Peanuts are one of the most popular nuts, and are often found in many healthy diets because of their health benefits – they’re rich in healthy, monounsaturated fats, protein in potassium. However, peanuts are also one of the crops that are vulnerable to aflatoxins – natural contaminants produced by fungi that pose a significant threat to human and animal health.
So, could peanuts contain aflatoxins?
What Are Aflatoxins?
Aflatoxins are carcinogens produced by Aspergillus parasiticus and Aspergillus flavus – types of fungi that grow in grains and soil. They were first discovered in 1960, when over 100,000 turkeys died on English farms. The disease was called Turkey X disease, and it was later found that the peanut-meal feed given to the turkeys contained a toxin-produced fungus.
Not only peanuts contain aflatoxins – they can also be found in milk, corn, eggs, and different types of meat.
Health Effect of Aflatoxins
According to the National Cancer Institute, aflatoxin exposure can lead to an increased risk of liver cancer. Several cases of aflatoxin poisoning have been reported in poor countries around the world, like the Kenyan outbreak in 2004, where 40 patients were diagnosed with jaundice, further confirming the effect on aflatoxins on the liver.
Should You Be Concerned?
Fortunately, aflatoxins aren’t a major health concern in the United States. The FDA considers them as unavoidable contaminants and even allows a certain (extremely low) amount of aflatoxins in food. Peanuts in the U.S. are thoroughly tested, but you should still only buy peanuts from big-name companies.
Although the concern that peanuts contain aflatoxins is more relevant to developing countries than the U.S., you should still be careful, as low exposure to these carcinogens hasn’t been extensively studied. Pay attention to where you buy your peanuts and always discard nuts that look suspicious – discolored, moldy, or shriveled.