Is peanut butter good for you?

Your heart, blood sugar and brain will likely benefit from a healthy diet that includes peanut butter, assuming you eat this highly-caloric food in moderation.
is peanut butter good for you?

Is peanut butter good for you? Many peanut butter brands are highly processed with added sugars, added salt and processed or hydrogenated oils. Peanut butter also tends to be high in calories and fat — albeit healthy fats — which may lead, if consumed in excess, to unwanted weight gain and an increased risk of developing diabetes. Knowing this, you might wonder, “Should I still include peanut butter in my daily diet?” Our answer is yes, because despite the processed aspect of most brands, peanut butter is high in nutritional value and offers health benefits that include better blood glucose management, improved cholesterol levels, increased protection against heart disease, possible neuroprotective effects and improved weight management.

Sticking to the recommended portion size, two tablespoons of peanut butter, can help you reap the potential health benefits without risking the less-desired consequences of weight gain or excess fat and sodium consumption. You can also circumvent less-healthy peanut butter brands by choosing natural peanut butter or healthy peanut butter alternatives. 

What’s in peanut butter?

Peanut butter has been touted for its high nutritional value — especially its fats and protein content. Two tablespoons of peanut butter (creamy), which is equivalent to one serving of peanut butter, contains about 202 calories, 7.6 grams of protein, 15.8 grams of fat (healthy fats comprise over 80% of the total fats content) and 2 grams of fiber. One serving of peanut butter, alone, provides 20% of the daily recommended fats intake and 14% of the daily recommended protein intake. 

It’s clear that peanut butter is a great source of essential macronutrients, but that’s not all. Peanut butter is also rich in essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and amino acids. Peanut butter contains key vitamins including vitamin B3 (Niacin), vitamin B6, vitamin E, vitamin K, and minerals such as magnesium, copper and manganese. Some of these vitamins and minerals are powerful antioxidants as well, including two notable antioxidants: coumaric acid and resveratrol (a powerful antioxidant also found in red wine) that provide protective effects against heart disease and cancer. 

The flip side of peanut butter ingredients

While peanut butter is healthier than most foods, certain peanut butter ingredients can reduce the overall health profile of this food product. Conventional peanut butter brands tend to add extra sugar and extra salt to enhance the flavor of the product. These processed food additions can cause blood sugar spikes or cardiovascular health conditions — including high blood pressure, heart disease or stroke — which could be dangerous or fatal for individuals with diabetes. These peanut butter brands are also known to use hydrogenated or processed vegetable oil to help stabilize the peanut butter. Vegetable oil can pose a cardiovascular health risk, causing heart attacks, when the unsaturated fats in these oils are heated and subsequently oxidized. Yet, most peanut butter brands still throw in added salt and sugar and use hydrogenated vegetable oils.

Take one of the most popular peanut butter brands on the market, for example: Skippy’s. One serving of Skippy’s creamy peanut butter (two tablespoons) contains 150 mg of sodium (7% of the daily recommended value) and 3 grams of total sugar, of which two grams are added sugars. In its list of ingredients, Skippy’s lists the use of three different kinds of hydrogenated vegetable oils (cottonseed, soybean and rapeseed) to help prevent the separation of the peanut butter. Fortunately, you can circumvent this dilemma by choosing more natural peanut butter options. 

Peanut butter and diabetes

What’s the relationship between peanut butter and blood sugar? For individuals with diabetes, introducing peanut butter into a daily diet may help to improve blood glucose management. For starters, peanut butter scores low on the Glycemic Index (GI). Its GI value is 13, which means that peanut butter will not cause dramatic blood sugar spikes. The healthy fats and protein found in peanut butter consist of more complex molecules and thus, take longer for your body to digest, resulting in a more moderate rise in blood sugar levels. When you consume peanut butter with foods that are higher in carbohydrates, your blood sugar levels are slower to rise because it takes longer for your body to digest the peanut butter. This may also aid in weight loss and weight management because peanut butter has the potential to satiate your hunger for longer (your body doesn’t digest it as quickly), keeping you from snacking or eating more than you need. Paired with exercise, overall caloric restriction can lead to weight loss, which in turn can reduce the risk of diabetes or help to better manage diabetic conditions. 

In addition, the healthy fats found in peanut butter can help to improve your blood glucose management by increasing your body’s insulin sensitivity. Two notable types of healthy fats found in peanut butter, omega-6 fatty acids and oleic acid, have been associated with protection against (or reduction of) insulin resistance. With greater insulin sensitivity, your body can use insulin more efficiently and effectively to manage your blood glucose levels. Magnesium, an essential mineral found in peanut butter, may also offer protection against type 2 diabetes (T2D). Research has linked low dietary magnesium intake to the development of T2D and metabolic syndrome. In one serving alone (two tablespoons), peanut butter offers 14% of the daily recommended magnesium intake (57.3 mg). 

Other potential health benefits of peanut butter

Better cholesterol levels

The healthy fats found in peanut butter may contribute to greater metabolic health by lowering cholesterol levels. Oleic acid, an omega-9 fatty acid found in some cooking oils including olive oil and some sunflower oils, may help to lower “bad” cholesterol (LDL-C) and raise “good” cholesterol (HDL-C). Omega-6 fatty acids, found commonly in vegetable oils, also lower LDL-C while raising HDL-C.

However, some scientists believe that omega-6 fats should be consumed in a more proportionate ratio with omega-3 fats to avoid onset conditions which could include inflammation potentially associated with cancer and cardiovascular diseases. One serving of peanut butter contains about 3,931 mg of omega-6 fats and 12 mg of omega-3 fats: a disproportionate ratio. However, the American Heart Association stands by its own research review, which concludes that omega-6 fats are not only safe, but they are also beneficial for the heart and circulation; and that eating more omega-6 fats either reduces markers of inflammation or leaves them unchanged. Furthermore, many scientists believe that the final concentrations of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in your blood are determined not just by dietary intake, but also by endogenous metabolism — which varies greatly among individuals, and to degrees that scientists are just beginning to try to understand. 

Should an individual be concerned about excessive omega-6 intake, some peanut butter brands fortify their products with additional omega-3s to help balance the omega-6/omega-3 fats ratio. 

Reduced risk of heart disease

Peanut butter may be a healthy addition to your daily diet for improved overall heart health. Research links higher nut consumption (of walnuts and peanuts) to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease. Oleic acid, in addition to its potential cholesterol-lowering effects, may help you maintain healthy blood pressure levels and reduce your risk of heart disease. In addition, arginine, an essential amino acid found in peanut butter, may offer cardiovascular protection by promoting blood vessel functioning and improving blood circulation. Powerful antioxidants in peanut butter, including coumaric acid and resveratrol, help to reduce oxidative stress in the body and promote cardiac function.

Protection against cognitive decline

Studies have linked higher intakes of niacin, also known as vitamin B3, to greater protective effects against cognitive decline (memory loss, dementia or Alzheimer’s). Peanut butter is one of the best dietary sources of niacin and other important B vitamins

Healthy peanut butter alternatives

These peanut butter substitutes are worth trying since they offer a nutty taste and a creamy texture. They’re also great for those with peanut allergens. Here are five peanut butter alternatives you might want to try.

Almond butter

Almond butter is a popular peanut butter substitute because it offers a similar paste-like consistency. The main and obvious difference is that it’s made with almonds, which gives it a more nutty taste. In terms of nutritional value, almond butter contains a bit more calories and fat, and less protein than peanut butter, but it also has more fiber, more calcium and more potassium. 

Cashew butter

Among nut butter lovers, cashew butter is a fan favorite. Cashew butter tends to be more creamy than peanut butter and it has a sweet, nutty aroma. It’s great on toast, in smoothies, as a drizzle and even in your favorite baking recipes. Compared to peanut butter, cashew butter has similar calorie and fat contents, but it has a bit more carbs, less protein and less fiber. Overall, it’s still a great nut butter substitute for peanut butter.

Walnut butter

Like other nut butters, walnut butter is creamy with a nutty, earthy taste — but its distinct flavor profile features a bitter aftertaste. Food connoisseurs recommend pairing walnut butter with sweeter flavors such as honey, chocolate or cinnamon to counteract the bitterness of the walnut flavor. In terms of its nutritional content, walnut butter tends to have fewer calories, less fat and more calcium than peanut butter. On the flip side, it tends to have more carbs and sugar, and less protein and fiber than peanut butter. 

Tahini

Though not exactly a peanut butter substitute, tahini is a fine alternative in situations that call for peanut butter. Tahini is made from ground (and occasionally roasted) sesame seeds, which gives the spread a robust, nutty flavor. Unlike most nut butters, tahini does not have a sweet taste, but it delivers a strong flavor that can spruce up any dish you add it to. Spread it on toast, use it as a drizzle or a make it into a dressing or a dip. Compared to peanut butter, tahini has fewer carbs, more protein, more fiber, as well as more iron and calcium. However, in terms of calories and fat, tahini does contain more of each. 

Hummus

Paired well with pita chips, carrots, bell peppers and thinly-sliced celery, hummus is a fiber-packed alternative to use in place of peanut butter. Made from a combination of ground garbanzo beans (chickpeas), olive oil, tahini, citrus, garlic and salt and pepper, hummus packs a powerful punch of nutty, umami flavor. Two tablespoons of hummus offer 78 calories, 2.5 grams of protein, 6 grams of carbs, 5.3 grams of fat and 1.8 grams of fiber. Compared to peanut butter, hummus does have less protein, but it contains a similar amount of fiber for fewer calories, less fat and fewer carbs. 

Key takeaways

Is peanut butter good for you? Overall, peanut butter is a healthy food product to include in your diet, if consumed in moderation. Whether you choose healthier peanut butter options or stick with conventional peanut butter brands, you can still reap the health benefits of this popular food product by sticking to the recommended portion sizes. In one serving alone, which is equivalent to two tablespoons, peanut butter contains a good amount of healthy fats, protein, essential vitamins and minerals and powerful antioxidants. The healthy fats found in peanut butter offer cardiometabolic health benefits — including lower cholesterol, reduced risk of heart disease and better blood glucose management. Magnesium, a rich and essential mineral found in peanut butter, also contributes to blood glucose management by increasing insulin sensitivity. Potential brain-health benefits are an added bonus.

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