Peanuts and Peanut Butter During Pregnancy: Healthy or Unsafe?

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Written by Gina Wagg BA, Dip.

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Peanuts have many health benefits which are important to consider during pregnancy.

Pregnant women can safely eat peanuts, peanut butter, and other foods containing peanuts, as long as you keep an eye on the fat and salt content, and if you don’t have an allergy.

Peanuts are best eaten in moderation during pregnancy because of the high-fat content, and some peanut foods are healthier than others.

There are also some questions about whether eating peanuts will make your baby more or less likely to develop a peanut allergy, and we’ll look at that below.

Are Peanuts Safe During Pregnancy?

Peanuts are perfectly safe to eat during pregnancy as long as you are not allergic to them. You only need to avoid eating peanuts if you’re advised to do so by a healthcare professional (Source: NHS).

Some pregnant women are concerned about aflatoxins in peanuts because some animal studies have linked high levels of aflatoxins during pregnancy with impaired fetal growth (source: ASTMH).

Aflatoxins can contaminate peanuts when they are not stored properly. It’s far more prevalent in Asia and Africa but is very rare in the USA and Europe due to stringent regulation and production standards (source: National Peanut Board).

Additionally, roasting peanuts (including when making peanut butter) or otherwise cooking them can greatly reduce aflatoxin content (source: Springer).

So what should you do if you’re eating peanuts during pregnancy? The best thing is to opt for peanuts grown or processed in the USA and Europe, and additionally, eat cooked or roasted peanuts.

Even if you choose to eat raw nuts (which is fairly uncommon anyway), the chances of aflatoxin exposure are still very low.

The risk of contamination is so small, it shouldn’t stop you from enjoying peanuts when you’re expecting – especially as they have several benefits, which we’ll discuss below:

Benefits of Peanuts During Pregnancy

Not only is it safe to eat peanuts during pregnancy, but peanuts have several health benefits.

Peanuts contain protein as well as the all-important folate, which is recommended during pregnancy to help prevent birth defects. Pregnant women should make sure to get 400mg of folic acid daily (Source: CDC).

Consumption of peanuts – including peanut oil – has also been associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and even a lower risk of colorectal cancer.

When compared to foods that are well-known for their high antioxidant content such as green tea or red wine, peanuts actually have a higher antioxidant capacity. When eaten with the skin on, their antioxidant content doubles (Source: JFST).

One ounce of unroasted, unsalted peanuts provides 161 calories, with 14g of fat, 200mg potassium, and minerals calcium and iron (Source: Nutritionix).

peanuts in the shell

Peanuts are also an excellent source of protein – they have more protein than other nuts, with levels comparable to or even better than the equivalent amount of beans.

Peanut protein has been shown to be nutritionally equivalent to meat and eggs for human growth and health (Source: NIH).

Peanuts contain all 20 amino acids and is the largest source of arginine (Source: JFST).

Arginine not only helps the body relax the blood vessels, thereby improving circulation, but it also plays a role in strengthening the body’s immune system, which is very important when you’re pregnant (Source: NIH).

Roasted peanuts can also have increased antioxidant benefits, and boiled peanuts have two to four times the amount of antioxidants in raw peanuts alone (Source: JFST).

Peanut Dishes and Pregnancy Safety

Here are some common peanut-based preparations, and notes on whether or not they’re safe or healthy for pregnant women:

Peanut flour – Peanut flour is often used for making composite flours, or adding protein to existing legume flours, and is perfectly healthy to consume. You may also find peanut flour used as a coating for meat products (Source: JFST).

Snack bars – Peanuts are a common ingredient in many snack bars and can be a healthy snack provided there isn’t too much sugar, so do check the label.

Trail mixes- Trail mixes are another source of peanuts where they are often mixed with raisins and other dried fruits and nuts.

Once again, check the label to make sure there isn’t too much sugar or fat, as often the peanuts have been fried and coated with sugar before adding to the mix. Dried fruit also has high amounts of sugar.

Trail mix with peanuts, seeds and dried fruit

Peanut brittle – Peanut brittle – or in India what’s known as chikki – is another common peanut snack, but be aware that it contains a lot of sugar because of the caramel, and so is not the healthiest choice.

Fermented peanuts – Fermented peanuts are not as common in the US, but are fine to consume as long as they have been pasteurized.

Soaked peanuts. There is a myth circulating that soaking nuts makes them easier to digest, when in fact there is no scientific evidence to support this.

Soaked peanuts are enjoyable to eat (they taste a bit like beans rather than like nuts), but if you have been soaking your nuts to digest them more easily, know that you don’t have to (Source: NIH).

Peanut milk – Peanut milk is made from grinding raw peanuts and mixing with water. The end product is a milk that is high in protein with very little fat, and is safe to consume for pregnant women if the milk has been pasteurized.

Peanut sauce (such as satay sauce) – Satay sauce is one type of peanut sauce, and as with any sauce, it is important to check the label for the total fat and sugar content.

Can I Eat Peanuts During the First Trimester?

You can definitely eat peanuts during the first trimester, and it is even recommended that you do so for the folic acid that they contain.

Studies have shown that women who are getting the recommended daily dose of folic acid had a lowered risk of neural tube defects (a birth defect that comes into play in early pregnancy) by 41-85%.

In addition, folic acid use before and during early pregnancy did not increase any risk of miscarriage (Source: CDC).

Is Peanut Butter Good For You During Pregnancy?

Peanut butter is healthy to eat during pregnancy for the same reasons as eating peanuts on their own, as we have covered above.

In addition, peanut butter has been shown to be more beneficial to heart health than following a low-fat diet.

The benefits of peanut butter (and peanut oil) in terms of lowering bad LDL cholesterol and maintaining good HDL cholesterol is comparable to olive oil (Source: JFST).

The same folates in peanuts are also in peanut butter, and these folates are key for the production and maintenance of cells, which is critical in pregnancy.

Peanuts have also been shown to help lower the risk of metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes (Source: NIH).

Peanut butter spread on a slice of bread

Peanut butter (as with all peanut products) is filled with phytosterols, which are substances that block the absorption of cholesterol from the diet.

There is also increasing evidence that these substances can decrease inflammation (often a concern in pregnancy) and reduce the growth of various cancers (Source: NIH).

Peanut butter and jelly together are also safe to eat during pregnancy, although you will want to be careful with the amount of sugar in your chosen jelly.

Does Eating Peanuts When Pregnant Cause or Prevent Allergies?

There are some myths around surrounding peanut allergies, one of which says that eating peanuts while pregnant may cause a peanut allergy in your child.

It used to be that women were advised to avoid allergenic foods such as peanuts and tree nuts during pregnancy and while nursing and that their children shouldn’t eat any of these foods until at least three years old.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) then gave their endorsement to this recommendation in 2000, and the myth was born.

There was no research to support these recommendations, and when the number of peanut allergies in the US doubled over a ten-year period (1997 to 2007), the AAP rescinded it.

In actual fact, science has now proven the opposite to be true.

A recent study at Boston Children’s Hospital confirmed that a lower risk of peanut allergy in children was associated with pregnant mothers who ate more peanuts while pregnant (and who weren’t allergic) (Source: ScienceNews).

There is even another study which says that introducing peanuts to infants at high risk of developing a peanut allergy can reduce the risk significantly of them developing it even until 6 years old, and even if they stop eating peanuts around age 5 (Source: Kings College London).

Can Peanuts Cause Heartburn During Pregnancy?

Peanuts themselves are not considered to cause acid reflux.

Some of the foods that typically cause acid reflux are hot and spicy foods, fried foods, sugary foods such as doughnuts, carbonated beverages, and hamburgers (Source: JNM).

The confusion has come about because peanuts do contain a significant amount of fat, and because fried foods are high in fat and do cause acid reflux for some people, peanuts have been unjustly accused!

However, different people may react differently, so if you find that peanuts give you an upset stomach, it might be best to limit them.

peanut and honey bar with peanuts

Why Do I Have Pregnancy Cravings or Aversions to Peanuts?

If you are craving peanuts or experiencing aversions to them, there’s no cause for concern.

The science on cravings is still not conclusive – in fact, the nutritional consequences of cravings are unknown. Cravings have not been associated with gaining too much weight, either, or any negative impacts upon the fetus (Source: JHND).

Food aversions are often thought to be a response to nausea and vomiting rather than anything else, and no links between food cravings and aversions are known at this time.

There definitely is a link between the onset of nausea and food aversions (Source: PMID), but it is nothing to be concerned about.

Healthy Ways of Eating Peanuts When Pregnant

Now that we know that eating peanuts is beneficial when pregnant, what are some healthy ways to eat them?

Although they’re very tasty, you probably already know that eating peanut M&Ms, peanut brittle, or other candies isn’t the best way.

If you don’t want to pick up handfuls of peanuts and eat them on their own, here are some tasty suggestions for you:

  • Sprinkle some roasted peanuts on a salad (they go really well with Thai flavors)
  • Incorporate peanuts into a stir-fry
  • Toss peanuts into a soup or stew
  • Blend peanuts into a simple sauce to serve over veggies, rice, noodles, or other favorite food
  • Make a banana smoothie with a handful of peanuts (and some unsweetened cocoa powder!)
  • Grind your own fresh peanut butter! (You’ll never buy peanut butter from a jar again!)

Overall, peanuts are not only healthy to eat during pregnancy, but they have a host of benefits. Try some of the above ideas, and enjoy your peanuts!

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