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!

31 Days of Nuttiness

March is a great month to go nuts! Y’see, it’s the 35th anniversary of National Peanut Month! So in honor of this, here are a few lesser-known nuggets about one of our favorite treats:

Interesting Peanut Facts:

  • Peanuts have been found in pre-Columbian sites in Zhejiang province in China dating from between 2100-1811 B.C.
  • The Incans of Peru used peanuts as sacrificial offerings and entombed them with their mummies to aid in the spirit life.
  • The first major use of peanut crops in America was as feed for pigs but in the hard times during the Civil War, both Northern & Southern troops began to rely upon the peanut as a food source.
  • Using only his nose, mountaineer Tom Miller pushed a peanut 14,100 feet to the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado in just 4 days, 23 hours, and 47 minutes.
  • Peanut butter’s high protein content draws moisture, often causing it to stick to the roof of your mouth. And the fear of getting peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth is called arachibutyrophobia.
  • “Mr. Peanut,” the Planters Nut mascot, is based upon a sketch submitted by a schoolboy for the company’s logo contest. His drawing won 13-year-old Antonio Gentile a $5 prize in 1916.
  • Although China & India are by far the biggest peanut-growing countries of the world, peanut butter is a distinctly American food product and most other countries never had it prior to the 1960s.
  • Be sure to check out the other food-related posts here on 2Dolphins.

Peanut Power

Capping off the coverage of March as National Peanut Month, it seemed only fitting to mention Project Peanut Butter, a non-profit organization created by Dr. Mark Manary which has done extensive field trials in Malawi from 2001-2007 on fighting severe malnutrition using Plumpy’nut.

Plumpy’nut, Nutriset’s amazing Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) product, is based on a fortified peanut paste and offers an incredible 95% recovery rate for severely malnourished children. Project Peanut Butter operates the first local Plumpy’nut Plumpynut wrapperproduction facility in Africa and distributes this therapeutic food to malnourished Malawian children in more than 20 nutritional rehabilitation centers. Last year, the United Nations System Standing Committee on Nutrition, the World Health Organization, & UNICEF issued a joint statement that recognized Project Peanut Butter’s treatment protocols, in conjunction with Plumpy’nut, as the most effective method by which to treat severely malnourished children globally.

It’s estimated that half of all child deaths worldwide are caused by malnutrition. In fact, Joe Stirt’s recent Memo to Nick Negroponte notes that only 3% of the world’s 20 million malnourished children have access to ready-to-use food. While Joe’s post unintentionally connects with one of my main concerns about MIT’s overzealous One Laptop Per Child project (that being, do starving children really need a $100 laptop?), I believe his main point is that the cost of providing critically-needed nourishment for 3rd world children is practically trivial.

Yup, just $15 (a tax-deductible donation) allows Project Peanut Butter to offer a Plumpy’nut-based 4-week nutritional recovery protocol to bring a critically-malnourished child back from the brink.

$15 worth of peanut paste to save a child’s life? Peanut power, indeed!

Nutty Uses for Peanut Butter

Empty Jar of Peanut ButterKeeping the ball rolling on my coverage of National Peanut Month, I thought it might be fun to toss out a few unexpected or downright wacky uses for peanut butter that I’ve come across recently.

If you thought slathering an apple wedge or celery stick with peanut butter for an afternoon snack was living on the edge, well, just hold on for some really far-out ideas:

  • Let a tablespoon of peanut butter slowly dissolve in your mouth to cure hiccups!
  • Having trouble getting your pet to take some medication?   Most cats & dogs love the taste of peanut butter, so hide the pill in peanut butter and you should have no trouble getting them to swallow it!
  • Remove stubborn wax stains on your car’s rubber or non-painted plastic surfaces by applying a little creamy peanut butter to the stain with a soft toothbrush.   Peanut butter’s oils dissolve the wax and it’s just sticky & abrasive enough to lift the stain.
  • Likewise, gently rub peanut butter in a circular motion on road tar or tree sap that’s gotten on your car then wash with sudsy water to rinse off any residue.
  • Create a cheap & simple outdoor bird feeder by spreading peanut butter into the nooks & crannies of a pine cone, then coating with birdseed.
  • To get chewing gum out of hair, clothing, or carpet, scrape up what you can, rub with an ice cube to stiffen, then rub a small glob of creamy peanut butter into the gum and wipe up the whole mess with a clean cloth.
  • Make Chocolate & Peanut Butter Playdough for your kids to play with!
  • You can even shave with creamy peanut butter!   Reportedly, former senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona once did this while on a camping trip.

Nutty Nuggets

Continuing with the celebration of Nat’l Peanut Month, I thought I’d offer up some interesting peanut info.   If any of this helps settle a bar bet, well, ya owe me a brew…

Historically Nuts

The peanut is a South American legume with an ancient history.   Peanut shells have been found in archaeological digs that date back to 2500 BC but it’s likely that they were being consumed even before then.   Interestingly, none of the 4 main varieties of peanut (Peruvian, Spanish, Valencia, & Virginia) prevalent in the U.S. came here directly.   Instead, the peanut took the slow boat, migrating either through Africa or the Orient to North America as a result of Spanish and/or Portuguese traders.

Historically, the largest grower of peanuts in the world had been India, but China began dominating production in the 1990s.   By 2000, China was yielding almost 40% of the world crop, and India almost 25%, with the U.S. in 3rd place with only 6% of worldwide peanut production.

Peanut Trivia

  • About 2/3rds of the worldwide peanut crop is processed for oil and peanut oil accounts for 8% of the worlds edible oil production.
  • There are about 1,218 peanuts in a 28-ounce jar of peanut butter.
  • An average of 2,860 pounds of peanuts are harvested from each acre of peanut plants and an acre of peanuts will make 30,000 peanut butter sandwiches.
  • Roasted peanuts were first sold at a P.T. Barnum circus in the late-1800s.
  • The term "peanut gallery" was popularized in the late 19th century because those in the cheapest, uppermost seats in a theater could throw peanuts at people in the more expensive seats below.
  • Alabama, Florida, New Mexico, & South Carolina all contribute, but the predominant peanut-growers in the U.S. are Georgia & Texas.
  • The official state crop of Georgia is the peanut and that state produces almost ½ of the total U.S. peanut crop.
  • About ½ of all of the peanuts grown in the U.S. for food use ends up in a jar of peanut butter.
  • On average, Americans each eat 3 lbs of peanut butter per year.   That’s about 700 million pounds, or enough to coat the floor of the Grand Canyon!
  • Peanut butter’s high protein content draws moisture from your mouth.   That’s why it sticks to the roof of your mouth.
  • On May 15, 1963, U.S. astronaut Gordon "Gordo" Cooper ate bite-sized peanut butter sandwiches during the last Mercury space flight mission.


Go Nuts in March

National Peanut Month is upon us!   What began as National Peanut Week in 1941, expanded to a month-long celebration in 1974.   And it’s probably no coincidence that March is also National Nutrition Month because the lowly peanut is quite the nutritional powerhouse!

peanut graphicWhile peanuts aren’t actually nuts—they’re legumes, related to peas, lentils, chickpeas & other beans—they’re loaded with healthful goodness, with almost 8 grams of protein per serving and feature lots of dietary fiber, vitamin E, Niacin, Folate, & Manganese. They’re also a good source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and two high-powered antioxidants: p-Coumaric acid & Resveratrol, the highly-touted component found in red grapes & wine. In fact, peanuts pack in more antioxidants than either apples or carrots!

And you can easily get your fill of those healthful morsels by indulging often in what Lindsey Knerl calls The Poor Man’s Protein or what chef & writer Florence Fabricant refers to as “The pâté of childhood.”

Yup, good ol’ peanut butter!

So, grab up a PBJ and lift a cheer for National Peanut Month!