Is peanut butter good for you? Or should you only eat it in moderation?
Peanut butter is convenient, filling, high in protein and fat, and very popular. In fact, the average American eats around four pounds of peanut butter every year[*].
But just like any food, there are pros and cons to peanut butter that you should know about before you make it a staple in your diet.
Here’s a look at the positive and negative aspects of peanut butter, what to check when you’re reading a peanut butter label, and a few high-quality peanut butter alternatives that you may want to use if you’re allergic or sensitive to peanuts.
In many ways, peanut butter is quite healthy.
One serving of peanut butter contains 8 grams of protein, 4 grams of net carbs, 16 grams of fat, and about 180 calories[*].
The healthiest peanut butter is made from one ingredient: ground peanuts. However, a lot of commercial brands are made from ground peanuts, oil (often hydrogenated soybean or canola oil), salt, and either sugar or corn syrup.
The added sugar and oil in many peanut butters take away from their health factor, so if you’re going to eat peanut butter, your best bet is to get the natural stuff made with just peanuts, or peanuts and salt.
Peanuts: A Closer Look
Peanuts actually aren’t nuts at all. They’re legumes, putting them in the same family as peas, lentils, and soybeans.
Peanuts are a great source of protein, boasting about 4 grams per tablespoon, and peanuts have lots of healthy monounsaturated fat[*].
Eating monounsaturated fat correlates with lower blood pressure[*] and lower risk of heart disease[*]. It 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 peanuts can also contribute to weight loss since protein is very satiating.
Peanuts are also a decent source of fiber, which can further fill you and reduce 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
- Type 2 diabetes
- Gastrointestinal diseases
Peanuts include a few other nutrients, too. They’re rich in:
- 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 need 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[*].
As you can see, peanut butter has a fair number of health benefits. However, when it comes to purchasing peanut butter for yourself, it’s crucial to understand that not all peanut butter is created equally.
The issues around peanut butter don’t necessarily correlate with the nuts themselves, but rather how the peanuts are grown, and how the peanut butter is processed.
#1: Commercial Peanut Butters Often Have Added Sugar
A lot of commercial peanut butters contain added sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, which makes them harder to fit into a ketogenic diet. But even if you aren’t keto, you’re better off avoiding sugar. Added sugars have been linked to[*]:
- Weight gain
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Obesity-related cancers
Peanut butter purchasing tip: Avoid high-sugar peanut butter — and “peanut spread” products, which have other added ingredients like jams or high-fructose corn syrup.
#2: Store-Bought Varieties Often Contain Hydrogenated Oils (Trans Fat)
Natural peanut butter separates, leaving a layer of peanut oil at the top and the ground peanut at the bottom. A lot of companies make “no-stir” peanut butter that stays together and is especially smooth and creamy. While no-stir peanut butter is delicious, it’s the result of producers adding fully or partially hydrogenated oils (aka sources of trans fat) to make the peanut butter stay homogenous at room temperature.
Hydrogenated oils are bad for your health. They can lead to[*]:
- Higher LDL cholesterol levels
- Lower HDL cholesterol
- Hormonal imbalances
- Heart disease
- 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, or canola.
Plus, the synthetic antioxidants — TBHQ, BHA, BHT — that manufacturers add to vegetable oils to keep them shelf-stable come with their own issues, including genotoxicity and potential cancer risk[*].
Peanut butter purchasing tip: Avoid peanut butter that adds vegetable oils, and be wary of any “no-stir” peanut butter. Also, keep an eye on whether or not the peanuts were fried in oil. Many natural peanut butter brands will use raw peanuts.
#3: Peanuts Are Often Genetically Modified
Unfortunately, peanuts happen to be a crop that is often genetically modified. While research into GMOs is at this point in time still ongoing, there is evidence to show that genetic modification can lead to health issues like birth defects, infertility, and antibiotic resistance[*].
For this reason, it’s always best to steer on the side of caution and avoid GMO foods as much as possible. Luckily, most health brands source only non-GMO peanuts.
Peanut butter purchasing tip: Take a look at the label of your peanut butter. You should see either a non-GMO label or the GMO Project Verification sticker (with a butterfly). If your peanut butter isn’t labeled non-GMO, it has been made from GMO peanuts.
#4: The Aflatoxin Worry
Unlike tree nuts such as cashews or macadamias, peanuts grow underground. And since they’re typically farmed in warm or humid climates, peanuts are especially prone to mold. Certain molds (especially black molds) produce toxins that can cause serious health issues if you consume too much of them.
The biggest toxin to watch out for is aflatoxin, a carcinogen produced by Aspergillus molds. Aflatoxin usually contaminates corn, peanuts, and grains that grow in humid conditions or are stored improperly.
Aflatoxin exposure is one of the primary concerns that people have against peanuts. However, there are federal regulations for aflatoxins in peanut butter, and tested products have to stay under a certain exposure level[*].
What’s more, in the United States, zero cases of aflatoxicosis (a disease caused by aflatoxins) have been reported in humans[*].
Peanut butter purchasing tip: If exposure to aflatoxin is your primary concern with peanuts, rest assured that the FDA takes aflatoxin very seriously and has strict guidelines for peanut testing due to the potential of aflatoxin contamination.
#5: Peanut Butter’s Omega 6 to Omega 3 Fatty Acid Ratio
Peanut butter contains several healthy fats, including monounsaturated fat, but it’s still high in omega-6 fatty acids.
While some omega-6s are essential, the modern American diet has way too many of these fats. And too many omega-6 fats can promote inflammation and compete with beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, preventing you from using omega-3s correctly.
Again, eating peanut butter won’t hurt you. But relying on peanut butter as your main source of fats, or eating large amounts of it, introduces a significant amount of unhealthy omega-6 fats to your diet.
If you’re a peanut butter fan, the good news is that peanut butter has a lot to offer in the health department. The bad news is that not all peanut butter is created equally.
That means that for peanut butter in particular, you want to pay extra attention to the quality of the product you’re buying. Be sure to check the ingredient label and make sure the supplier isn’t adding any extra ingredients like sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or vegetable oils.
Also, make sure the peanuts that your peanut butter is made from are non-GMO. Ideally, the ingredient label will have just one ingredient: peanuts.
If you can’t find healthy peanut butter, there are plenty of other nut butter options out there as well. Some popular options include:
- Macadamia nut butter
- Almond butter
- Pecan butter
- Cashew butter
- Walnut butter
- Pistachio butter
- Hazelnut butter
Whether you’re going for peanut butter or one of the above alternatives, there are plenty of ways to enjoy nut butter. For instance, you could:
- Eat it right out of the jar
- Pair it with celery sticks or chia seed crackers
- Mix it in your pre- or post-workout smoothies
- Use it to thicken keto stir-fry sauces
- Make 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.
Peanut butter is good for you in a lot of ways. It has a great macronutrient profile, plentiful healthy monounsaturated fats, a decent amount of fiber, and a lot of vitamins and minerals. It’s also delicious, which counts for a lot.
But there are a few downsides to peanut butter, too: potential GMOs, vegetable oils, and sneaky ingredients like sugar and preservatives.
Therefore, If you’re going to have peanut butter, always check the labels and purchase from brands you trust.