How Healthy Is Peanut Butter?

FYI: It should really only include two ingredients.

We all know and love it: the gooey, creamy (sometimes crunchy), nutty spread that can amplify almost any sandwich or cracker. Peanut butter—also known as the perfect companion to chocolate, jelly, bananas, apples, or even just a spoon—is a staple in many meals, snacks, and desserts.

What's more, peanut butter can be quite healthy. It has many vitamins and minerals—including vitamins E and B6, magnesium, iron, and selenium—that can prevent chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Here's what you need to know about peanut butter, the vitamins and minerals found in the delicious treat, and how incorporating it into your meals and snacks can help improve your overall health.

Is Peanut Butter Healthy?

There are health benefits and drawbacks of incorporating more peanut butter into your diet. The safest bet is to eat the tasty treat in moderation.

"All you need to make peanut butter are peanuts," Keri Gans, RD, a certified nutritionist in New York, told Health. That's because peanut butter, in its most basic form, comes from ground peanuts.

Past that, "salt is optional," explained Gans. "Some brands add sugar, molasses, vegetable oils and even corn syrup, [which] basically minimize the health value."

However, if you stick to the basics, you can get all of the nutrition of the peanut without the unnecessary additives. According to the Department of Agriculture, 28 grams of peanuts contains:

  • Calories: 160 calories
  • Protein: 7 grams
  • Fiber: 1.99 grams
  • Sugars: 1 gram
  • Fat: 14 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 5 grams

Peanut butter is a great source of healthy fats and protein, especially for people who stick to a plant-based diet. Also, peanuts do not have many carbohydrates, so the spread is perfect for people who have type 2 diabetes. What's more, peanut butter packs antioxidants that help decrease your risk of several chronic diseases and boost your immune system.

However, on the flip side, peanut butter contains a lot of calories, so it may not be ideal if you're trying to lose weight. Also, unprocessed peanut butter may contain aflatoxins, which is a harmful substance. Aflatoxins come from mold that potentially reaches peanuts when they grow underground.

That does not mean that you need to avoid peanut butter at all costs. But remember to be mindful when purchasing and consuming the delicious treat.

Health Benefits of Peanut Butter

"Peanuts are a great source of protein, fat, niacin, magnesium, vitamin E, biotin, and copper," Laura Iu, RD, a certified nutritionist in New York, told Health. As such a rich source of vitamins and nutrients, peanut butter can help prevent heart disease and type 2 diabetes, among several other health benefits.

Here are a few ways that eating peanut butter can have positive effects on your overall health.

Supports Weight Loss

Peanut butter is a great source of fiber and protein, both of which help satiate your hunger pangs if you have weight loss goals, per the Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library.

"Sometimes peanut butter gets a bad [reputation] because of its fat content, but fat is an essential component to feeling satisfaction," said Iu. "This means that having pretzels or fruit with peanut butter can help you feel fuller longer than if you were to just eat the pretzels or fruit by itself."

Helps Build and Repair Muscles

In one study published in 2019 in the journal Nutrients, researchers found that increased protein intake contributes to muscle strength and preserves muscle mass over the course of a lifetime.

"The protein [found] in peanuts, around eight grams per serving, may help build and repair muscle," explained Gans.

What's more, peanut butter is high in calories and unsaturated fat, so it may be an ideal snack for people who want to gain weight.

Peanut butter also packs magnesium and potassium, which are essential minerals for muscle function and development, per another study published in 2012 in the journal Food and Nutrition Sciences. Particularly, magnesium and potassium help prevent muscle cramps and fatigue. Additionally, potassium plays a key role in muscle recovery.

Additionally, phosphorus helps synthesize protein for the growth, maintenance, and repair of cells and tissues. Peanuts provide about half of your required daily intake of phosphorus.

Reduces Your Risk of Chronic Diseases

"Peanuts are packed with monounsaturated fats," said Gans, "which are [often] associated with a decrease in cholesterol and heart disease."

That's because when those healthy fats replace saturated fatty acids in your diet, they lower your LDL, or "bad," cholesterol levels. But they do not affect HDL, or "good," cholesterol levels, per the National Library of Medicine. One example of those fatty acids that you can find in peanut butter is omega-6.

Additionally, eating healthier fats, like the ones found in peanut butter, can help reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, per the American Diabetes Association.

Oleic acid is another type of fat found in peanut butter that also has positive effects on cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar. For example, oleic acid helps decrease insulin resistance, which lowers your blood sugar.

Healthy fats also keep your blood sugar stable, which reduces your risk of experiencing a mid-day crash in energy. Likewise, peanuts are low in carbohydrates, which also helps stabilize your blood sugar.

Improves Gut Health

"[Peanuts] contain around two grams of fiber per serving, which has been shown to be beneficial for gut health," explained Gans.

That's because dietary fiber boosts your microbiome, which is all of the bacteria that live in your gut. Your microbiome regulates digestive health, boosts immunity, and lessens inflammation, per one study published in 2022 in the journal Cell Host & Microbe.

Further, a healthy microbiome protects against harmful pathogens that you might consume through contaminated water or food and make you sick.

Helps Reduce Your Risk of Cancer

Peanuts pack a lot of antioxidants—including manganese and vitamins E and B. Antioxidants are substances that protect cells from free radical damage.

Free radicals are substances that contribute to chronic diseases and are often a precursor to cancer development, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

"[Peanut butter] contains bioactive compounds like resveratrol, phytosterols, and p-coumaric acid, which can help fight cancer," said Iu.

For example, in one study published in 2014 in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, researchers reported that resveratrol fights off cancer cells by limiting their growth.

Promotes Skin and Hair Health

Peanut butter may have some positive effects on your skin and hair. For example, peanuts pack biotin, which is a B vitamin that promotes healthy hair growth.

Additionally, the vitamin E found in peanuts helps protect your skin from ultraviolet (UV) exposure and damage. Per the National Library of Medicine, UV exposure can decrease your skin's elasticity, leading to premature fine lines and wrinkles; and increase your risk of skin cancer.

The monounsaturated fats and lutein found in peanuts also have positive effects on your skin. Monounsaturated fats give your skin a natural glow, while lutein increases your skin's elasticity.

Supports Bone Health

Peanut butter also packs copper and vitamin K, both of which support bone health.

In one study published in 2022 in the journal Biological Trace Element Research, researchers reported that increased copper intake increases bone mineral density and decreases the risk of developing osteoporosis.

And per the National Library of Medicine, vitamin K produces proteins that aid healthy bone development.

Soothes Symptoms of Premenstrual Syndrome

Additionally, the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in peanut butter aid your body in absorbing vitamin E, which is a fat-soluble vitamin that might help ease symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

In one study published in 2016 in the Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, researchers reported that vitamin E might help reduce the physical symptoms of PMS, like abdominal cramps and tender breasts.

Helps You Sleep

Peanut butter contains tryptophan, an amino acid your body utilizes to make melatonin. Per the National Library of Medicine, melatonin regulates your body's sleep/wake cycle. If you struggle to fall asleep at night, your body might not be making enough melatonin.

The magnesium found in peanut butter also has a calming effect on your body, which may help you fall asleep at night.

Are There Any Risks Associated With Peanut Butter?

Although peanut butter certainly has several health benefits, it is also high in calories and fat and can lead to mineral deficiencies. Specifically, a large amount of phosphorus in peanut butter may inhibit your ability to absorb zinc and iron, per the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

But the most common and serious risks involve peanut allergies. If you have a peanut allergy, your immune system mistakes peanut proteins as harmful invaders.

To attack those invaders, your body releases chemicals into your bloodstream that cause symptoms, such as skin reactions (hives, redness, or swelling), itching, throat constriction, shortness of breath, digestive problems (cramps, diarrhea, or vomiting), and anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening reaction that requires an immediate epinephrine injection and will likely result in a trip to the emergency room.

Allergies aside, Iu warned against less expensive brands that advertise themselves as "no-stir" peanut butter. That's because they often use palm oil to prevent the oils from separating. While palm oil will not hurt you, its production poses a risk to the environment.

"Ninety percent of the world's palm oil comes from burning rainforests, [displaces] indigenous peoples and endangered species, and contributes to greenhouse gases," explained Iu. So, if you don't mind stirring, choose a peanut butter that does not have palm oil. They are better for the environment.

So, if you have a peanut allergy or want to avoid the drawbacks of peanut butter, try some alternatives, like almond or walnut butter. Almond butter has all of the same nutrients, as well as omega-3 fatty acids, as peanut butter. And walnut butter has less overall fat and calories than peanut butter.

What Types of Peanut Butter Do Nutritionists Recommend?

The healthiest kinds of peanut butter will often advertise themselves as the "natural" kind—ones that contain peanuts, maybe salt, and nothing else.

"I suggest to my clients that they look for brands that have no more than peanuts and salt. Plain and simple," said Gans. Past that, though, your taste buds will likely be the deciding factor.

But if you're feeling daring and creative, there's an even more cost-effective and healthy option. Iu recommended making your own.

"All you need is a blender or food processor, peanuts, and a little salt," said Iu. Just be patient for all of those ingredients to come together to make the familiar delicious treat (and try not to break your blender).

How To Eat More Peanut Butter

So, if you want to incorporate more peanut butter into your diet, remember to do so mindfully.

Spread a tablespoon of peanut butter onto a PB & J sandwich for lunch. Or, add a tablespoon of plant-based protein to a smoothie. You can also dip slices of apples or whole grain crackers into peanut butter as a snack.

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