Peanuts, Yogurt, Spinach, Graham Flour

A new recipe? No,  a  round-up of questions  from the Nutrition Over Easy mailbag:

Should You Avoid Peanuts Because of Aflatoxins?

Q.  I enjoy peanut butter and peanuts.  I recently heard that it is not healthy to consume peanut & peanut butter because of aflatoxin.  Is this accurate information or just a myth?

A.   Aflatoxin is not a myth but, in my opinion, concerns about it are exaggerated–particularly if you live in the U.S.  Here’s an excerpt from my recent podcast on peanuts:

Peanuts are susceptible to infection from a certain fungus that produces a toxic compound called aflatoxin, which is a known carcinogen. However, the risk of aflatoxin exposure from peanut products produced or sold in the United States is pretty low. Peanut farmers in the U.S. grow disease resistant varieties and use other controls to prevent fungal infection on crops and in storage.  Products—both those grown in the U.S. and those imported from elsewhere—are screened for aflatoxin and rejected if levels exceed a fairly low threshold.

You’re far more likely to get E. coli from an undercooked hamburger or spinach salad than you are to get cancer from eating peanut butter. That said, aflatoxin exposure is particularly hazardous if you have any sort of liver disease, particularly a hepatitis infection. If I personally had liver disease, I think I’d probably avoid peanuts and peanut products just to be on the safe side.

For more information about peanuts, you can read or listen to the entire show here.

Does Cooking with Yogurt Destroy the Probiotics?

Q.  If you add yogurt to a cooked dish, does the heat reduce the effectiveness?  Should I eat yogurt cold in order to maximize the probiotic benefits?

A. The beneficial micro-organisms in yogurt are deactivated at about 110 degrees F.   S0, if it’s the probiotic benefits you’re after, you’d want to avoid heating or cooking with yogurt. (Heat does not destroy the protein or calcium in yogurt, however.)  

Freezing yogurt, on the other hand, does not harm the beneficial bacteria.  For more on this, check out my podcast on frozen yogurt.

What’s the Difference Between Whole Wheat and Graham Flour?

Q.  I love using graham flour.  I’m wondering is if it is  a) whole grain, and  b) as good as  100% whole wheat. I haven’t heard much about it.

A.  Sylvester Graham was a 19th-century health food nut who believed that refined white flour (with the bran and germ removed) promoted poor health.  Instead, he advocated the  use of whole-grain flour, which became known as Graham flour, in his honor.

Today, the term “graham flour” is used–somewhat imprecisely–to describe various types of whole wheat flour. Products labeled “graham flour” are often more coarsely ground than standard whole wheat flour.  An alternative method for making graham flour involves separating the bran from the grain, grinding each separately, and recombining them.

To make things even more complicated, some brands (such as Bob’s Red Mill) use a high-protein variety of wheat for their graham flour–making it more appropriate for bread baking. Others (such as King Arthur) use a softer, lower-protein variety of wheat, more appropriate for pastry.

Graham flour is always a whole grain flour, though, and is roughly equivalent to whole wheat flour in terms of its nutritional profile.   You can use the two interchangeably, but you’ll probably get slightly different results in terms of the volume and texture of the finished product.

What’s a Serving of Raw Vs. Cooked Spinach?

Q. When it comes to eating 2-3 cups of leafy green vegetables a day I get confused with spinach. When you cook spinach, it shrinks down tiny.  So, what counts as a cup of spinach? One cup of raw or one cup of cooked?

A. All greens wilt and shrink to some extent when you cook them, but spinach is, indeed, one of the more extreme examples of this.   The My Pyramid guidelines (which I think is what you’re referencing) regards 1 cup (packed) of uncooked greens as a serving.

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