- Is Peanut Butter Good for You?
- 8 Reasons to Stop Eating Peanut Butter
- Healthier Alternatives to Peanut Butter
Is peanut butter good for you? Or should it only be consumed in moderation?
Whether you’ve grown up on classic PB&J lunches or love it straight from the jar, to say most Americans are obsessed with peanut butter is a bit of an understatement.
Americans eat around four pounds of peanut butter — per person — every year[*]. And while this pantry staple may seem like a ketogenic winner, the truth may surprise you.
You think you know what’s in your jar of peanut butter, but you have no idea.
Is peanut butter healthy? You can’t answer this question without first discussing what it is and where it comes from. One serving of peanut butter contains 8 grams of protein, roughly 6 grams of carbs, 16 grams of fat, and roughly 180 calories[*].
The healthiest peanut butter is made from one ingredient: Ground peanuts. However, most brands are made from ground peanuts, oil (like peanut oil, palm oil, or olive oil, which gives it a smooth texture), salt, and usually some sort of sweetener. To better understand your favorite spread, you need to take a closer look at its main ingredient.
Peanuts: A Closer Look
Peanuts look and have a nutritional profile close to tree nuts, so many people falsely believe they’re a nut. In reality, the peanut is actually a legume, which is in the same family as peas, lentils, and soybeans.
Some nuts are considered healthy foods due to their macro profile. They’re mostly made of healthy fats, they’re a decent source of protein, and they contain a few grams of fiber to lower the net carb amount[*].
On the surface, peanuts seem to be one of those healthy choices.
For a 1 oz serving of peanuts, you’ll find[*]:
- 14 grams of fat
- 2.2 grams of net carbs
- 7 grams of protein
As you can see, most of the macro breakdown of peanuts goes to fat — but protein is no slouch either. A serving of peanuts has a gram more protein than a serving of almonds.
The Health Benefits of Peanut Butter (Or Really, Peanuts)
The real draw of the peanut is its rich healthy fat content. An ounce of peanuts has fat from every category[*]:
- 7g of monounsaturated fat
- 4.4g of polyunsaturated fat
- 1.9g of saturated fat
Peanuts are high in monounsaturated fat, which is considered healthy because it can help:
- Lower blood pressure[*]
- Reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol
- Raise “good” HDL cholesterol
- Lower your risk of heart disease[*]
Monounsaturated fats, like most fats, can also help you lose weight[*]. Fats keep you full and satiated longer so you don’t snack on carbs between meals. The protein in most nuts can also contribute to weight loss since protein fights hunger and even helps you build more muscle, which burns more calories at rest. Plus, fiber can help blast away hunger pangs and carb cravings.
Studies also show that those who consume high amounts of dietary fiber show a lower risk of developing[*]:
- Coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease
- Hypertension / high blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Type 2 diabetes
- Gastrointestinal diseases
Peanuts contain a bit of every macro for their relatively small size.
A dietitian may recommend eating peanuts as part of a healthy eating plan, as they provide a few essential vitamins and minerals, including:
- Magnesium, which can help you maintain proper blood sugar levels. Low levels of magnesium have been associated with insulin resistance[*].
- Vitamin E, an antioxidant that protects your cells from free radical damage and neurological diseases[*].
- Potassium, one of the most important electrolytes you’ll need to pay attention to on a ketogenic diet.
- Niacin (or vitamin B3), which helps boost your metabolism and aid in nervous system function[*]. Just a single ounce of peanuts provides 17% of your daily allotment of niacin[*].
- Resveratrol, an antioxidant, which has been shown to have anti-aging effects and increase cell survival[*].
With all these seemingly healthy reasons to consume peanuts, you probably think peanut butter is the easiest and most convenient way to snack on healthy fats, protein, and fiber. But that is why peanut butter is so sneaky.
Studies show the health benefits of eating peanuts doesn’t translate when you swap them out and eat peanut butter[*].
Scientists believe peanut butter eaters don’t snag all the health benefits of snacking on nuts because:
- Commercial varieties of peanut butter often contain unhealthy ingredients.
- People consume too much peanut butter and overeat the serving size, which is usually only two tablespoons.
- Most peanut butter is paired with sugar-loaded jelly (a tablespoon serving is about 12g of sugar) and smeared on white bread.
#1: Commercial Varieties Are Loaded With Sugar
While peanuts may naturally have sugar, you should never buy anything with added sugar in the ingredients list. Unfortunately, most peanut butters on the market are loaded with the stuff.
- Weight gain
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Obesity-related cancers
Peanut butter shouldn’t contain added sugar just like it shouldn’t contain trans fats.
#2: Store-Bought Varieties Often Contain Hydrogenated Oils (Trans Fat)
Ever see the “no-stir” advertisement on the label of certain peanut butter jars?
Don’t be fooled into thinking that jar contains the world’s creamiest peanut butter — it just means that peanut butter contains more partially or fully hydrogenated oils (aka sources of trans fat) to make it remain semi-liquid at room temperature.
Hydrogenated oils are bad for your health. They can lead to[*]:
- Higher LDL cholesterol levels
- Lower HDL cholesterol
- Hormonal imbalances
- An increased risk of developing heart disease
- Higher chance of stroke
- Type 2 diabetes
Even if the jar of natural peanut butter you swear by doesn’t contain partially hydrogenated oil, if your peanut butter is made from peanuts roasted in oil, you’re still consuming less-than-healthy vegetable oils from soybean, palm, corn, canola, or peanut. The way these oils are processed is damaging to your health and can lead to the laundry list of side effects listed above.
Plus, the synthetic antioxidants — TBHQ, BHA, BHT — that manufacturers add to oils like these to keep them shelf stable have been known to cause tumors, liver enlargement, and neurotoxicity[*].
#3: Low-Fat Peanut Butter Is Not as Healthy as It Seems
Peanuts are prized for their high fat content, which can be higher than other grocery items in your shopping cart. Since many people in the United States are still stubbornly fat-phobic, manufacturers are still making “low-fat” or “reduced fat” products, advertised as healthy peanut butter.
This means the natural, healthy fats in peanut butter are removed during processing. And what’s put in its place? You guessed it — sugar.
Just compare a regular jar of peanut butter with a low-fat version and you’ll see the same amount of calories per serving, but the reduced fat jar will have fewer grams of fat, yet more carbs and sugar. Don’t believe it? Compare this jar of original peanut butter with this low-fat version — both from the same national brand.
Now that you see why peanut butter from the supermarket doesn’t deserve you, you may be wondering: Is peanut butter good for you if you make it yourself? This brings you to the real root of the issue: the peanuts.
#4: Peanuts (aka Legumes) Can Be Hard to Digest
Peanuts are legumes not tree nuts. Because of this, many people have a hard time digesting peanuts and feel similar effects — such as gas and bloating — as they do when eating soybeans or lentils.
If you experience these symptoms, you may want to switch to legit tree nuts like macadamias, pecans, or hazelnuts.
#5: Peanuts Are High in Pesticides
Peanuts (and subsequently peanut butter) can be heavy in the pesticide department. Farmers use these pesticides to prevent insects and other pests from destroying crops. Unfortunately, peanuts have a thin shell and pesticides can make their way inside.
The potential health effects of eating this pesticide residue has been linked with the development of[*]:
- Birth defects
- Impaired fertility
- Parkinson’s disease
- Depression and anxiety
#6: The Aflatoxin Worry
Unlike tree nuts such as cashews or macadamias, peanuts grow underground like their other cousins in the legume family. And since they typically grow in warm or humid climates, this makes them susceptible to particular molds, fungi, and bacteria.
The biggest toxin to watch out for is aflatoxin, a poisonous carcinogen which is formed by a specific mold or fungus. Aflatoxin usually contaminates corn, peanuts, and grains before they’re harvested and while they’re kept by farmers in storage. The short-term effects of aflatoxin consumption won’t affect you too much, but the long-term effects can be measured since it’s a recognized carcinogen.
Specifically, aflatoxins have been associated with delayed growth in kids and liver cancer, especially in those with existing liver or kidney problems and those with hepatitis B or C[*][*]. Since aflatoxins are so dangerous, the USDA actually monitors peanut farms to make sure there aren’t any unacceptable levels poisoning Americans.
This regulation doesn’t mean peanut butter is free of aflatoxin; it just means there’s an acceptable level manufacturers have to stay under[*]. The USDA also claims dry roasting and blanching protects the peanuts from aflatoxin, and turning it into peanut butter may also reduce the chance of aflatoxins[*]. Yet, you’ll never know if you’ve been exposed to it, or how much you’ve been ingesting over your lifetime.
Even if there isn’t aflatoxin, there can be a whole army of different molds and toxic fungi that may aggravate your system and cause sensitivities and inflammation. Nuts stored in warm silos may share this problem, though it’s not quite as common as it is with peanuts.
#7: Peanuts Are High in Oxalates
An oxalate is an antinutrient, which means it has the exact opposite behavior of nutrients. You can find oxalates, or oxalic acid, in many foods like spinach, sweet potatoes and beets. Your body also produces small amounts of oxalate on its own too.
The problem is that oxalates bind to specific minerals like calcium and iron in your gut, colon, kidneys, and other parts of your urinary tract. When an oxalate binds to these key minerals, it prevents that mineral from being absorbed by your body and being used. Besides not allowing your body to absorb all the essential minerals you need, oxalates can also cause kidney stones in certain individuals.
Your body can usually eliminate oxalates in your urine, but when it doesn’t get rid of these oxalate compounds, they can crystalize and form kidney stones. About 80% of kidney stones are crystals formed by calcium oxalate, which is when oxalates bind to calcium[*]. If you already have kidney problems, gallbladder issues, or have had kidney stones before, you could be at risk for a potential build-up and subsequent havoc on your urinary tract if you eat peanuts.
Oxalates can also lead to calcium and iron deficiencies since your body is unable to grab all the minerals when oxalates steal them.
Check out the concentration of oxalates per 100g serving of these nuts for comparison[*]:
#8: The Omega 6 to Omega 3 Fatty Acid Ratio
There are several types of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), but the two most widely discussed are omega 3 fatty acids and omega 6. Each omega fatty acid has a different role to play in your body’s overall health, but to keep things easy to remember, just know this:
Omega 3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory; omega 6 fatty acids create inflammation.
Even though peanuts contain fats normally associated with good stuff like heart protection, they have a higher imbalance of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids.
People on the Standard American Diet already consume a ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s at 20:1[*], which means many Americans eat 20 times more inflammation-causing fatty acids than fatty acids that prevent and control inflammation. This imbalance then leads to chronic inflammation. And chronic inflammation not only makes you feel terrible, it makes it easier for you to develop[*]:
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Alzheimer’s disease
If you’re struggling giving up peanut butter, you can opt for a different nut butter such as almond butter. You can also try nut and seed butters from the following nuts:
- Brazil Nuts
- Pine nuts
If you have a peanut allergy, a seed butter may be a better option for you. Just choose a seed butter with loads of fat and fiber and you won’t run into too many net carbs.
How to Use Nut Butters In Place of Peanut Butter
When you ditch peanut butter for a healthier nut butter like macadamia nut butter, you’ll never miss the old stuff. And you can use your healthier nut butter the same way you relied on peanut butter by:
- Eating it right out of the jar
- Pairing it with celery sticks or chia seed crackers
- Mixing it in your pre- or post-workout smoothies
- Using it to thicken keto stir-fry sauces
- Substituting for PB in keto recipes
- Making keto fat bombs
Have a sweet tooth? Try mixing nut butter with chia seeds and stevia-sweetened chocolate chips for a quick, filling, and energizing afternoon treat. Or try this keto-friendly nut butter instead.
You’ll find zero added sugars, preservatives, additives, fillers, or harmful oils in the Perfect Keto Nut Butter blend because it’s made with clean, fatty ingredients like:
- Raw macadamias and cashew nuts
- Raw coconut butter to score the heart-healthy benefits of coconut
- MCT oil to sharpen your mental focus, boost your energy levels, and keep you in ketosis
- Just a pinch of real ground vanilla and sea salt for subtle, yummy flavor
Whatever you do, just don’t look back when you break up with peanut butter.
Peanut Butter Doesn’t Belong In Your Pantry
Is peanut butter good for you? The answer is no. Adding more fats to your diet will keep you healthier, but only if you choose the right type of fats.
Even though peanuts and peanut butter contain monounsaturated fats, they also have inflammatory omega 6s, pesticides, and potentially aflatoxin, not to mention commercial peanut butters are full of sugar and hydrogenated vegetable oils that are bad for your health.
You don’t have to give up the creaminess of peanut butter — there are plenty of other high-fat, low-carb, healthy nut butters to choose from, including macadamia, cashew, pecan, and hazelnut.
Opting for these nuts and banishing peanut butter from your diet will contribute to lower inflammation and better health.