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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Dark Side of Peanuts and Dairy

Peanut butter is a staple in many children’s diets.  Peanuts (which, by the way are a legume, not a nut) are hign in protein, so why not eat them?  Peanuts, and expecially peanut butter are often contaminated by a fungus-produced toxin known as Aflatoxin (AF).  Aflatoxins often occur in crops in the field prior to harvest, but after harvest contamination can occur if crop drying is delayed and crops are stored in moist conditions.  Aflatoxins are found occasionally in milk, cheese, corn, peanuts, cottonseed, nuts, almonds, figs, spices as well as in feeds for animals (the reason AF is found in dairy and meat products).  However, the commodities with the highest risk of AF contamination are corn, peanuts and cottonseed.  Peanut butter is often contaminated with levels of AF as much as 300 times the amount judged to be acceptable in U.S. food, while whole peanuts were much less contaminated.  This disparity between peanut butter and whole peanuts originates at the peanut factory.  The best peanuts, which fill “cocktail” jars, are hand selected from a moving conveyor belt, leaving the worst, moldiest nuts to be delivered to the end of the belt to make peanut butter.  The visual here makes me never want to even look at peanut butter again.  So besides the unappealing idea of eating moldy peanuts, what’s the real issue?  AF’s have shown to cause liver cancer in rats, and are thought by many to be the most potent chemical carcinogen ever discovered.  So where’s the FDA?  The FDA allows AF’s at low levels in nuts, seeds and legumes because they are considered “unavoidable contaminants.”  The FDA believes occasionally eating small amounts of aflatoxin poses little risk over a lifetime, and that it is not practical to attempt to remove it from food products.   The problem here is the word “occasional.”  Occasional is a bit like the phrase “in moderation”; the problem being that it is easy to have too much of something you enjoy.

To help minimize your exposure to aflatoxin, the FDA recommends purchasing only major brands of nuts and nut butters and to discard any shelled nuts that look discolored or moldy. Some medical research has indicated that a diet including vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, celery and parsley may reduce the carcinogenic effects of aflatoxin, and a study by the Johns Hopkins University also suggests that foods high in chlorophyll can be helpful.  Green vegetables - asparagus, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green cabbage, celery, collard greens, green beans, green peas, kale, leeks, green olives, parsley, romaine lettuce, sea vegetables, spinach, and turnip greens are concentrated sources of chlorophyll. 

Who is most susceptible to AF contamination and its cancer-producing effects?  Children are major consumers of peanut butter.  (I will add that I practically survived on peanut butter for much of my early adulthood, and certainly suspect that was part of my demise.) Children are also major consumers of dairy products, and a well-known study called The China Study produced compelling evidence that casein, the protein in cow’s milk, helps promote and nurture tumor development.  The study produced significant evidence that a high-animal protein diet combined with even a small amount of aflatoxin resulted in very high rates of liver cancer in adults as well as children.  They also found that in those people who consumed considerable AF’s and very little animal protein, cancer rates were very low.   They found that casein, and very likely all animal proteins, may be the one of the most cancer-causing substances that we consume.  Adjusting the amount of dietary casein we eat may have the power to turn on and off cancer growth. What does this mean?  It means that while we should still be concerned with AF’s, it makes sense to reduce our animal protein consumption. (Overall, animal protein is not the best protein source for most people. While a high animal-protein diet can promote cancer growth, plant protein does not, even at high levels of intake). To reduce your animal protein consumption, consider almond, rice or hemp milk instead of cow’s milk, and switch to a mostly- whole foods, plant-based diet.

 Need another reason to toss the peanuts?  Peanuts are an inflammatory food, which means consumption increases inflammation in the body.  Inflammation is known to provide a cancer promoting environment in the body.  Can’t imagine giving up peanut butter?  Try almond butter.  It may take some getting used to, but your body will thank you and may just find it delicious!

For more information, please visit:

Elyn Jacobs
elynjacobs.wordpress.com
elynjacobs.blogspot.com

Elyn is President of Elyn Jacobs Consulting, Executive Director for the Emerald Heart Cancer
Foundation, a certified cancer coach, and a breast cancer survivor.  Elyn helps women diagnosed with cancer to navigate the process of treatment and care, and educates to prevent recurrence and new cancers.  She is passionate about helping others get past their cancer and into a cancer-free life. To learn more about Elyn’s coaching services, please visit:  http://elynjacobs.wordpress.com


This post was updated on January 11th, 2012

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