While a Healthy Snack, Peanuts Can Pose Digestive Problems

Billions of peanuts are grown and enjoyed around the world. They play an integral role in many cuisines, including those of Africa and China, and of course are a favorite snack in the shell or as an ingredient in peanut butter sandwiches and trail mix. Peanuts are actually not a nut at all, but a legume that grows underground, although they're nutritionally similar to nuts that grow on trees.

You may want to pass on the peanuts if they cause you gastrointestinal grief. (Image: SasaJo/iStock/GettyImages)

Peanuts are high in protein, as well as magnesium, vitamin E and folate. But peanuts have a downside — some people find they can be hard to digest, and they may cause side effects such as gas, bloating and diarrhea. Your body may have a hard time breaking them down, especially if you have too many.

Allergies Versus Intolerance

Peanut allergies are one of the most common food allergies, and they're on the rise in the United States — up 21 percent between 2010 and 2017 — according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. If you're allergic to peanuts, you have to eliminate them from your diet in all their forms to avoid potentially serious reactions.

However, it's also possible to be intolerant to peanuts. For some people, this means they're difficult to digest. Depending on the severity of your intolerance, you may still be able to eat peanuts occasionally without problems, or you may experience stomach pain, cramping, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or excessive gas.

High-Fiber Effect

A handful of dry-roasted peanuts, which is about 1 ounce, contains a little more than 2 grams of dietary fiber. Fiber is great for your digestive tract — it keeps you regular and slows down digestion so you feel full longer and optimally process nutrients.

But if you're not accustomed to eating a lot of fiber, or if you consume too much fiber too quickly it can cause digestive problems. The most common side effects are bloating, gas and diarrhea. Down a bag of peanuts at a ballgame or snack on them all afternoon while you're at your desk, and you'll likely notice the results sooner or later.

If you increase your fiber intake gradually, you give your intestines more time to adjust, and you'll also lower the risk of developing side effects. The Mayo Clinic recommends that women get 21 to 25 grams of fiber daily, while men need 30 to 38 grams.

Interference From Phytate

Peanuts contain phytic acid or phytate, which stores phosphorus that the plant needs in order to grow. Phytate is often referred to as an "anti-nutrient" because it binds minerals in the digestive tract so they're less available for your body to use to carry out necessary functions.

The minerals with which phylate interferes include iron, magnesium, calcium and zinc. It also inhibits digestive enzymes, so you may not properly break down and absorb proteins, fats and carbs. Depending on the amount of phytate-containing foods you eat, you may end up with gas and bloating.

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