The Sustainable, Plant Forward Peanut!

Updated: Oct 6, 2019

I recently went on a farm tour with The National Peanut Board at the Hope and Harmony Farm in Richmond, Virginia. Although my travel expenses were paid by the National Peanut Board, I was not compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.





I had the opportunity to fly to Virginia this past week and learn more about how peanuts are grown, harvested, distributed across the country, and sold to corporations and individuals for consumption. We visited Hope and Harmony Farm in Richmond, Virginia where they farm almost 4000 acres of cotton, soy, corn, and of course, peanuts! Corn, cotton, and soy are rotation crops for peanuts that help to preserve soil health and are a natural way to aid in pest control. Crop rotation is the process of planting different crops in various orders over several years on the same piece of farmland. Confusing weeds and insects is the best way to prevent them from building resistance to herbicides and insecticides. Crop rotations that are unpredictable go a long way toward reducing chemical resistance in pests. Variety in crops that are cultivated helps to diversify the ecosystem of a field and helps to prevent insects from adapting. These practical, smart farming measures dramatically reduce the number of pests that can destroy plants and replenishes the soil with valuable nutrients.



I tasted a “green peanut,” which means the peanut was straight out of the ground. I had never seen a peanut while it was still on the vine so this was a new experience for me and many of the other dietitians that were on the tour. We’re used to seeing peanuts once they have been processed and salted or made into peanut butter, oil or other food products. Since peanuts are legumes, it naturally tasted like a been or edamame. After the peanuts have been harvested, they will be taken to a facility and dried and processed then sold to corporations or individuals.



AFLATOXIN


A concern among consumers is whether eating peanuts increases the risk of being exposed to Aflatoxin, which is a naturally occurring byproduct of mold that affects peanut plants. However, due to advanced irrigation and drying techniques and rigorous food safety measures, the risk of a consumer being exposed to Aflatoxin in American peanut products is very low. To reach the consumer safely, food grown in the soil must be harvested, stored, transported and processed to high standards. The United States Depart of Agriculture (USDA) tests the peanuts that have been collected for Aflatoxin, and if they fail to meet standards, they are separated and unable to enter the food supply. Additionally, large corporations that produce products that contain peanuts have testing systems to ensure that your food is safe and free from toxins that may negatively affect health. These stringent measures are the reason that, according to the US Food and Drug Administration, there has never been a human illness outbreak caused by Aflatoxin in the United States, where foods are carefully regulated and inspected to prevent an occurrence.


SUSTAINABILITY


The shift to a more plant-based style of eating has become mainstream. Some of the more prominent reasons are that it is more beneficial for overall health and contributes to a healthy environment. Keep in mind that plant-based does not automatically mean vegan or vegetarian. It can mean going meat-free for some people. However, it is not required. Plant-based may imply that one is committed to including more fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains in their diet. Peanuts are legumes and are a health-promoting addition to a plant-based diet.


According to The National Peanut Board , two crucial factors are reasons peanuts are sustainable, environmentally friendly food. The peanut plants need only 1.5 -2 inches of rain per week and only 5 gallons of water to produce one ounce of peanuts. This amount is significantly less than what is needed to produce nuts. If there isn’t enough rain during a growing season, irrigation systems are used. In addition, peanut plants pull valuable nitrogen from the air and pass it along to nourish both the plant and soil.



Peanut farmers have a vested interest in preserving valuable farmland for future generations. They use the least amount of fertilizer, water, and pesticides as well as protect the environment by increasing technological adoption by 50% from the years 1999-2013 to help facilitate these improvements.


NUTRITION


Peanuts and peanut butter products are a significant part of the American diet. According to the National Peanut Board, 84% of millennials have purchased or eaten a peanut product in the last month alone. Also, 57% of millennials consume peanut butter every week. These numbers don’t take into account the number of people who do the same and are either older or younger than millennials. Needless to say, peanuts make up a large part of the American diet. Honestly, who hasn't grown up using peanut butter and still eats it as an adult? Personally, it is a staple in my pantry and kitchen.


· Peanuts have about 7 grams of protein per serving

· Peanuts have unsaturated fat, the kind we should eat more of

· Peanuts are a good source of folate, vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorus, and niacin

· Peanuts and peanut butter are excellent take-along food to help you eat healthfully

· Peanuts fit into the Mediterranean and Dash Diet style of eating for heart health

· Natural peanut butter is a whole, minimally processed food.

Learning about how this valuable American crop is grown and produced and meeting the farmers who work these fields every day has been an incredible learning experience. I am impressed by how environmentally conscious farmers are and how hard they work to preserve the soil and surrounding land by instilling best practices based on valid research.


Agriculture continues to evolve, and new technologies are consistently being implemented to help preserve natural resources and produce more food with less land, water, fertilizer, and pesticides. Farmers are leading the way in this endeavor and are increasingly transparent and welcome those who have questions or wish to learn how the world’s food is produced.






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