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 — the average American eats around four pounds of peanut butter every year[*]. But while this snack’s macros are perfect for a ketogenic diet, you may not want to have it every day. There are a few hidden downsides to peanut butter that make it best to eat in moderation.
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 instead.
In some 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 takes 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.
Even then, though, you may not want to eat too much peanut butter. Peanuts have some positive qualities, but overall, they aren’t quite as good for you as they may seem.
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, there are also a few downsides you may want to consider.
A large-scale study found that eating whole nuts and peanuts correlated with longevity, but eating peanut butter did not[*].
The researchers outlined a few potential reasons peanuts link to longevity, but peanut butter does not:
- Commercial varieties of peanut butter often contain unhealthy ingredients.
- People overeat with peanut butter (a serving is only two tablespoons).
- Most peanut butter is paired with high-sugar jelly and white bread.
There are several other reasons to watch your peanut butter intake, too.
#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
Avoid high-sugar peanut butters — and “peanut spread” products, which have other added ingredients.
#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 potentical cancer risk[*].
#3: 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 they eat soybeans or lentils.
Peanuts can cause gastrointestinal distress in some people. If your gut is sensitive, you have imbalanced gut bacteria, or you don’t tolerate beans, lentils, and similar foods, you may want to swap peanuts out for tree nuts like macadamias, pecans, or hazelnuts.
#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 can cause brain fog, fatigue, and liver damage, and long-term aflatoxin consumption links strongly to liver cancer[*][*]. There are federal regulations for aflatoxins in peanut butter, and tested products have to stay under a certain exposure level[*]. However, aflatoxin stays in your body for 30-60 days, meaning if you eat peanut butter or other high-aflatoxin foods regularly, you’re pretty much always going to have low levels of carcinogens in your system[*].
To avoid aflatoxin, you’re better off eating tree nuts that grow above ground and are less prone to mold 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 inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.
Omega-6s promote inflammation and compete with beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, preventing you from using omega-3s correctly. The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is 4:1 or lower, but the average American eats 20:1 in favor of omega-6s[*]. This imbalance can contribute to chronic inflammation and faster aging.
Again, eating peanut butter occasionally won’t hurt you. But having peanut butter every day, or eating large amounts of it, introduces a significant amount of unhealthy omega-6 fats to your diet.
The good news is there are plenty of alternatives to peanut butter. Popular nut butters include:
- Macadamia nut butter
- Almond butter
- Pecan butter
- Cashew butter
- Walnut butter
- Pistachio butter
- Hazelnut 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.
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: omega-6 fats, aflatoxin, and unhealthy additives in many commercial brands.
If you’re going to have peanut butter, make it an occasional treat. Try swapping it out for other nut butters, like macadamia, cashew, pecan, and hazelnut, and see if you feel the difference in your health.