Peanuts: Superfood or Superfluous?

Are peanuts worthy of the superfood title?

Photo by Sujeeth Potla

When it comes to peanuts, it’s true that big things come in small packages. They are one of the most commonly advertised snack in diets, along with other known foods in the superfood family such as greek yogurt and avocados. The peanut (which is actually not a nut) is a nutrient-rich powerhouse. In fact, based on a mountain of research, this mighty legume deserves superfood status.

A serving of peanuts, which is equal to one ounce, or roughly 28 peanuts packs an impressive amount of nutrients. Their high caloric density is counterbalanced with a nutrient profile that competes with the most well known superfoods in the industry. In a nutshell (ha!), they are low in carbohydrates, houses ample amounts of protein, and are packed with a ton of healthy fats. They are also loaded with an array of essential vitamins and minerals, plus bountiful amounts of active antioxidants — as if all those weren’t good enough already.

Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food

Okay first off I have to come clean. There is no such thing as a ‘superfood’. The term was probably created by large food corporations for marketing purposes. According to most websites, the definition of superfood goes somewhere along the lines of “foods that are thought to be nutritionally dense and thus good for one’s health”. This term is undoubtedly super broad and vague, and there hasn’t been a general criteria to what is objectively considered as a superfood. If anything, however, the terms seems to be garnering popularity in recent times, so we might as well board the superfood bandwagon.

“Studies conducted in the United States and around the world reveal that eating peanuts regularly helps prevent disease, improves life expectancy and delivers positive effects throughout the body,” says Dr. Samara Sterling, director of research for The Peanut Institute. “Peanuts qualify as a superfood because they’re nutrient-dense, delivering superior health benefits in a very small serving. When you compare peanuts to kale, a widely known superfood, it’s a stark difference in terms of the amount you need to consume to reap the food’s benefits. For example, one serving of peanuts contains six times as much protein as a serving of raw kale and eight times as much niacin.”

According to Dr. Sterling, the recommended daily serving is one ounce of peanuts (166 calories), which is equivalent to approximately a handful of nuts, or two tablespoons of peanut butter.

I’ve been eating peanuts as snacks ever since my diet shift back in high school. Before the switch, my diet was free-for-all. I was completely mindless when it came to food consumption, both in terms of quality and quantity. I was eating garbage. Then it started to show around my waistline, in the moments that lined up perfectly to the age when teenagers started becoming self-conscious about themselves. And so my dietary adventure began. I became more mindful with the nutrition that entered my system. I cultivated a sense of self-discipline with my diet. I stopped living to eat and started eating to live.

Naturally, I was introduced to peanuts. In comparison with other kinds of nibbles that are displayed on the snack aisle of the supermarket, they seem to be one of the healthiest. As we’ve established in the earlier parts of the article, they’re packed with nutrients and energy, not to mention they’re also vegan and gluten-friendly. But the ‘healthy’ label seems to cover a broader range of nut options — surely almonds and cashew are healthy options as well, so why peanuts?

Yes they are, and you are absolutely correct if you think almonds and cashews are equally wholesome options. In some ways, almonds are in fact superior to peanuts. Almonds are rich in vitamin E’s, which are antioxidants that protect our body against destructive free radicals. They also boost our immune system in ways better than peanuts do. Pistachios are thought to be the best of the lot for weight loss — considering they come with a skin on and it takes extra time and effort to open the skin, which makes people less likely to overeat them. Macadamia have been shown to be best at promoting heart health, and cashew the superior nut for the bone and skin. In terms of brain health, the walnut takes the trophy home.

And so the question stands — why peanuts? The answer is quite simple actually, price. Peanuts are, by quite a margin, the cheapest ‘nut’ option out there. The reason I put nut on quotation is because the peanut is technically not a nut. It is a legume. Nuts grow on trees, peanuts grow underground. This is partly why they are cheaper to sell — they’re easier to grow, which means less cultivation overhead.

According to this website, the average price of peanuts are USD 9,9/kg. Almonds, on the other hand, are on the market for USD 28,9/kg. That’s almost triple the cost! Walnuts come closest to the peanut, averaging at USD 15,9/kg (still a good 50% more expensive than peanuts), while macadamias are the most expensive, topping the list at a whopping USD 54,9/kg.

Pound for pound, the peanut is the best nut overall. They contain all the essential nutrients that nuts in general carry, plus the ‘gravy’ if you may in vitamin B’s and bioactive compounds. They may not be the best kind of nut if you want to lose weight, or improve your cardiac function, but they are nonetheless a formidable addition to any diet — and they do their job without breaking your bank.

“It was Hippocrates, the father of medicine, who famously said, ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food.’ I am excited that as a society we are in a place where we are realising that eating a tasty snack like peanuts is not just a way to stop hunger pangs; this superfood can deliver powerful benefits to our bodies that help to maintain and restore health,” says Dr. Sterling.

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Junior doctor, writer, photographer, and part-time social media strategist. Receive weekly updates from me ⤵

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