Peanut butter has protein, carbs, and fat—but are these macronutrients in keto-friendly ratios?

By Claire Gillespie
Updated January 28, 2020

If you're on the keto diet, you're probably always wondering if a specific food contains the right ratio of macronutrients to meet keto's high-fat, low-carb guidelines. Breads and cereals are easy to figure out, since most are too carb-heavy to keep your body in that fat-burning state of ketosis, which is the goal of the keto diet. Meat, on the other hand, is typically OK because of its protein and fat levels. But what about peanut butter, which contains protein, carbs, and fat? Is peanut butter keto?

“Technically, peanuts are a legume, which are typically eliminated on a keto diet,” Naomi Whittel, Gainesville, Florida-based author of High Fiber Keto, tells Health. But peanuts are higher in fat than other beans, which gives them the green light for keto. “Peanuts are more nutritionally similar to nuts, such as almonds, in that they are high in fat and low in carbs,” Whittel says. 

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But that doesn’t mean you can eat as much PB as you like. If you’re limiting your daily carb intake to 50 grams of net carbs, Whittel says two tablespoons of peanut butter per day will fit nicely into your plan. “Two tablespoons of natural, high-quality peanut butter contains about 185 calories, 16 grams of fat, 8 grams of protein, and 7 grams of total carbs.”

While Health’s contributing nutrition editor Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, does not recommend the keto diet at all (“Please remember that just because a diet is popular or effective for weight loss doesn't mean it's healthy or sustainable,” she warns), Sass says peanut butter can fit into the diet if you get the math right. 

‘A keto diet is typically restricted to 5% carbs,” Sass tells Health. “So if you eat 1600 calories a day, that's a maximum of 20 grams of carbs per day. If a two-tablespoon portion of unsweetened peanut butter provides 6 grams of carbs with 2 grams of that as fiber, that leave 4 net grams of carbs. So in that portion you've 'spent' 20% of your carb allowance, not including any veggies.” 

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To keep your keto diet varied, Whittel recommends choosing another nut butter on the other days, such as almond butter, cashew butter, or macadamia nut butter. Another benefit of rotating your nut butters is that different nuts contain different vitamins and minerals. Cashews are high in iron and magnesium, almonds are high in calcium, and macadamia nuts are a good source of vitamin A, riboflavin, and niacin. 

When it comes to incorporating peanut butter into your diet, the options go way beyond eating it straight out of the jar (although that’s a perfectly acceptable quick snack option). Whittel suggests eating peanut butter on celery for a snack, adding it to a smoothie, or using it in a keto dressing or sauce—such as in a Pad Thai dish (made with zucchini noodles instead of rice noodles to meet those keto rules).

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For the healthiest PB option, don’t just grab the first one you see on the supermarket shelf. “Most peanut butter that is commercially available has sugar and vegetable oils added to it,” warns Sass. By reading labels carefully, you can avoid processed versions. Whittel advises going with a peanut butter that only contains peanuts and salt. “This will be the natural kind that needs to be stirred when it becomes separated,” explains Whittel. 

You should also give "low fat" or "reduced fat" peanut butters brands a swerve – for the obvious reason that keto is not a low fat plan, but also because reduced fat foods often have added sugar. 

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