As a 10-year-old, I remember being so excited to grow and consume my very own peanut! I say peanut since my plant only produced one nut, but to me, it was a miracle. Most folks believe that peanuts are a type of nut, but they are actually a legume that grows underground.
Unfortunately, living underground means that peanuts are highly susceptible to fungus, plus they have plenty of chances to absorb pesticides and herbicides from the soil. The latter is often the case since peanuts are used as a rotation crop for GMO crops such as cotton and soy, or crops treated with glyphosate. Additionally, a substance called subtilisin found in peanuts has been shown to contribute to leaky gut, which may allow peanut toxins to pass into the bloodstream.
Peanuts may be one of the most contaminated foods we eat. They are so reactive that as little as 100ug or 0.0000035274 ounces of their protein may cause a reaction. I had to reference the Journal of the Serbian Chemical Society to get a handle on why peanuts have become such an allergenic food. It turns out that their composition makes them highly impervious to heat and digestion. They also contain several classes of allergens, meaning that they may negatively impact you through your skin and lungs as well as your digestive processes.
In addition to the structure of peanuts, the way they are processed may determine how allergenic they are. For instance, roasted peanuts appear to be more allergenic than unroasted ones, although in China, cooking them as opposed to roasting them appears to have made them less allergenic to those who consume them.
Timing also matters—if peanuts are consumed early in life, there may be less of a risk for sensitivity. From the Journal of the Serbian Chemical Society, “Du Toit et all showed that early consumption of peanuts in infancy seems to be associated with a low prevalence of peanut allergy. They determined a 10-fold lower prevalence for peanut allergy in Jewish children in Israel than in Jewish children in the UK. Israeli children consume peanuts in high quantities in the first year of life, while UK infants avoid peanuts. Other probable factors arising by atopy, social class, genetic background and peanut allergenicity were ruled out in the study. This indicates that a window of opportunity might exist in early life that causes tolerance induction.”
Finally, geography may play a role in the types of peanut allergies. I thought it was quite interesting that researchers found folks in northern Europe who were exposed mainly to birch pollen were more susceptible to one type of peanut allergen, while those in Mediterranean countries who were exposed to peach pollen may be more reactive to another one of the allergens found in peanuts.
If you do choose to consume peanut butter, please make sure to choose organic brands that do not contain additional sugars or hydrogenated fats. In addition, keep all nut butters in the refrigerator to avoid the buildup of aflatoxin toxins (those can be produced by mold forming within the nut).