Millions of peanuts are grown and consumed 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, but they're nutritionally similar to nuts that grow on trees.
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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 can have a hard time breaking them down, especially if you have too many.
Read more: How Much Protein Is In Peanuts?
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 since 2010 — according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. If you’re allergic, you have to eliminate peanuts from your diet to avoid serious reactions.
However, it's also possible to be intolerant to peanuts. For some people, that means they're difficult to digest. Depending on the severity of your intolerance, you may still eat peanuts occasionally without problems, or you may experience stomach pain, cramping, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and excessive gas.
A handful of dry-roasted peanuts, which is about 1 ounce, contains 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 at once, or if you consume it too quickly, fiber can cause digestive problems. The most common side effects are bloating, gas and diarrhea. Down a bag of peanuts at a ball game or snack on them all afternoon while at your desk, and you'll likely notice the results.
If you increase your fiber gradually, it gives your intestines time to adjust, and you’ll lower the risk of developing side effects. The Institute of Medicine recommends women get 25 grams of total fiber daily, while men need 38 grams.
Read more: Health Benefits of Raw Peanuts
Interference From Phytate
Peanuts contain phytic acid or phytate, which stores phosphorus that the plant needs 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 for necessary function.
The minerals with which it interferes includes iron, magnesium, calcium and zinc. It also inhibits digestive enzymes, so you may not properly break down and absorb protein, fat and carbs. Depending on the amount of phytate-containing foods you eat, you may end up with gas and bloating.