Is peanut butter good for you?
Or is peanut butter healthy only in moderation?
Whether you’ve grown up on classic pb&j lunches or still scoop out your snack straight from the jar, to say most Americans are PB obsessed 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, is it really healthy for you?
Turns out, peanut butter’s charm only goes so far.
While the macros on the label of your favorite childhood jar may seem keto-friendly, it’s what you can’t see that makes peanut butter a total disaster for your body.
So in this guide, we’re putting peanut butter on blast to share the truth about:
You think you know what’s in your jar of peanut butter… but you have no idea.
You can’t talk smack about peanut butter without first discussing what it actually is and where it comes from.
Peanut butter is made by grinding up peanuts into a smooth (or chunky), spreadable paste.
So how healthy peanut butter is really all depends on how healthy pre-ground peanuts are for you.
What Is Peanut Butter Made Of?
You may think the answer is nuts, but that’s technically incorrect.
The peanut is actually a legume, which is the same family peas, lentils and soybeans belong to — and it has some of the same effects on your body.
Because peanuts look and have a nutritional profile closer to tree nuts than other legumes, many people consider it a nut.
Certain nuts are incredibly healthy on a ketogenic diet thanks to their macros: they’re mostly made of healthy fats, a bit of protein and even 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[*]:
- 14g of fat
- 2.2g of net carbs
- 7g 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 for comparison.
The real draw of the peanut is its rich fat content.
That same ounce of peanuts has fat from every category[*]:
- 7g of monounsaturated fat
- 4.4g of polyunsaturated fat
- 1.9g of saturated fat
Peanuts are heavy in healthy monounsaturated fat, which is considered healthy because it can help:
- Lower blood pressure[*]
- Reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol
- Raise “good” HDL cholesterol
- Decrease cardiovascular risks[*]
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 also contributes to weight loss since protein fights hunger and even helps you build more muscle, which burns more calories at rest.
And fiber is another buddy in your corner blasting away hunger pangs and carb cravings.
Besides aiding your body in proper digestion, studies show those with more fiber in their diets are also at lower risks for developing[*]:
- Coronary heart disease
- Hypertension / high blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Type 2 diabetes
- Gastrointestinal diseases
So peanuts contain a bit of every macro for their relatively small size.
They also bring a few essential vitamins and minerals to the party, such as:
- 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.
With all these healthy-seeming reasons to dig peanuts, you probably think peanut butter is the easiest and most convenient way to snack on healthy fats, protein and fiber.
And this is why peanut butter is so sneaky.
Studies show the healthyish benefits of eating peanuts don’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 are unhealthy.
- 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 schmeared on white bread.
So let’s address the first reason researchers think peanut butter is bad news and not as healthy as its profile pic appears to be.
#1. Commercial Peanut Butters Have Added Sugar
While peanuts may naturally have sugar, you should never buy anything with added sugar in the ingredients list — and unfortunately, the majority of 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. Jars at the Grocery Store Also Contain Hydrogenated Oils (aka Harmful 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 terrible fats for your health. They lead to[*]:
- Higher LDL cholesterol levels
- Lower HDL cholesterol
- Hormonal imbalances
- An increased risk of developing heart disease
- Higher chance of strokes
- Type 2 diabetes
Even if the jar 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 like soybean, palm, corn, canola, peanut or some new Frankenstein combination.
These oils are damaging to your health due to the way they’re processed and can lead to the laundry list of side effects listed above.
Plus, the synthetic antioxidants manufacturers add to oils like these to keep them shelf stable, such as TBHQ, BHA, and BHT, have been known to cause tumors, liver enlargement and neurotoxicity[*].
As if these weren’t enough reasons to think cheap peanut butter is nothing more than junk, certain companies literally add junk to the mix.
#3. Low-Fat Peanut Butters are Nothing More Than Literal Junk
Peanuts are prized for their high fat content, which can be higher than other grocery items in your shopping cart.
Since many people are still stubbornly fat-phobic (and wrong), manufacturers are still making “low fat” or “reduced fat” jars of peanut butter.
This means the natural fat of peanut butter is removed during processing and sugar and other inexpensive, carby fillers are used to bulk it back up.
Just compare a regular jar of peanut butter with one of these low-fat abominations yourself and you’ll see roughly the same amount of calories per serving, but the reduced fat jar will have fewer grams of fat and more carbs and sugar.
Now that you see why peanut butter from the supermarket doesn’t deserve you, you may be wondering if peanut butter can still be healthy if you make it yourself.
So these next five reasons get to the real root of the issue: the peanuts.
#4. Peanuts (aka Legumes) Can Be Hard to Digest
Remember how we said peanuts are actually legumes and not tree nuts?
Because of this, many people have a hard time digesting peanuts and feel the same effects as eating soybeans or lentils, such as bloating and gas.
If you experience these symptoms, you may want to switch to a legit tree nut like King Macadamia, pecan or hazelnuts.
Peanuts are also chock-full of pesticides.
#5. Peanuts are High In Pesticides
Because commercial peanut crops are such big business, farmers can’t afford to let their yield get destroyed by pests. So peanuts (and subsequently peanut butter) can be heavy in the pesticide department.
What makes the problem worse is peanuts have a thin shell, so all those toxic pesticides will make their way inside the peanut.
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
Speaking of harmful substances you may find in peanut butter…
#6. The Aflatoxin Worry
Unlike tree nuts like 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 one 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 its a recognized carcinogen, or known to cause cancer.
Since aflatoxins are so dangerous, the USDA actually monitors peanut farms to make sure there isn’t unacceptable levels poisoning Americans.
Yet, this doesn’t mean peanut butter is free of aflatoxin; it just means there’s an acceptable level manufacturers have to stay under.
So as long as there isn’t more than 20 parts per million of aflatoxin contamination, everything is totally cool[*].
Umm, or not.
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 too[*].
But you’ll never really know for sure if you’ve been exposed to it, or how much you’ve been ingesting over your lifetime peanut butter love affair.
Even if there isn’t aflatoxin, there can be a whole army of different molds and toxic fungi which 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. The same can be said with this next reason.
#7. Peanuts are High in Oxalates
An oxalate is an antinutrient, which means it has the exact opposite behaviour 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 used.
So besides not allowing your body to absorb all the essential minerals you need, oxalates can also cause kidney stones in certain individuals.
See, your body can usually eliminate oxalates in your urine and deuces.
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[*].
Large kidney stones will cause severe pain as they move through your urinary tract and may require surgery.
And 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[*]:
Almonds and peanuts are high in oxalates so 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 them.
You’ll want to most definitely stay away from peanuts.
But this final reason to cut out peanut butter goes for everyone.
#8. The Terrible Inflammation-Causing Omega 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 we normally associate 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
Did you ever think all eight of these reasons for avoiding peanut butter even existed?
If you’re tossing out your jar of peanut butter as you’re reading this, your future with healthier nut butters is looking brighter by the millisecond.
You can snag all the same benefits of nut butter without all the harsh downsides of peanut butter when you opt for different nuts, including:
- Brazil Nuts
- Pine nuts
And if you’re allergic to tree nuts, 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
Trust us, 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
- Enjoying convenient single packets of nut butter
- 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.
And if you really want to treat yo’ self, take a page from the book of Perfect Keto founder Dr. Anthony Gustin (@dranthonygustin).
He got tired of all the harmful junk in nut butters, so he formulated his very own 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 amazing 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
Adding more fats to your diet will keep you healthier, but only if you choose the right type of fats.
Even though peanuts and PB 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 make it terrible 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.