It’s hard to beat the nostalgia and simplicity of a classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich—whatever your age may be. But as more schools and facilities are cracking down on allergens and other nuts are enjoying their 15 minutes of health fame, the humble peanut has been somewhat left behind.
It may surprise you that the peanut is actually not a nut at all. Rather, it’s a legume, sitting alongside lentils, peas, and beans. Also called groundnuts, historical evidence shows that peanuts have been used in culinary pursuits for nearly 3,500 years, and for good reason: They provide us with a wide variety of nutrients and healthy plant compounds. This nutritional value translates into bigtime health benefits for you and your loved ones, which you’ll find ahead.
Health benefits of peanuts on the macro level
1. Peanuts are incredibly rich in plant-based protein
In the macronutrient department, peanuts deliver in all three major groups—protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Peanuts are a great source of protein, making them a frequent addition to plant-based dishes. In fact, the peanut contains more protein than any other kind of nut (even though it’s not technically a nut). Its versatility as both a sweet and savory ingredient lends itself to so many dishes, helping you to boost the protein content and energy-boosting power of your meals easily. (And ICYMI, protein also helps us to build and maintain our muscle mass while speeding recovery after injury and exercise.)
The peanut contains more protein than any other kind of nut (even though it’s not technically a nut).
2. They’re filled with heart-healthy fats
Peanuts are also high in healthy fats, particularly monounsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats, which are also found in olives, almonds, and avocados, have been linked with reduced inflammation, improved cholesterol levels, and may help reduce your risk of heart disease. These healthy fats will also help to stabilize our blood sugars after eating, avoiding the drastic spikes and crashes that really mess with our energy levels throughout the day and make managing blood sugar levels difficult for those with diabetes.
3. Peanuts are packed with gut-friendly fiber
Finally, peanuts are also loaded with the complex carbohydrate, fiber—particularly insoluble fiber. To backtrack a bit, know that fiber is broken down into two main kinds: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water, creating a gel that can help reduce cholesterol and aid in digestive issues like diarrhea. Whereas, insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and can promote overall gut health and regularity, especially for those who are struggling with constipation.
It’s also worth noting that all three macronutrients found in peanuts will help you feel fuller longer as they take longer to digest and metabolize, equating to more satisfaction and energy for you.
Peanuts are full of micronutrients and plant compounds, too
When it comes to micronutrients, these legumes are loaded. Looking at vitamins, peanuts contain high levels of four of the eight B vitamins, including folate, thiamin, niacin, and biotin. While each B vitamin has unique health benefits, generally you can expect them all to help with healthy growth, development, energy metabolism, brain function, and overall cell health. Peanuts are also packed with vitamin E, a potent antioxidant that helps to reduce inflammation in the body, reducing the risk of chronic illness like heart disease and cancer.
In the mineral department, peanuts are an excellent source of manganese, with one cup providing over 150 percent of your daily needs. Manganese is vital for proper bone, connective tissue, blood, and hormone formation while also aiding in the metabolism of carbohydrates and the absorption of calcium. Peanuts are also high in magnesium, which is super important for muscle, nerve, and bone function as well as energy production in the body. Finally, you can also take big strides toward your daily phosphorus needs with peanuts. Phosphorus plays a large role in healthy bone and cell growth, repair, and maintenance as well as metabolism and absorption of both macro and micronutrients.
We can’t forget about the ever important plant compounds that peanuts also offer, most notably resveratrol, phytosterols, and isoflavones. Resveratrol has been found to have staggering anti-inflammatory, anticancer, cardioprotective, neuroprotective, immune boosting, and antihypertensive benefits. Phytosterols, also known as plant sterols, are an umbrella term for over 200 different plant compounds, but as a group they are linked to having powerful cholesterol-lowering and anti-inflammatory properties. Isoflavones are part of the flavonoid group of phytonutrients, or plant compounds, that have (again) been shown to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anticancer characteristics.
Research on the health benefits of peanuts
Research exploring the effects peanuts have on human health show super compelling findings. One meta-analysis found that peanut consumption was linked with improved HDL, or high density lipoprotein, cholesterol. This kind of cholesterol is considered the “good” type that’s tied to improved heart health outcomes.
Another study, though much smaller, found that eating only one ounce of peanuts per day increased the number of healthy bacteria in the gut microbiome. The specific group of bacteria in question, called Ruminococcaceae, is linked not only to healthy digestion and regularity, but to improved liver metabolism and overall immune function. A final study looked at specific types of cancer affected by peanut intake. It found that increasing intake by only a small handful per day was linked with an eight percent risk reduction for colon, pancreatic, and overall cancer risk. It also showed that a small handful of all nuts (including peanuts) per day was associated with a four percent lower cancer mortality risk.
Another bonus reason to love peanuts: They have a much lower environmental impact compared to other nuts (again, even though they’re legume). To grow one ounce of peanuts requires 3.2 gallons of water. Comparatively, to grow the same amount of almonds uses 28.7 gallons of water, pistachios 23.6 gallons, and walnuts 26.7 gallons. Plus, peanuts are infamously used by farmers as nitrogen fixers, meaning that they convert nitrogen from the air into the soil. Fertilizers are usually primarily made up of nitrogen as it’s a main driver of plant health and growth. So, essentially peanut production can not only benefit our health, but the health of our soils and greater environment.
Another bonus reason to love peanuts: They have a much lower environmental impact compared to other nuts.
There are so many delicious ways to include more peanuts into your life. If savory foods are your jam, try making pad thai, refreshing spring rolls with a spicy peanut sauce, garlic green beans tossed with peanuts, or mouthwatering chicken satay.
When it comes to sweets, nothing beats a peanut butter banana smoothie, peanut butter overnight oats, or energy balls filled with nuts, seeds, whole grains, and peanut butter. A handful of peanuts on the go will also do the trick.
When shopping for peanuts and peanut butter, be sure to look for dry roasted peanuts, ideally unsalted and try to find peanut butters with as few added ingredients as possible.