Whether you loved getting peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in your lunchbox, or slathering PB on top of celery sticks for an after-school snack, you probably had your first encounter with peanut butter as a kid (after all, the average American kid eats 1,500 PB&J sandwiches before graduating high school!) But does good ol’ PB still score a spot in a healthy adult diet?
I tapped our nutritionist, Brierley Horton, MS, RD, to find out how healthy peanut butter is, and whether or not we should be eating the creamy spread on a regular basis.
Eating healthy should still be delicious.
How Healthy Is Peanut Butter?
Peanut butter, when made naturally, is just peanuts that are roasted and pureed into a spread. However, many commercial PBs in the store have added sugar and oils. You can tell if you’re buying natural peanut butter because the ingredients label will only list peanuts, and maybe a little bit of salt.
Brierley Horton, MS, RD says, “Peanut butter is a healthy and delicious choice to bulk up a snack or a sandwich, but it’s also one of those foods where you want to read the ingredient list. Some peanut butters can be a sneaky source of added sugars and sodium.”
To find the healthiest store-bought peanut butter, Horton says, look for one with the least amount of sugar and salt added—but make sure it’s one you still like! Horton says, “Some people love straight-up ground peanuts, but others need a little sugar or salt added and that’s OK.”
Peanut Butter Nutrition
According to the USDA, each two-tablespoon serving of creamy peanut butter has:
As you can tell from these nutrition facts, peanut butter has quite a bit of fat. However, most of the fat in peanut butter comes from monounsaturated fat (the same kind of “good” fat that’s found in olive oil.) It’s important, however, to keep portion sizes in check because there’s also a bit of saturated fat, which may contribute to cardiovascular disease if eaten in large quantities.
Horton says, “Peanut butter mostly gets recognized for the fat, protein, and fiber content. While it gets a great grade for how it ranks in those departments, you should also know that peanut butter delivers other key nutrients like potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, vitamin E, and folate.”
So even though PB has quite a bit of fat, Horton gives it a thumbs up for snacking on in moderation. She also notes that peanut butter also has quite a bit of plant-based protein, making it a good option for vegetarians and vegans.
Peanut Butter and Health
Peanut butter and diabetes
Peanut butter has some pretty interesting health benefits. The spread is high in oleic acid (a healthy fat also present in olive oil), which has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity in people with diabetes. Additionally, one observational study showed that women who ate a serving of peanut butter five times a week had a 21 percent lower chance of developing type 2 diabetes.
Peanut butter and weight loss
PB might not be the first snack you think of if you’re trying to lose weight, but it could be helpful: one 2009 study showed that women who ate nuts regularly over 8 years gained less weight and were less obese than their counterparts who rarely or never ate nuts or nut butters.
However, it’s worth noting that eating peanut butter for weight loss largely depends on the application. For example, a tablespoon or two of peanut butter smeared on apple slices is obviously going to be healthier than a chocolate-covered peanut butter cup.
Horton says, “The great thing about peanut butter is that it can be incredibly filling—thanks to its fat, protein, and fiber content—and a little goes a long way, so it’s actually a great food to incorporate into your diet if you’re trying to lose weight. Just be mindful of how much of it you’re eating because the calories can add up quickly if you’re the type to dip a spoon straight into the jar.”
Peanut butter allergies
It’s also worth mentioning that peanuts are one of the eight major allergens. According to Food Allergy Research & Education, peanut allergies have more than tripled since 1997 and they can be life-threatening to kids and adults who smell, breathe, touch, or eat the legume. If you think you might be allergic, but you’re not sure, ask your doctor to test you.
Related: Immunotherapy May Not Work So Well for Peanut Allergies After All
The Bottom Line
Peanut butter can be a totally healthy option—especially if you choose a brand that’s lower in sugar, sodium, and oil; watch your portion sizes; and use it in healthy foods and recipes (read: don't just eat peanut butter cups).
The trick to enjoying healthy peanut butter is finding the perfect one for you! Branch out from that store brand and try making your own PB at home, or grinding your own natural nut butter at Whole Foods. And don’t feel like you have to limit yourself to peanuts—almonds, hazelnuts, and sunflowers make absolutely delicious butters, too.
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