterate, though: eating peanut butter has never been causally linked to the development of colon cancer. In fact, one epidemiological study found that frequent intake of peanuts and peanut products was linked to a lowered incidence of colorectal cancer in Taiwanese women.

It might contain a uniquely atherogenic oil.

Yeah, peanut oil has a good amount of monounsaturated fat, about 46.8% of the total fatty acid content, which has earned it a solid reputation for heart health in the conventional health world. But it’s also got a significant amount of PUFAs, too. 33% of the total fat is omega-6 linoleic acid, with an essentially nonexistent omega-3 ALA content. You could say that about a lot of nuts, though, and I don’t think the PUFA content is the big determinant here. It doesn’t help, but it’s not a deal breaker on its own. Let’s dig a little deeper.

Peanut oil has favorable effects on standard lipid panels. LDL drops, total drops, total:HDL ratio drops. The jury is out on how much that all matters, but eating peanut oil will probably make your cardiologist happy. Awesome, right? Maybe, but peanut fat appears to be uniquely atherogenic despite the lipid effects. For decades, it’s been used by scientists to induce atherosclerosis in cholesterol-fed rats, rabbits, and primates. Some researchers think that peanut lectins, present in the oil, are the cause of the atherogenicity. Reduction of the lectin content of peanut oil, through “vigorous washing,” also reduces the atherosclerosis it causes (although not completely).

You know what else reduces the peanut lectin content? Not eating any peanut butter.

It’s a little too tasty.

There’s something about the combination of fat, salt, protein, and smooth scoopability of peanut butter that promotes overeating. I wasn’t able to bring up any concrete studies on the pro-bingeing effects of peanut butter in humans (though if you run a Google search for “peanut butter addiction,” you’ll get a bevy of testimonials from all sorts of people claiming to be addicted to the stuff), I believe it. And I bet obesity researchers who typically work with rodents would believe it, too, since peanut butter is often used in these studies as a high-reward, obesogenic comfort food that rats and mice will readily and consistently overeat.

Ultimately, to feverishly scoop in a ravenous frenzy or not to feverishly scoop in a ravenous frenzy is a choice you have to make. I wouldn’t recommend eating peanut butter very regularly, and I know I won’t for the reasons mentioned above, but that doesn’t mean you have to follow suit. The inclusion – or exclusion – of peanut butter (or peanuts in general) will not make or break your Primal cred. There are a lot of things you want to have under control before obsessing over peanut butter, like grains, omega-6 oils, sleep, exercise, play, daily low level activity level, quality of meat, etc. You get those under control and then start thinking about some peanut butter as a treat every now and then, if ever.

As I see it, the easy answer is to just not eat it, because I don’t see anything at which it particularly excels (besides inducing people to eat the entire jar in a single sitting). You can get your polyphenols and your minerals from fruits and vegetables, your monounsaturated fat from meat, olive oil, mac nuts, and avocados, and your smooth pulverized salty nutty fix from almond butter, mac nut butter, coconut butter, or any other nut butter – without the peanut lectin, the weirdly atherogenic fat, the aflatoxin load, or the insatiable desire to eat more and more and more until it’s all gone and your forearm is sticky."

18794 · May 03, 2013 at 4:28 PM

Peanuts are legumes (the seeds of legume plants, i.e. beans) and not nuts. Beans are categorically not paleo, although you will find some people who eat green beans, peas, or snow peas. The usual concern with beans is the high lectin content - while green beans have (virtually) none, peanuts and other beans have much higher amounts, and different, more potent varieties - some are neutralized with soaking, others cannot be. If you could manage to eat 10 dry kidney beans, you would die from the lectins in them, for example, as they are incredibly potent.

Besides being categorically dismissed, peanuts are also a concern because they are highly susceptible to mold growth and aflatoxin.

The paleo-police aren't going to come to your house if you continue to eat peanut butter, but consider choosing a different (true) nut butter if you can't live without something like it.

10 · August 01, 2013 at 10:28 PM

The problem with peanut butter is only how it is made. If you know that a producer uses low heat and clean, un-spoiled, organic peanuts - or you do the same at with making your own. There is nothing wrong with it. From my other post...

Forget about peanuts being LABELLED as a legume. This is just as irrelevant as calling a Chestnut a nut. If you don't know, chestnuts have very little fat and are super high in carb's. They are much closer to a potato in macro's than any nut. Likewise peanuts are much closer in content (fats and proteins) to nuts than ANY legume. Virtually all nuts are high in Omega-6, phytates, and PUFA. Even the almond that paleo eaters consume liberally - some way too much via almond butter and flour. The almond is arguably only slightly more healthy than a peanut and not enough to warrant their increased cost. The only nutrient that an almond has in significant amount above a peanut is Vitamin-E being about 3-4 times higher. But given almonds and peanuts have the lower quality Alpha-Tocopherols type of Vitamin-E (not the more effective tocotrienols type), you're better off looking elsewhere for you Vit-E. All considered, the healthfulness of almonds looks to be exaggerated. Now, one thing that everyone leaves out about peanuts is that they have 3-4 times more selenium than an almond. Selenium is the important and relatively hard to find mineral that everyone touts Brazil Nuts for. All other nutrient content of peanuts versus almonds does not differ enough to really care about - especially since you should not be eating more than say a handful or so per day anyway (or couple spoonful's of nut butter). Aflatoxins and lectins are often show up in many other types of both plant an animal foods. The mold that produces Aflatoxin also grows on paleolithic foods. It is not specific to peanuts. Humans in general have a high tolerance for them. So this is another red herring. Peanuts and peanut butter are tested for aflatoxin. Peanuts are only marginally higher than almonds in PUFA fat. Another red herring. I believe that the statement that peanuts are not a "paleo" food is just wrong. Where is the evidence that peanuts did not exist during the paleolithic? You can't condemn them just because they don't grow on a tree. Potatoes and other tubers grow in the ground the same as peanuts. The main issue with peanuts and peanut butter, like most other types of foods, including other nuts, is how it is prepared.


0 · May 06, 2013 at 1:32 AM

I lost 34 pounds in the last 4-5 months and I still eat peanut butter as part of my Paleo diet.As a matter of fact, I do eat something like 3 tablespoons total a week.

7989 · May 05, 2013 at 8:58 PM

I've been making sunbutter at home. It's easy to make with sunflower seeds and almost as tasty as peanut butter. It's really delicious. And fully Paleo.

1338 · May 03, 2013 at 6:31 PM

I can't stop eating it.

0 · May 03, 2013 at 6:28 PM

You can buy almonds or other kinds of nuts and put them in the food processor and beat them up. They will first become big pieces, small pieces, flour, and then their oils will start to disentangle from the flour and you'll have nut butter. If it's not working, or not enough oil, you can add some other source of liquid fat, like coconut oil.

Peanut butter is a problem because it's not a nut. Some people are against cashews as well.

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