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Daily Nutrition

Ask the Dietitian: Are Raw Peanuts Safe to Eat?

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The lowdown on aflatoxin in peanuts and other foods

 

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Photo by Johann Dréo / Creative Commons 2.0.


Are raw peanuts safe to eat or should they be roasted or cooked first?

-Eliot Collins, New Jersey

 

Peanuts and peanut butter are common staples in a runner’s pantry due to their high plant protein content, vitamins and minerals, healthy fats and convenience, not to mention their deliciousness. However, it is possible for raw peanuts to be contaminated with a mold called Aspergillus flavus that produces a potential carcinogen called aflatoxin.

According to a 2004 review in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, aflatoxins are well recognized as a cause of liver cancer, compromised immunity, disrupted protein metabolism and death in farm and laboratory animals. The liver is the primary organ affected. The level of dietary exposure to aflatoxins necessary to affect human health has not been confirmed.

Peanuts are not the only food susceptible to aflatoxin; it has been detected in corn, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, walnuts and even some spices and herbs. Milk, eggs, cheese, yogurt and meat products can also be contaminated if animals consume feed that contains aflatoxin. Cooking or roasting nuts degrades some of the toxin, but not all of it, as it is a stable compound that can survive at relatively high temperatures.

But before you jump aboard the first diet trend of 2015, “aflatoxin-free,” there is good news. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) monitors the amount of aflatoxin in food production. The concentration of aflatoxin must be less than 20 parts per billion to be considered safe. Any crops with higher concentrations are destroyed.

In conclusion, raw peanuts are safe to eat, and in fact the many health benefits of peanuts and other tree nuts outweigh the potential health risks. They are a good source of protein for recovering muscles, fiber for keeping satiated and maintaining weight, vitamin E and zinc for healthy skin, magnesium and potassium for strong bones and omega-3 fats for fighting inflammation. To minimize exposure to aflatoxin, purchase peanuts and peanut products that have been grown, harvested and processed in the U.S., where there is strict monitoring, and choose Valencia peanuts, which grow in dry climates that are resistant to mold. And, in general, eat a varied diet to reap the nutritional benefits of various foods while limiting exposure to toxins.

 

This is an installment in our online Ask the Dietitian column with Maria Dalzot, MS, RD, CDN and an avid trail runner. You can visit her blog at www.mariadalzotrd.com and submit your nutrition questions to nutrition@trailrunnermag.com.

 

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