Peanuts: The Earth’s Favorite Food

You want the foods you eat to be delicious and nutritious—and peanuts get an A+ in both those categories.1 But in a recent survey, half of Americans said it’s also at least somewhat important to them that their food be produced in a sustainable way.2 Well, peanuts ace that test, too: They’re one of the most earth-friendly foods. 3, 4, 5

Protecting the Planet

You need protein from the foods you eat to build strong muscles and bones and maintain healthy skin.7 Like meat and poultry, peanuts are packed with nutritious protein.1 But growing a protein-rich plant such as peanuts generally has less negative impact on the environment than raising animals for food.8

Globally, producing and processing food creates at least one-fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions10—the release of gases that trap heat in the atmosphere, warming the planet.9 Some foods account for a much bigger share than others.10 When scientists calculated the greenhouse gas emissions created by producing some common protein foods, here’s what they found:

FoodsGreenhouse gas emissions (including farming, processing, packaging, and transportation; measured in kg CO2e per functional unit of food)
Peanut butter2.9

Source: Transactions of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers10

Using Less Water

Environmental scientists use the term water footprint to describe the total volume of fresh water required to produce a crop.3 Peanuts have a much smaller water footprint than other nuts:

Nuts (in their shells)Global average water footprint (measured in cubic meters of water used per ton of nuts)

Source: UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education3

One reason peanuts stack up so well is that they aren’t actually nuts. Botanically speaking, they’re legumes1—a plant family that also includes beans, peas, and lentils.6

Improving the Soil

Like other legumes, peanuts naturally replenish the soil with nitrogen, an essential nutrient for plant growth. Peanut plants team up with helpful bacteria living in their roots to take nitrogen from the air and convert it into a form plants can use. Peanuts can supply up to 90 percent of their own nitrogen this way.5

At the end of the growing season, when the peanut plant dies and decays, more nitrogen is added to the soil. This enriches the soil, making it more fertile for the next season’s crop.5

What you choose to eat has a big impact not only on the health of your body, but also on the health of the planet.8 Nutritious, earth-friendly peanuts are a smart choice on both scores.1, 3, 4, 5

To read more about peanuts’ healthy effects on your body and the planet, follow us on Twitter.


  1. “Peanuts as Functional Food: A Review.” S.S. Arya et al. Journal of Food Science and Technology. 2016, vol. 53, no. 1, pp. 31-41.
  2. “Thinking Beyond the Box.” International Food Information Council Foundation.
  3. “The Green, Blue and Grey Water Footprint of Crops and Derived Crop Products.” M.M. Mekonnen and A.Y. Hoekstra. UNESCO Institute for Water Education, December 2010.
  4. “A Historical Analysis of the Environmental Footprint of Peanut Production in the United States from 1980 to 2014.” J.A. McCarty et al. Peanut Science. 2016, vol. 43, pp. 157-67.
  5. “The Role of Peanuts in Global Food Security.” H. Valentine. Peanuts: Genetics, Processing, and Utilization. H.T. Stalker and R.F. Wilson, eds. London: Academic Press and AOCS Press, 2016, pp. 447-61.
  6. “Food Sources of 5 Important Nutrients for Vegetarians.” Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
  7. “Dietary Proteins.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
  8. “Shifting Diets for a Sustainable Food Future.” J. Ranganathan et al. World Resources Institute, April 2016.
  9. “Overview of Greenhouse Gases.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  10. “Life Cycle Assessment of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Associated with Production and Consumption of Peanut Butter in the U.S.” J.A. McCarty et al. Transactions of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, 2014, vol. 57, no. 6., pp. 1741-1750.