Peanuts

Peanuts ~ Super Nuts & Seeds

Synonymous with baseball games, circus elephants, cocktail snacks and, of course, PB and J sandwiches, these super nuts are ever popular in the American culture.

Raw, roasted, shelled or un-shelled in all forms the're available throughout the year.

Contrary to what their name implies, these are not true nuts but a member of a family of legumes related to peas, lentils, chickpeas and other beans.

They start growing as a ground flower that due to its heavy weight bends towards the ground and eventually burrows underground where the nut actually matures.

The veined brown shell or pod contains two or three kernels.

Each oval-shaped kernel or seed is comprised of two off-white lobes that are covered by a brownish-red skin.

Your Heart Will Go Nuts

These super pint-sized snacks are a very good source of monounsaturated fats, the type of fat that is emphasized in the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet.

Studies of diets with a special emphasis on these nuts have shown that this little legume is a big ally for a healthy heart.

In addition to their monounsaturated fat content, they feature an array of other nutrients that, in numerous studies, have been shown to promote heart health.

They're also good sources of vitamin-E, niacin, folate, protein and manganese.

They also provide resveratrol, the phenolic antioxidant also found in red grapes and red wine.

Rivaling Fruit as a Source of Antioxidants

Not only do they contain oleic acid, the healthful fat found in olive oil, but new research shows these tasty legumes are also as rich in antioxidants as many fruits.

While unable to boast an antioxidant content that can compare with the fruits highest in antioxidants, such as pomegranate, the roasted variety do rival the antioxidant content of blackberries and strawberries, and are far richer in antioxidants than apples, carrots or beets.

Pint-sized Protection

Eating peanuts just 2 or more times each week was associated with a 58% lowered risk of colon cancer in women and a 27% lowered risk in men.

In women, but not in men, eating pickled foods 2 or more times a week more than doubled the likelihood of developing colon cancer risk for women, increasing their risk 215%.

Practical Tips:

To help prevent colon cancer, avoid pickled foods, but enjoy peanuts at least twice each week.

In addition to that old stand-by, the PB&J sandwich, try some of the following:

Spread peanut-butter on your morning waffle, whole grain toast or mid-morning crackers.

Add a tablespoon of peanut-butter to your morning smoothie.

Enjoy a handful of dry roasted nuts with a glass of tomato juice as an afternoon snack.

Combine peanut-butter, coconut milk, and ready-to-use Thai red or green curry paste for a quick, delicious sauce.

Pour over healthy sautéed vegetables.

Use as a cooking sauce for tofu or salmon.

Toss cooked brown rice with sesame oil, chopped nuts, scallions, sweet red pepper, parsley and currants.

When purchasing peanut-butter, be sure to read the label.

Hydrogenated (trans-) fats and sugar are often added.

Buy organic and choose brands that contain peanuts, salt, and nothing else!

History

These super nuts originated in South America where they have existed for thousands of years.

They played an important role in the diet of the Aztecs and other Native Indians in South America and Mexico.

The Spanish and Portuguese explorers who found them growing in the New World brought them on their voyages to Africa.

They flourished in many African countries and were incorporated into local traditional food cultures.

Since they were revered as a sacred food, they were placed aboard African boats traveling to North America during the beginning of the slave trade, which is how they were first introduced into this region.

In the 19th century, peanuts experienced a great gain in popularity in the U.S. thanks to the efforts of two specific people.

The first was George Washington Carver, who not only suggested that farmers plant them to replace their cotton fields that were destroyed by the boll weevil following the Civil War, but also invented more than 300 uses for this legume.

At the end of the 19th century, a physician practicing in St. Louis, Missouri, created a ground up paste and prescribed this nutritious high protein, low carbohydrate food to his patients.

While he may not have actually "invented" peanut-butter since the paste had probably used by many cultures for centuries, his new discovery quickly caught on and became, and still remains, a very popular food.

Today, the leading commercial producers are India, China, Nigeria, Indonesia and the United States.

How to Select & Store

Shelled nuts are generally available in pre-packaged containers as well as bulk bins.

Just as with any other food that you may purchase in the bulk section, make sure that the bins are covered and that the store has a good product turnover so as to ensure the nuts' maximal freshness.

Whether purchasing in bulk or in a packaged container, make sure that there is no evidence of moisture or insect damage.

If it's possible to smell them, do so in order to ensure that they don't smell rancid or musty.

Whole nuts still in their shell are usually available in bags or in the bulk bins.

If possible, pick one up and shake it, looking for two signs of quality.

First, it should feel heavy for its size.

Secondly, it should not rattle since a rattling sound suggests that the kernels have dried out.

Additionally, the shells should be free from cracks, dark spots and insect damage.

Shelled peanuts should be stored in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator or freezer since excess exposure to heat, humidity or light will cause them to become rancid.

Shelled will keep in the refrigerator for about three months and in the freezer for up to six months.

They should not be chopped prior to storage, only right before eating or using in a recipe.

Peanuts still in their shells can be kept in a cool, dry dark place, but keeping them in the refrigerator will extend their shelf life to about nine months.

How to Enjoy

Tips for Preparing:

These super nuts can be chopped by hand using a chef's knife and a cutting board or in a wooden bowl with a mezzaluna, the curved knife that has a handle sitting atop the blade.

They may also be chopped in a food processor, yet care needs to be taken to not grind them too much since the result may be more like chunky butter than chopped nuts.

The best way to chop them in a food processor is to place a small amount in at a time and carefully use the pulse button until you have achieved the desired consistency.

To make your own peanut-butter, place the nuts in the food processor and grind until you have achieved the desired consistency.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

Sprinkle them onto tossed salads.

Add to healthy sautéed chicken and vegetables.

Make a simple southeastern Asian salad by combining sliced green cabbage, grated ginger, Serrano chili's and nuts.

Toss with olive oil-tamari dressing.

Instead of the usual PB and J sandwich, try peanut-butter and banana, or honey, chopped apple, pear and/or raisins.

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