Once a lunchbox staple, peanut butter has gotten quite a bad reputation over the last few years, prompting the glorification of lots of other nut-butter options. And though we love cashew butter for its super velvety texture and almond butter for the extra nutty flavor, we’re wondering if we can still make space for the once-beloved (ahem—still beloved) spread in our pantry. Or, is there some fact to the idea that peanut butter doesn’t have a place on our sandwiches anymore? So, we asked experts: Is peanut butter healthy?
Whole30 and Paleo diets bundle peanuts into the legume family alongside peas, beans, and lentils, because peanuts are legumes botanically and not a tree nut. These diets recommend cutting out legumes but allow for tree nuts to be enjoyed during meal and snack times. Because of this popular diet framework, shoppers might leave peanut butter behind to opt for tree-nut butter like almond, cashew, and hazelnut instead.
“Those diets are fads, plain and simple,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N., founder of Nutrition Starring YOU and author of The Everything Easy Pre-Diabetes Cookbook. “To me, any diet that cuts out whole food groups is a fad.” She notes, short of a peanut allergy or intolerance, there’s no real reason to remove entire food groups like legumes from your diet. Any controversy over peanut butter is likely due to a lot of misinformation about the classic spread, adds Wesley Delbridge, R.D.N, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Peanut butter nutrition information
According to the USDA, two tablespoons of smooth peanut butter with salt contains approximately:
- Calories: 204
- Total fat: 16 g
- Sodium: 137 mg
- Total carbohydrates: 7 g
- Fiber: 2 g
- Sugar: 3 g
- Protein: 7 g
Compared to other nut butter varieties, peanut butter has a slightly different micronutrient profile, but is generally similar in nutritional value, says Jessica Zinn, M.S., R.D., C.D.N. Depending on the specific brand you pick up, peanut butter may be slightly more nutritious compared to other nut varieties with a touch more protein, vitamins, and minerals, Harris-Pincus adds.
Be sure to check the ingredient list of the container you’re buying, Delbridge notes. If you’re looking to watch your sugar or sodium intake, you may want to consider purchasing a natural peanut butter made from just roasted peanuts. This will usually appear with a layer of oil at the top you need to mix in because natural options don’t include an emulsifier to keep everything together.
He suggests using half-natural and half of your favorite sweetened peanut butter at first to help acclimate your palate to the less sweet flavor of natural peanut butter. And if you really prefer the sweetness of classic peanut butter, he says that’s totally okay as long as you consider the sugar and calories in your overall daily goals.
Peanut butter health benefits
Peanut butter has a lot of benefits to boast about. It’s healthy, has good fats, packs in fiber, is shelf-stable, can be easily transported, contains a lot of protein, is versatile in recipes, has a long expiration date, and kids love it, Delbridge says.
And if the high-fat content concerns you, Zinn assures that it actually works in your favor. “The high-fat content promotes satiety and satisfaction with meals,” she says. This also makes them great for someone trying to lose weight, because the fat and protein content allows for satisfaction after a meal, Zinn adds.
Peanut butter is also helpful because it can fit into many different diets. Zinn says that those who keep an eye on their blood sugar can benefit from peanut butter because it’s low in carbohydrates and has a low glycemic index, so it has a very small effect on blood sugar. “This can be a great addition to a snack or meal that will promote blood sugar balance,” she notes.
Additionally, peanut butter is far cheaper than its competitors. “People have this halo around almond butter instead of peanut butter, but it’s far more expensive and we get elitist about our food,” Harris-Pincus says. But, of course, there are benefits to a wide variety of foods in your diet. If your taste preferences and budget allow, feel free to mix and match with all different kinds of nut butter, she notes.
If that’s not enough, peanuts are also far more sustainable than many other nuts, Harris-Pincus says. They grow with far less water (just under five gallons of water per ounce of peanuts compared to 80 gallons of water per ounce of almonds) and have the smallest carbon footprint in comparison, she adds.
The potential risk of peanut butter
The main reason peanuts and other legumes are cut from many popularized diets is that legumes contain lectins, proteins that bind with carbohydrates and are present in most plants, Delbridge explains. Popular media and fad diets have associated lectins with obesity, chronic inflammation, and autoimmune diseases, according to Harvard School of Public Health.
These lectins are designed to protect the legume and have received the reputation of being the “anti-nutrient” because they prevent some vitamins from being absorbed and occasionally cause stomach discomfort, he says. Additionally, peanuts may contain phytates, which can bind to some minerals like zinc and iron and may impair absorption, Zinn adds.
But Delbridge says it’s not necessarily something to be concerned about. This really only applies when someone consumes very large amounts of legumes, which far surpasses the recommended serving size (two tablespoons for peanut butter).
“Peanut butter’s recommended portion size is so small, it’s not going to affect your digestion or absorption of nutrients in any significant way,” Delbridge says. But, of course, if you find that legumes are giving you some stomach upset, you can make the personal decision to avoid them, he notes.
How much peanut butter should you be eating?
“Since peanut butter is rich in calories and fat, although they are heart-healthy fats, consuming it in excess can lead to weight gain,” Zinn warns.
Again, the recommended serving size for a meal or a snack of peanut butter is about two tablespoons, and this can be overdone very easily. Zinn suggests using a measuring spoon or food scale to ensure you’re getting the correct amount.
“I am a firm believer there is no such thing as a bad food in a healthy diet, there are just unhealthy portions,” Delbridge says. He adds that as long as you’re considering the food you’re eating throughout the day with the goal of balance, peanut butter is totally healthy to consume every day. Try some of our expert-approved peanut butter options.
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