A Tough Nut To Crack

Even in spite of March being Nation Peanut Month, it’s not always easy being a goober booster these days.   Times are a little tough for the lowly peanut.   Pro-legume president Jimmy Carter is long since gone from the White House.   Peanut sales have stalled somewhat in recent years.   The poor peanut has taken quite a beating lately…

Assaulted Peanut

Food Poisoning

Peanuts have taken a big hit over the past 2-3 months because of the latest wave of much-publicized recalls prompted by Salmonella Typhimurium concerns.   Nearly 300 brands of peanut-based products have announced recalls due to fears of salmonella contamination since Feb. 1st, and dozens more were announced in January.   Affected items include jars of peanut butter, energy bars, cookies, candies, baked goods, processed foods, dog treats & more.   Yet, it’s important to note that this problem was caused by a single processor (the Peanut Corporation of America based in Lynchburg, Virginia) and the unsafe practices at two of their processing plants (in Blakely, Georgia & Plainview, Texas) not the peanut itself.

Peanut Allergies

Peanuts have also taken a beating due to the feverish frenzy over potential food allergies.   While it certainly is a legitimate concern for some, many scientists & food researchers suggest that the fear about peanut allergies is dramatically overblown.   A few overzealous schools & airlines have even banned the snack outright for fear of potentially-fatal peanut allergies.   Nicholas A Christakis, professor of medical sociology at Harvard Medical School, lends a healthy dose of common sense on the topic:

About 3.3 million Americans are allergic to nuts, and even more – 6.9 million – are allergic to seafood.   However, all told, serious allergic reactions to foods cause just 2,000 hospitalizations a year (out of more than 30 million hospitalizations nationwide).   And only 150 people (children and adults) die each year from all food allergies combined.   Compare that number with the 50 people who die each year from bee stings, the 100 who die from lightning strikes, and the 45,000 who die in motor vehicle collisions.   Or compare it with the 10,000 hospitalizations of children each year for traumatic brain injuries acquired during sports or the 2,000 who drown or the roughly 1,300 who die from gun accidents.   We do not see calls to end athletics.   There are no doubt thousands of parents who rid their [homes] of peanut butter but not of guns.

Obviously, those with legitimate food allergies are dealing with a very real issue that can be life-threatening and may be life-long.   But more often, the problem may be more a case of hysteria-fueled worries than true allergies.   Many believe that, by overreacting to the threat of potential allergies thus avoiding peanuts altogether, we may actually be contributing to the problem of more children being sensitized.

And the heightened anxiety over food allergies tends to also make it harder for parents to determine what constitutes a true allergic reaction.   If a child has an upset stomach, vomiting, or diarrhea after eating food containing peanuts, that’s more likely to be a minor case of food poisoning or other simple non-immunological reaction rather than a true food allergy.   But the hysteria surrounding peanut allergies can make it difficult for even the most level-headed parent to avoid jumping to conclusions.   Yet conversely, there’s mounting evidence that early introduction to nuts actually lowers the likelihood of peanut sensitization in young children.

But even for true peanut allergy sufferers, there are some glimmers of hope…   Recent results from clinical trials suggest that gradual, medically-supervised exposure to small amounts of peanut flour can increase tolerance and help children overcome peanut allergies.   Food researchers have also begun to unlock the secrets of what makes people prone to develop allergic reactions to food, focusing on the certain types of immune cells that react to peanuts and trigger antibodies to be produced.

Loving Peanuts Isn’t So Nuts

Despite the recent health & allergy scares, peanuts remain a reliable & affordable source of protein and a host of other healthful nutrients for most children & adults.

Now while it’s true that peanuts do contain a lot of fat, more than half of the fat in peanuts is monounsaturated.   Unsaturated fats can help lower LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol) levels in the blood without affecting the HDL cholesterol ("good" cholesterol).   And peanuts are loaded with resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant that’s been linked with fighting cancer, preventing certain brain disorders, and reduced cardiovascular disease.   To raise the heart-healthy stats even higher, each ounce of roasted peanuts provides 10% of the daily recommended amount of folic acid, which works along with vitamin B12 & vitamin C to help the body break down, use, and create new proteins, build tissue, form red blood cells, and helps produce DNA.

So exercise caution &#8212: and a little moderation — but if at all possible, go nuts with peanuts!

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