Peanuts are a rich source of proteins, vitamins, fat, and other essential nutrients for a healthy body. It’s no wonder they are a beloved snack and a common ingredient in many culinary styles around the world. But can peanuts be harmful to your digestive system?
Peanuts don’t digest easily because of their high fiber and phytic acid content. The ability to digest peanuts varies from person to person. They aren’t usually problematic in small quantities, but eating excessive amounts can lead to digestive issues like bloating, gas, and constipation.
The rest of this article will go into more detail about why peanuts don’t digest easily and how you can avoid the gastric upsets that might come from eating them.
Why Peanuts Don’t Digest Easily
Interestingly, peanuts aren’t actually a real nut. They belong to the legume family and grow underground like many of their relatives, such as peas and beans. However, peanuts are nutritionally similar to nuts like almonds and walnuts that grow on trees.
Nutritional value isn’t the only thing peanuts are packed with.
These little bundles of goodness can also pack a punch on your digestive system, especially if you eat too many of them at one go. There are two main reasons why peanuts can cause gastric difficulties, which include the high fiber content and phytic acid.
High Fiber Content
Fiber, also known as roughage or bulk, is an important part of a healthy diet.
It normalizes bowel movement, lowers cholesterol levels, and helps control blood sugar levels. When it comes to digestion, the role of fiber is to ensure that the body breaks down and absorbs food at an optimal pace so that you don’t feel hungry too soon after eating.
Peanuts are a good source of fiber. Health experts recommend having 1 oz (28 grams) of peanuts daily, which amounts to about 0.1 oz (3 grams) of fiber.
While fiber should be a regular part of your meals, you should be careful not to overdo it.
The daily recommended amount of fiber for women is 0.9 oz (25 grams), while men should keep their intake up to 1.3 oz (38 grams) a day.
Eating too much fiber or suddenly increasing your fiber intake, such as having too many peanuts in one sitting, can cause digestive upsets such as bloating, abdominal pain, flatulence, constipation, or diarrhea.
Presence of Phytic Acid
Peanuts contain phytic acid (phytate), whose purpose is to store the mineral phosphorus, which the plant needs to grow. Phytic acid is known to have nutritional benefits. The antioxidant properties help reduce the risk of kidney stones, heart disease, and cancer.
Peanuts are considered to be a high-phytate food, containing 0.2–4.5% phytate as a percentage of their dry weight, which is the mass of peanuts when they are completely dried.
Phytic acid has a tendency to interfere with digestion by reducing our digestive enzymes’ capability to break down and absorb nutrients properly. Because of their high-phytate content, eating peanuts can sometimes cause this digestive interference, leading to symptoms such as gas and bloating.
Phytic acid also has a habit of binding to nutrients such as iron, zinc, and magnesium. When this binding occurs, it becomes harder for your body to absorb these much-needed nutrients.
This is why, despite its health benefits, phytic acid is also known as an anti-nutrient.
How To Digest Peanuts Better
While they may occasionally cause an upset stomach, there are ways to reduce the side effects of eating peanuts. If you have a gastric intolerance to peanuts or are worried about how they might affect your digestion, there are two ways to safely incorporate peanuts into your diet.
Soaking in Clean Water
Lowering the phytic acid content of peanuts can help reduce their negative effects on digestion.
Soaking is one way to decrease the phytic acid levels in raw peanuts. Phytic acid is water-soluble, which means that it dissolves in the process of soaking. An overnight soak of about 8 hours in clean water should do the trick.
Once they have soaked, your peanuts are ready to boil, roast, or blend into smooth butter.
Maintaining a Low-Fiber Diet
If you have trouble with foods that are rich in fiber, you might want to consider taking a break from peanuts for a little while.
A low-fiber diet limits the amount of roughage you eat as part of your daily meals. So rather than snacking on a handful of peanuts, you could go for low-fiber alternatives such as cheese slices, saltine crackers, or fruit juice.
Take extra care to avoid foods that might have peanuts added to them.
Check the labels of products such as yogurt, ice cream, cereals, and drinks to ensure that they do not contain peanuts or added fiber. When eating out, make sure to confirm what menu items are cooked with nuts so that you can choose out of the ones that aren’t.
A low-fiber diet aims to keep daily fiber intake at 0.6 oz (10 grams). Once your body has had time to adjust, you can gradually reintroduce more roughage, and peanuts, into your diet.
Always consult your doctor or a qualified dietician if you are considering going on a low-fiber diet. Reducing your fiber intake means placing restrictions on what you can and can’t eat, so you might not be able to meet all your nutritional needs.
Your doctor or dietician can help you craft a nutritious meal plan that still regulates your fiber intake.
Peanuts are flavorful food packed with nutrients that are vital for good health. However, they can be hard for the body to digest, especially when eaten in excess. This is because of their high fiber and phytic acid content.
This doesn’t mean that you should avoid peanuts altogether. Soaking peanuts in clean water is one way to reduce their phytic acid content. If fiber gives you digestive trouble, take a break from peanuts and maintain a low-fiber diet. Once you are ready to increase your fiber intake gradually, you can start to eat peanuts again, little by little.