Peanuts Are Not Paleo

Thanks, Wikipedia.

It’s clear that people are very attached to their peanut butter. And since peanut butter has the word “nut” in it, even Paleo people assume it’s ok to eat it, despite the warnings all over every Paleo site in the internet kingdom.

Peanuts are as much nut as sweetbreads are bread. And sweetbreads are organs, by the way. Legumes aren’t on the Paleo diet and therefore, peanuts aren’t either. Let’s talk details.


While legumes, or beans (lentils, black beans, soy, peanuts, etc.), aren’t as bad as grains, which contain gluten and other harmful substances, they should be avoided. They absolutely must be cooked for long periods of time, sprouted, and preferably fermented to remove, at best, most of the harmful lectins and phytic acid contained in them.

Legumes are a mediocre source of protein, a huge source of unnecessary carbohydrates, and therefore produce a big glycemic response. Moreover, legumes give most people gas. I think they’re sort of a waste of calories.


In my opinion, peanuts are one of the more alarming legumes. With the number of peanut allergies doubling over the last decade, there’s clearly something going on here. There are hypotheses, but no concrete reason for the increase in allergic response to peanuts. One theory has to do with the aflatoxin present in most of the peanuts (and wheat, rice and other major crops) in the U.S.

Aflatoxin is a toxin that is created by mold that forms when crops like peanuts are stored in large masses. It’s one of the most carcinogenic substances known. Besides the fact that it could cause cancer if enough of it is ingested, there’s also growing suspicion that aflatoxin could be causing an immune system reaction – an allergy.

There’s really not enough evidence to prove this yet, but the fact that there’s a poisonous substance permeating your peanuts should give you pause.

Roasted Peanuts Are Worse

Although the roasting process will rid the peanut of some of its phytic acid, it actually changes the structure of the proteins so as to make them more allergenic. By the way, when you hear the word allergy, you might be thinking to yourself, “Well I don’t have anaphylactic shock when I eat peanuts, so I’m fine.” But allergies can be way less severe than your throat closing up. It could be as subtle as a skin rash or just feeling mentally out of it. Or maybe it makes your digestion wonky.

Anyway, we roast our peanuts in the U.S. while in China, they boil or fry them. According to this study, China wins because the allergenic potential of the boiled and fried peanuts was less than the allergenic potential of the roasted peanuts. That may be one of the reasons so many more people in the U.S., and not China, are allergic to peanuts.

There are about 9-12 peanuts in a tablespoon of peanut butter, so if you’re eating a few tablespoons of the stuff a day, that’s kind of a lot of peanuts.

Overall, I think almond butter is a better choice if you’re going to insist on having a brown spread on your toast – wait… banana? I just don’t think peanuts are worth it, but as always, it’s your choice.

Anyone have any thoughts on the topic?

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  1. I have to wonder about Aflatoxin and allergens. A large part of typical peanut consumption is from very large makers of peanut products. The big three peanut butter brands (JIF, Skippy, Peter Pan), Planter’s peanuts, and Reeses. For those large manufacturs, the USDA is hawkish on observation and testing for Alftatoxin. The actual dangers are most found with independent, even organic (which don’t use fungicides) peanut product makers. The health food store that buys peanuts locally, stores them, and makes peanut butter on-site.

    The USDA could never monitor every one of these and it’s possible for large amounts of aflatoxin to be in their products, undetected. Secondly, the large peanut butter brands remove peanut oil (which is very high in lectins) and replace it. The best of those, Skippy, uses palm oil, which doesn’t need any kind of hydrogenation to be mostly stir free at room temperature (it still needs it occasionally in warm rooms). I only eat that occasionally, and avoid peanuts in general. I mean to point this out for those who eat a lot of peanut products.

  2. Both my wife and I experience joint pains if we eat peanut butter. Like the author of the above article, we find almond butter to be a better choice.

  3. ughh. This is horrible news. Sugar free peanut butter is the one thing that has helped me stay on a paleo/like diet…..sigh.

    1. Krystal – You could try cashew butter or any other nut butter. is a really good source of high quality but butters.

  4. If the toxins have more to do with mold that occurs in mass storage, what about a paleo eater who would like to grow their own? Is it strictly the makeup of the peanut itself that is going to affect my body, or the poor handling of a peanut? I like the idea of a homegrown, sprouted peanut…maybe even fried!

    1. Sonja – It’s actually both. The makeup of the peanut and the poor storage of it. Sorry if that wasn’t clear in the article. But a handful of home grown peanuts here and there is going to be fine for most people, so if you really want to do it, go for it!

  5. You can eat peanuts raw — they must not “absolutely be cooked for long periods of time”, the premise upon which your entire argument rests. Please, more research, less opinion.

    1. John Corners – I think you missed the last part of that sentence where I said, “to remove, at best, most of the harmful lectins and phytic acid contained in them.” Which is true. You need to process legumes correctly in order to remove some of the anti-nutrients. You can certainly eat them raw, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you.

  6. I have to think that the fact that peanut allergies and other things that might have once killed people, are now being treated and therefore are passed down to the next generation.

  7. In1960’s central Pennsylvania, I grew up on peanut butter sandwiches on white bread! Who knew? I have to wonder why I am still so healthy now though…I did elvole nutritionally over time, but not for decades.

  8. Neely,
    I have a severe tree nut allergy and it makes me so sad to miss out on some of the great recipes you guys offer that include almond butter. So sometimes (rarely, but it happens) I substitute with peanut butter. I have tried using coconut milk and coconut or tapioca flour as substitutes for almond milk and almond flour but it doesn’t really create the same product. I wonder if you know of any good sites or resources designed for Paleo purists with tree nut allergies. I don’t have any other legumes in my diet, but the peanut/almond contradiction is something that gets in the way of my Paleo way of life…
    Thanks for this article. It spread some light on long-standing questions!

  9. I have been using sunflower seed butter instead of peanut butter for awhile now. Although I like Almond butter, it tastes nothing like PB. That’s where the sunflower seed butter is superior and makes my kids feel like they’r not missing out on as much.

  10. My child has peanut/mold allergy. Are you saying almond and almond butter do not carry aflatoxins? He’s never been tested fo almonds but are they in the same class?

  11. Doesn’t the paleo diet have to do with what foods were available at the time and not with what we think of them? I am not advocating eating peanuts just wondering how a good that was absolutely available to our ancestors would not qualify as “paleo”

  12. Are raw peanuts to be avoided too? I thought raw peanuts in moderation would be okay. I like to put them in some cooked dishes, (so the cooking notion is a small plus from what I read), and like that they are inexpensive. I need variety when in comes to nuts…same as everything else I eat. Comments on this please? Negative comments welcomed :)

  13. To candy:

    I grew up on packet soup and like you evolved nutritionally over time. I too am healthy at almost 49. I think moderation is the key. Don’t know about you, but was fed all other food WITHOUT additives and farm healthy, from ground to table food (including milk straight from the cow).

  14. I think it’s crazy to focus so much on a legume when many meats produce carcinogens when charred … Not to mention the way the body processes certain animal fleshes …. The human body is designed to adapt … Think of all the cultures of the world and all of the different diets. Not to mention the fact that many people on the “Palio” diet are sedentary, which to me doesn’t make sense. Anyhoo … To each his own. I find it very odd to call one food ‘bad’ and another ‘good’.

  15. I am not a huge peanut butter fan but I like it now and then. Being on the paleo diet, I was very excited when I found sugar and salt free peanut butter with 1 gram of carbs per serving. I know that peanuts were not good on a paleo diet but wasn’t sure why, so thanks for clearing that up.
    Still don’t really understand why I can’t have this peanut butter when the actual carb count is lower than macadamia or almond butter. Very odd.

  16. Hello, thanks for writing and helping spread the understanding of Paleo and healthy living.

    I would like to raise a couple issues though. First, while mass production of food is necessary to sustain the world, and horrible side effects like the mold groth occur, I think it’s a little short sighted to blame it on one thing. I do not mean only your article, but all these “Organic”, “GMO”, or “chemical free” rallying buzzwords meant to scare people. Eat healthier people, plain and simple. Maybe reduce you portion some or heaven forbid, exercise a little. Here is a question, with everyone so worried about germs and constant use of hand sanitizer to kill everything, ever stop to wonder how we will build up our immune system without interaction with the germs? That right there could be as good a reason as any as to why there is an increase in allergies.

    Second, almonds are not good for you if you have a thyroid condition, so make sure of that before you jump ship. There are a lot of spreads out there, try one until you like one, it doesn’t have to be almond butter.

    Third, and lastly, be careful if you are going to use the toxic route for awareness. Many things are toxic if you consume to much (again, moderation folks). Almonds contain arsenic. If you have ever watched a forensics tv show, you know what arsenic is and how lethal it can be. But the dosage amount you get from normal consumption is non-threatening. And, an apple a day keeps the doctor away. That is, unless you are afraid of the arsenic present in apple seeds.

    1. Hi Beth,
      Thank you for your comment and the link. Yes, almonds can be contaminated with aflatoxin, just like peanuts and grains can be. What Neely has presented in this article is a discussion of why peanuts are not Paleo. They are a highly allergenic legume that contain anti-nutrients such as phytates and lectins and Neely shared the hypothesis that peanut allergy may actually be an allergy to aflatoxin, a micotoxin. Micotoxins may stimulate the immune system and perhaps tree nut allergies, or some tree nut allergies are reactions to micotoxins? This is a good topic for a future post. In any case, it’s recommended that nuts should be eaten sparingly, as an occasional snack on a Paleo diet. In this scenario, aflatoxin should not be much of a concern.

  17. I’m mystified why peanuts are not considered paleo. Peanuts are a member of the groundnut family that originates in West Africa, and since we are all ‘out of Africa’ it is certain that humans have been eating them since the dawn of time, at least 250,000 years. Our bodies must have had time to adapt to them over that period of time surely.

  18. ….This opinion makes peanuts out to be ‘worthless calorie containers’……

    Not only are they a good-to-excellent source of 9 vits/minerals, many large studies have shown legitimate positive consequences of peanut consumption.

    Your Heart Will Go Nuts for Peanuts

    Peanuts are rich in monounsaturated fats. Studies of diets with a special emphasis on peanuts have shown that this little legume is a big ally for a healthy heart. In one such randomized, double-blind, cross-over study involving 220 subjects, a high monounsaturated diet that emphasized peanuts and peanut butter decreased cardiovascular disease risk by an estimated 21% compared to the average American diet.

    In addition to their monounsaturated fat content, peanuts feature an array of other nutrients that, in numerous studies, have been shown to promote heart health. Peanuts are good sources of vitamin E, niacin, folate, protein and manganese. In addition, peanuts provide resveratrol, the phenolic antioxidant also found in red grapes and red wine that is thought to be responsible for the French paradox: the fact that in France, people consume a diet that is not low in fat, but have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared to the U.S. With all of the important nutrients provided by nuts like peanuts, it is no wonder that numerous research studies, including the Nurses’ Health Study that involved over 86,000 women, have found that frequent peanut consumption is related to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

    Peanuts Rival Fruit as a Source of Antioxidants

    Not only do peanuts 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, roasted peanuts do rival the antioxidant content of blackberries and strawberries, and are far richer in antioxidants than apples, carrots or beets. Research conducted by a team of University of Florida scientists, published in the journal Food Chemistry, shows that peanuts contain high concentrations of antioxidant polyphenols, primarily a compound called p-coumaric acid, and that roasting can increase peanuts’ p-coumaric acid levels, boosting their overall antioxidant content by as much as 22%.

    not to mention studies indicate that

    Peanuts May Potentially Reduce Risk of Stroke Based on Preliminary Animal Studies
    Peanuts May Decrease Risk of Colon Cancer
    Peanuts Can Help Prevent Gallstones
    Peanuts Protect Against Alzheimer’s and Age-related Cognitive Decline

    History (paleo?)

    Peanuts originated in South America where they have existed for tens-to-hundreds-of-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 peanuts 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 peanuts 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 made from peanuts and prescribed this nutrient-dense food to his patients. While he may not have actually “invented” peanut butter since peanut paste had probably used by many cultures for centuries, his new discovery quickly caught on and became, and still remains, a very popular food.

    To Summarize:

    Peanuts are one of the oldest foods common in our diets, historically and modernly. Studies have shown many immense health benefits, they are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, good fats, and have fair protein content. They are portable, readily available anywhere, inexpensive, and delicious. Making them out as a worthless calorie vessel is just simply not true.

    1. Hi Jope,
      Thanks for your comment. I appreciate your perspective and all of the information. Peanuts are legumes, or members of the pea family and they contain substances that are not tolerated very well by many people. These substances include indigestible carbohydrates that can promote the growth of bad bacteria in the gut, potentially harmful lectins (in the case of peanuts it’s peanut agglutinin), and phytates that bind to minerals so they can’t be absorbed. When these substances are eaten in excess, over time, they can irritate the gut, increase intestinal lumen permeability and the possibility of immune stimulation. Other foods such as grains contain these substances as well. Symptoms of sensitivity and even autoimmune disease can result. This process can happen so slowly that people do not realize that the peanuts they’re eating might be part of the problem. Does this mean that eating a few peanuts once in a while will wreak all this havoc? No, of course not. But there are other things about peanuts that might give one pause before eating them. They have a very high potential for aflatoxin contamination and peanut oil may actually be atherogenic, not the other way around. Here’s more detailed information on topic,

  19. My husband is very allergic to tree nuts and any citric fruit. So much of these diets rely heavily on nuts/nut based products. What is he to eat as a snack? It was peanuts…

    1. Hi Mary,

      Yes, the Paleo diet can be a bit challenging for those with tree nut allergies however there are plenty of other options for your husband. This post provides a lot of great ideas for nut substitutions and nut-free snacks, Have you had trouble finding substitutes for citrus in Paleo recipes? Sometimes apple cider vinegar can work in place of lemons or limes. I hope this helps!


  20. I had also been following Paleo (with amazing results), but did not know that peanuts is non-paleo. After eating a handful of peanuts I did not feel normal and had a slight headache. Thanks for the article and all the best to you.

    1. Hi Todd,

      Good question :). Foods are generally considered Paleo if they were eaten by our Paleolithic ancestors and they don’t contain an abundance of inflammatory anti-nutrients and toxins. Peanuts are legumes which contain quite a bit of problematic components. They contain phytates and lectins which can have anti-nutrient effects and acrylamide and aflatoxin which are known toxins. Regarding consumption during Paleplithic times, contrary to popular belief, it does seem that our ancestors ate legumes So, by strict standards, peanuts are not Paleo because we can get everything they provide nutritionally from “cleaner” sources but as the Kresser article points out, Paleo is a template from which we guide ourselves. The decision to eat peanuts should be yours based on your personal needs and concerns. I hope this helps.


    1. Hi Heather, Thanks for the link and you’re right, the articles make a lot of the same points. Neely’s article was posted in 2011. It’s possible she used some of the same references as Joel Runyon.


  21. i should be dead by now from all the peanuts im eating if any of this stuff is true. and im eating the ‘worse’ roasted peanuts.

    1. Hi Alex!
      Check out Sally Barden Johnson’s comments above regarding why it’s a good idea to use all nuts sparingly and to rotate the nuts in your diet. Although peanuts are technically a legume (which is one reason why they aren’t considered ‘Paleo’), other nuts contain similar anti-nutrients and mold issues as discussed above. The toxins contained in peanuts (and other nuts, grains, legumes, etc.) tend to have a cumulative effect over time. So while they may not outright ‘kill you’ per se, they can contribute to (for example) a leaky gut that can predispose a person to a variety of different illnesses. The key is to not over-consume any one food source, and to be mindful that peanuts contain chemicals and toxins that may compromise health over the long term.

      In good health,
      Kinsey Jackson, CNS®

    1. Hi Kelly,
      The same information applies to powdered peanut butter as regular peanut butter. In short, neither are considered ‘Paleo’ for the reasons listed above. We recommend focusing on other types of nut butters instead, and rotating them regularly throughout your diet.

      In good health,
      Kinsey, Paleo Plan

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