What is a Peanut?
Although many people think of peanuts as nuts that grow on trees, they are actually "legumes" like peas. Legumes are edible seeds enclosed in pods. As a group, they provide the best source of concentrated protein in the plant kingdom. While their physical structure and nutritional benefits more closely resemble that of other legumes, their use in diets and cuisines more closely resembles that of nuts.
A "seed plant" is planted in May to form a small green plant about 18" tall. The peanut plant produces yellow flowers, which pollinate themselves. They form "pegs" which begin to grown away from the plant. The pegs form a stem and push into the ground where the peanuts will form and grow. Peanuts are harvested between September and October which allows them four to five months to fully mature. The weather conditions during this time (i.e., too much rain or too little rain) have an impact on the quality of the crop. One peanut plant produces 40 peanuts. The peanuts are then dug out of the ground and left in the sun to dry for two or three days. A combine is used to separate the peanuts from the vines. The peanut farmer sells the peanuts to shellers who clean and grade the raw nuts before selling them to companies.
What Makes Virginia Peanuts Special
All Virginia-type peanuts are known for their large size and crunchy texture and have been referred to as "the peanut of the gourmet." Virginia peanuts have the largest kernels and are popular for roasting-in-the-shell. Virginias are most often grown in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina.
Virginia Peanuts Are Healthy
Peanuts are whole foods that contain a variety of vitamins and minerals, ample protein and beneficial unsaturated fats. Since they are a plant food, they naturally contain no cholesterol.
Peanuts contain high quality plant protein. When comparing peanuts to similar foods, peanuts have more protein than any other legume or nut. This is especially important for children, vegetarians and people eating more meatless meals.
Peanuts contain mostly beneficial monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats as compared to saturated fats have been shown to help lower blood cholesterol levels. Lowering your blood cholesterol level may reduce your risk of coronary heart disease.
One ounce, or one small handful of peanuts contains 2 big grams of fiber. This is 9% of the fiber you need each day!
One ounce of peanuts provide 16% of your daily need of vitamin E. Vitamin E has been shown to act as an antioxidant which may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
Peanuts are an important source of essential minerals such as magnesium, calcium, copper, phosphorus, potassium and zinc. Some of these "hard to find" minerals such as copper and magnesium may protect against coronary heart disease.
B vitamins such as folate can help prevent birth defects. They also reduce amounts of homocysteine in the blood that may be a risk for heart disease. Peanuts are a good source of folate.
Phytochemicals are natural substances in plants which may provide a wide range of health benefits such as reducing the risk of coronary heart disease. Peanuts contain resveratrol which is one of the many phytochemicals found in plant foods.
Peanuts are an excellent source of resveratrol, best known for its occurence in red wine. Research shows that resveratrol may protect against arteriosclerosis, heart attach, stroke and cancer by lowering cholesterol plaqu and platelet accumulation in the arteries and by preventing the growth of damaged cells in the body. The average amount of resveratrol in one ounce of peanuts is about the same as 6 cups (or 2 pounds) of grapes.
Peanuts, Good for People With Diabetes
Peanuts have a low Glycemic Index, which makes them an appropriate food for diabetic diets.
The Glycemic Index measures a food's potential for raising or lowering blood sugar levels. White bread is used as the reference with an index of 100. To compare, peanuts have a desirable low response level of 13. The lower the level, the better.
Blood sugar levels can regulate appetites, energy, moods and control the way food is turned into fat or fuel. Low response foods such as peanuts boost energy levels, burn off calories and build muscle.