We already tend to steer clear of peanuts for some obvious (to our readers) reasons: the fact that they’re legumes, rather than actual nuts; the potentially dangerous, “anti-nutrient” lectins found in them; and their prominent spot in the upper echelons of the “Most Common Food Allergens” list. But there’s another reason to steer clear of peanuts, something we’ve touched on briefly in the past but never expounded upon. Peanuts, along with a couple other crops we tend to avoid, like corn and cereals, are especially susceptible to a mold that produces a mycotoxin called aflatoxin.
Aflatoxin is a carcinogen that has been shown to cause liver cancer in rats  (and, presumably, in humans). The amounts given to the rats in the study were highly concentrated, of course, with the express intent to study the effects of acute aflatoxicosis. You won’t be getting a couple grams of aflatoxin with every bag of peanuts or anything, so acute aflatoxicosis isn’t a big issue for people – at least in the US.
That’s not to suggest that correlations between aflatoxin ingestion and cancer rates in humans haven’t been found. In China, for example, a study of five groups of people from different villages found definite positive correlations between the amount of aflatoxin ingested and liver cancer mortality rates . Those villagers who ingested less aflatoxin were less likely to develop liver cancer; those who ingested more were more likely. Unsurprisingly, the three major sources of aflatoxins in this study were peanuts, peanut oil, and corn. Similar reports of aflatoxicosis have been made in India and Kenya.
India, China, Kenya – all developing countries with huge populations to feed. As the recent Chinese pet food contamination debacle attests, health and food standards in developing nations are often lacking. Aflatoxins develop because of these substandard conditions, whether it’s drought afflicted crops weakened and vulnerable to the mold that produces aflatoxin, or insufficient storage facilities letting in the moisture and humidity that creates the mold. Hot, humid climes and improper storage – the real culprits.
The FDA is aware of aflatoxin, and all susceptible foods are tested to ensure they pass muster. Of course, “muster” to the FDA could mean “not so much that acute aflatoxicosis becomes imminent.” What about chronic (a descriptor our nation’s health “experts” seem loathe to address) ingestion of aflatoxins? You know… long term effects? Eating toxic aflatoxin, even in relatively small amounts, over a long period of time (say, slathered on to your morning toast every morning) just doesn’t seem like the best idea.
Well, a link between aflatoxin exposure and stunted growth  in West African children has been shown (bolstered by similar laboratory findings in animals), but no specific mechanism has been proposed to explain the relationship. Still, though, the very fact that much of the evidence seems to be pointing towards aflatoxin as a dangerous, development-stunting carcinogen, with a greater propensity to reside in peanuts and cereal grains, only bolsters my resolve to stay off impostor nuts and cereal grains (in or out of the closet alike). If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that increased liver cancer and stubby limbs are unequivocally devolutions.
I don’t know about you, but the evidence against eating corn and peanuts and cereal grains just seems to be stacking up incredibly high. So high, in fact, that were it not for the remarkably solid foundation of facts, scientific evidence, and personal experience, I would worry it might topple over.
Carol Esther  Flickr Photo (CC)
Dear Mark: Nuts