The Trouble with Peanuts in Managing Diabetes

by David Mendosa Patient Advocate

If you have diabetes, beware of peanuts, peanut butter, and peanut oil.

Some people think that because most tree nuts, like almonds, are so healthy, that peanuts should also be good for us. But peanuts aren't nuts at all. They are a legume, and unlike most nuts we can't eat them raw because they are sometimes covered with a dangerous fungus.

Actually, we can't eat them at all if we want to avoid some of the side effects that we can get from them. Some of these side effects can be quite serious.

I can think of only nine reasons why we have to avoid peanuts or anything made from them. Maybe you can think of more, but these eight might be enough to give anyone pause:

1. Peanuts have a lot of carbohydrates, which raise our blood sugar level. Take a look at the US Department of Agriculture's National Nutrient Database, which is the gold standard of nutrient facts.

"One tablespoon of natural, unsweetened peanut butter contains 3 grams of carbohydrate and will raise my blood sugar 15 mg/dl," writes Dr. Richard K. Bernstein in the 2011 edition of his book Dr. Bernstein's Diabetes Solution. "Imagine the effect on blood sugar of downing 10 tablespoons!"

2. Peanuts are the source of one of the most common food allergies. "They have the potential to provoke acute allergic reactions (e.g., hives or anaphylaxis) that can be dangerous in the susceptible, even fatal in rare instances," writes Dr. William Davis in his 2011 book, Wheat Belly. Many schools will no longer let children bring peanut butter products to school.

3. Peanuts "contain lectins and other anti-nutrients that can adversely affect your health, particularly if you are suffering from an autoimmune disorder," writes Loren Cordain in his 2002 book, The Paleo Diet. These lectins "are known to increase intestinal permeability and allow partially digested food proteins and remnants of resident gut bacteria to spill into the bloodstream... Usually, special immune cells immediately gobble up these wayward bacteria and food proteins. But lectins are cellular Trojan horses. They make the intestines easier to penetrate, and they impair the immune system's ability to fight off food and bacterial fragments that leak into the bloodstream."

4. Peanuts quickly and easily go stale, according Harold McGee in his 2007 book, On Food and Cooking. That's because of their high polyunsaturated fat content.

5. The polyunsaturated fats in peanuts are all from the pro-inflammatory omega-6 oils. Peanuts have no anti-inflammatory omega-3. One ounce of peanuts has 4,450 mg of omega-6 and no omega-3, according to Evelyn Tribole in her 2007 book, The Ultimate Omega-3 Diet.

6. Peanuts are acidic and able to disrupt the body's acid-base balance, writes Dr. Cordain in The Paleo Diet. Unless you balance them "with healthful alkaline fruits and vegetables, you will be out of acid-base balance and at increased risk for many chronic diseases."

7. Many peanut butters are loaded with trans fats, which everyone agrees is bad for us (see my article "Trans Fatty Acids." "Trans fats are found in margarine, shortening, and most peanut butters foods that definitely were not part of humanity's original diet," writes Dr. Cordain.

8. Peanut oil "has turned out to be one of the most atherogenic (artery-clogging) of all oils," writes Dr. Cordain. "In fact, it is routinely used to induce coronary artery atherosclerosis in monkeys and other laboratory animals. It's not clear exactly why this happens. Some scientific evidence suggests that peanut lectins (proteins that bind to carbohydrates) may be responsible for this effect."

9. Peanuts and particularly peanut butter tastes so good that we can easily eat too much of it. Like potato chips or french fries, they must in some sense be addicting. After all, who can stop at one?

David Mendosa
Meet Our Writer
David Mendosa

David Mendosa was a journalist who learned in 1994 that he had type 2 diabetes, which he wrote about exclusively. He died in May 2017 after a short illness unrelated to diabetes. He wrote thousands of diabetes articles, two books about it, created one of the first diabetes websites, and published a monthly newsletter, “Diabetes Update.” His very low-carbohydrate diet, A1C level of 5.3, and BMI of 19.8 kept his diabetes in remission without any drugs until his death.