How Healthy Is Peanut Butter, Really?
Whether you’re a fan of spreading peanut butter over toast ahead of your morning workout, adding it to your favorite overnight oats recipe, or throwing a tablespoon of the go-to nut butter in smoothies alongside berries and greens, there are various reasons to keep doing what you’ve been doing. There’s even a case for making sure your pantry is perpetually stocked with peanut butter. And if peanut butter isn’t yet a staple in your diet, you might want to reconsider that (as long as you’re not allergic, of course), since there are quite a few health benefits to the protein-packed spread.
“From a nutrition perspective, peanut butter is certainly a great source of healthy fats, plant-based protein, vitamins, and minerals, not to mention some fiber,” says Tanya Mezher, RD, CDN, Lead Functional Practitioner at Malla, a functional medicine company.
The only caveat is that not all peanut butter offers the same nutritional profile. Some have added sugar and oils that might detract from their wellness benefits – but more on that in a moment. Here, the whole scoop on the nutritional and health benefits of peanut butter.
Peanut Butter Nutrition Facts
When it comes to picking peanut butter, you have two main options: a natural version and the more processed kind. They’re quite different in terms of ingredients as well as nutrition facts. For this reason, Mezher encourages people to “always check the nutrition facts labels” before buying.
Natural Peanut Butter
This type is typically made from just peanuts – plus maybe some salt. Here are the nutrition facts for two tablespoons of natural peanut butter, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
|Natural Peanut Butter Nutrition Facts||per 2 tablespoons|
|Saturated Fat||2.5 g|
Processed Peanut Butter
The more processed type of peanut butter often includes peanuts, sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oil (cottonseed, soybean and rapeseed oil) and salt, says Mezher. Additional ingredients mean slightly less protein per serving, adds Katie Thomson, RDN, cofounder and CEO of Square Baby, an organic baby food company. “With the additional fat coming from palm or hydrogenated oil, [this peanut butter] may also have higher saturated fat,” she says.
Here are the nutrition facts for processed peanut butter (2 tablespoons), according to the USDA.
|Processed Peanut Butter Nutrition Facts||per 2 tablespoons|
|Saturated Fat||3 g|
Health Benefits of Peanut Butter
It’s hard not to love peanut butter. Thomson says she consumes it daily, because “it’s extremely versatile and crazy delicious,” she says. Her favorite ways to enjoy it are in her morning smoothie, on whole grain bread topped with fresh fruit, on fresh apples slices, or in protein energy bites (with oats, flax, peanut butter, and a touch of honey). Not only is is a tasty addition to many foods, peanut butter’s health benefits are pretty impressive, too.
From plant-based protein to good-for-you fats, here are the health benefits of peanut butter you can expect to enjoy when you add it to your rotation.
Decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.
“Regular consumption of nuts and peanut butter has been associated with heart health and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease,” says Mezher. One reason: Peanut butter is a good source of resveratrol (a powerful antioxidant), phenolic acids (a phytochemical), flavonoids (plant metabolites that have an antioxidant effect), and phytosterols (plant-derived compounds that are structured like cholesterol), all of which work to block cholesterol absorption.
Plus, about 50 percent of the fats in peanut butter are heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, like those in olive oil.
In three large studies with up to 32 years of follow-up, researchers found that nut consumption was associated with lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease after adjusting for risk factors.
Higher satiety and blood sugar balance.
Thanks to its fat, protein, and fiber content, peanut butter can help balance blood sugar, points out Mezher. “This combination of nutrients slows down its digestion, therefore releasing energy slowly into the bloodstream which is why it is considered a low-glycemic food,” she says. For this reason, peanut butter has a positive effect on satiety, aka keeping you full for longer, says Mezher.
This is assuming there are no added sugars in the peanut butter you’re eating, and that it’s not eaten with higher glycemic combinations (i.e. with things that spike your blood sugar, such as white bread, sweetened jelly, or juice), notes Mezher. However, if you are considering snacking on a high-glycemic food, you might want to add peanut butter to the mix, as studies have shown that it can blunt the blood sugar spike that comes with them.
“Peanut butter packs a protein punch with about seven to eight grams of plant-based protein per serving [2 tablespoons], which is important for building and repairing muscle mass in the body,” says Thomson.
Mezher agrees that peanut butter can be helpful for meeting protein needs and supporting muscular health, particularly for vegetarians and vegans who aren’t consuming animal protein.
Believe it or not, peanut butter’s seven to eight grams is actually more protein than one egg, which has about six grams. What’s more, combining a serving of peanut butter with another high-protein food like cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, or a protein shake could actually be a convenient alternative to a serving of meat in terms of grams of protein, says Mezher.
Lower cancer risk.
Peanuts – and therefore peanut butter – have tons of antioxidants, including vitamins E and B, manganese, coumaric acid, and resveratrol. “These compounds have been shown to prevent and repair cellular damage, reducing risks for chronic disease and cancer,” explains Mehzer.
In fact, research published in the journal Advanced Nutrition showed significant results associating regular consumption of nuts, including peanuts, with reduced risk of breast cancer, colon cancer, esophageal cancer, and pancreatic cancer.
Improved gut health.
Peanut butter is a good source of both soluble and insoluble dietary fibers and, in turn, offers a prebiotic effect, points out Mezher. Prebiotics act as fuel or food for probiotics, helping ensure you have a balanced mix of bacteria in the gut.
“The standard American diet can definitely use a boost in this department, so simply including peanut butter with other gut-friendly foods (i.e. peanut butter and banana) can shift your gut health in the right direction,” notes Mezher.
So Is Peanut Butter Good for You?
Whether you’re looking for a filling breakfast or a satisfying snack that offers a boost to your well-being, peanut butter may very well be a good bet. The smart source of plant-based protein certainly offers quite a few health benefits.
Nonetheless, Mezher encourages anyone interested in adding more peanut butter to their diet to take their own unique wellness picture into consideration. “There are so many factors and variables involved as to whether it can be generalized as good for you,” she explains. For example, your genetics, health goals, and immune response all play a part in determining how peanut butter may benefit your well-being.
For that reason, she recommends consulting with a licensed practitioner or registered dietitian for personalized recommendations based on your specific needs, preferences, and health concerns.
How to Buy the Healthiest Peanut Butter
To buy the peanut butter that’s best for you, consider the following rules of the road, according to Mezher:
- Look for organic options with limited added ingredients. Ideally, just peanuts, and maybe salt.
- Avoid the peanut butter jars that include hydrogenated and added oils (palm oil is a common one), added sugars, sweeteners, and preservatives. And look out for anything that’s called “natural” but still includes a long list of added ingredients.
- Consider making your own peanut butter by simply blending unsalted peanuts.