In Defense of Peanuts, the Most Humble Superfood for Athletes

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IN THE HIERARCHY of nuts, peanuts are at the bottom. Cashews, almonds, and walnuts are distinguished and healthful. Peanuts are often relegated to pub mix. But fitness-minded folks stock up on the legumes because they are, in fact, just as nutritious—and a jar of peanut butter is so much more affordable than fancier nut butter.

For starters, peanuts pack protein. An ounce clocks in at 164 calories and delivers 6.6 grams of protein and 2.2 grams of fiber. It’s got a smattering of trace minerals, including manganese, magnesium, and copper, plus anti-inflammatory antioxidants. And peanuts are cardioprotective—several studies have confirmed that people who regularly eat peanut butter and other nuts are less likely to develop heart disease.

The concentration of nutrition is appealing, as is how easy peanuts are to digest. “Peanut butter is a universally loved sports food,” says Nancy Clark, a Boston-area nutritionist and author of Sports Nutrition Guidebook. “It’s why runners have peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast.”

Athletes should have several servings of nuts a week—peanuts among them. When buying peanut butter, go for low-processed, all-natural brands, Clark says. The heavily processed ones have less anti-inflammation powers and can contain sugar and corn syrup. Natural butter separates, with oil forming on the top. A simple fix: Store the jar upside down.