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Is Peanut Butter Good or Bad for Your Health? Nutrition Facts

woman holding peanut butter and chocolate

Peanut butter proponents tell you, 'It’s good for you! Peanuts are legumes!'

Those who are opposed to peanut butter retort, 'But it is so fattening, and it is packed with sugar!'

Hovering in front of the peanut butter jars in the grocery aisle, you may find yourself torn both ways.

'I could sure use more protein in my diet …' you think, 'and peanut butter is so tasty. But … calories! Sugar! I’ll get fat!'

But there has to be a scientific answer, right?

Of course. All we need to do is look at the evidence.

So let’s learn all about peanut butter - how it is made, what it contains, and its health benefits and drawbacks.

At the end of this article, we will be able to conclude once and for all whether peanut butter is good for us or not!

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What is Peanut Butter?

This may sound like a ridiculously basic question - peanut butter is essentially just ground up peanuts, right?

But it is worth taking a moment to discuss what peanut butter is because what you are buying at the store may or may not be the real deal.

At its most basic, peanut butter is nothing more than peanuts (maybe roasted, maybe not) which have been ground up into a smooth, creamy consistency (sometimes with chunks). Sometimes a little salt is added.

That is it! That is what peanut butter is supposed to be.

Now the problem is that a lot of peanut butter labels at the store look more like this:

smucker's peanut butter ingredients

As you can see, roasted peanuts and salt are just two of the ingredients listed here.

Also included in Smucker’s peanut butter are:

  • Molasses
  • Fully hydrogenated vegetable oils (soybean and rapeseed)
  • Mono and diglycerides
  • 4g of sugar per serving

This is not a huge amount of sugar, but it isn’t negligible either.

It may not be a big deal if you just eat a little bit of peanut butter spread on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich now and again, but a lot of peanut butter fans go through a lot of peanut butter fast – so that sugar can add up.

Keep in mind that even peanut butter that is made without added sugar still contains some natural sugar.

But obviously a product without any added is going to be healthier than one that has unnecessary extra sugar.

Then there are those 'mono and diglycerides.' What the heck are those?

Well, since 2006, the FDA has required food manufacturers to list trans fats on their labels, but this does not apply to emulsifiers.

Mono and diglycerides are emulsifiers.

And guess what? They may contain trans fats, and you would never even know it.

Another problem with these emulsifiers is that they are heavily processed using many chemicals.

Some of these chemicals may be present in your peanut butter in trace amounts.

The health effects of these chemicals have not been adequately studied.

What about the “fully hydrogenated vegetable oils?”

That one may sound bad, but it actually is not. Partially hydrogenated oils may contain trans fats, but fully hydrogenated oils do not. They turn into saturated fats.

The dangers of saturated fats have been greatly exaggerated (1, 2).

And what about salt, which is found even in the most innocuous peanut butters?

The dangers of sodium also have been exaggerated.

In fact, studies indicate that cutting back on sodium has no significant effect on curbing cardiovascular disease or mortality resulting from it (3).

KEY POINT: Real peanut butter is a fairly unprocessed food containing peanuts and salt.

But many of the commercial peanut butter products you see for sale are more heavily processed and may contain some unwanted and unnecessary ingredients such as sugar and mono and diglycerides.

Mono and diglycerides are emulsifiers, and may contain unlabeled trans fats.

Carbohydrate and Fat Content in Peanut Butter

So what are you looking at regarding carb and fat consumption with peanut butter?

100g of peanut butter contains the following:

  • 20 grams of carbohydrates accounting for 13% of the calories. Six grams of these carbs are fiber.
  • 50 grams of fat accounting for 72% of the calories.

The remaining 15% of the calories are protein - 25 grams in total.

In all, you would be consuming 588 calories.

So yes - peanut butter does contain an ample amount of fat.

Technically you are not looking at that many carbs compared to a lot of other foods, but it may still come out to a lot if you are on a low-carb diet and are limiting your intake to 50-150 grams per day.

Around half of the fat in peanut butter is monounsaturated while around 20% is saturated. About 30% is polyunsaturated fat.

peanut butter pie chart

Generally speaking, monounsaturated fats are some of the healthier fats you can eat, so this is a fairly well-balanced fat profile.

That being said, polyunsaturated fats are some of the worst, and the polyunsaturated fat content is still a little high for comfort.

I will get back to that in detail in just a bit.

First, though, I want to talk about the other nutrients found in peanut butter.

KEY POINT: Peanut butter does have a high-calorie content including a lot of fat. While the fat profile is not the worst, it is not the best either.

Regarding carbs, peanut butter's content is also neither the best nor worst. On a low-carb diet, you will want to moderate your intake.


Health Benefits of Peanut Butter

Peanut Butter is Nutrient Rich

peanut butter tub with spoon

Peanut butter has a lot of nutritional goodness packed into it! Check out the following nutritional benefits of 100 grams of peanut butter (28):

  • Protein: 25 grams
  • Vitamin E: 45% DV
  • Vitamin B6: 27% DV
  • Folate: 18% DV
  • Niacin: 67% DV
  • Pantothenic acid: 11% DV
  • Riboflavin: 6% DV
  • Phosphorus: 36% DV
  • Magnesium: 39% DV
  • Zinc: 19% DV
  • Potassium: 19% DV
  • Manganese: 73% DV
  • Copper: 24% DV
  • Iron: 10% DV
  • Selenium: 8% DV
  • Calcium: 4% DV

So that is a whopping dose of nutrition! The only downside is of course that you have to eat a lot of calories to get it.

That means that it is not as efficient a choice as a low-calorie veggie like broccoli or spinach. Veggies like these are not calorie dense, but still give you ample nutrition.

KEY POINT: Peanut butter is rich in vitamins, minerals, and protein. When you eat it, you get a significant dose of nutrition - but also calories.

Technically you are still better off from a calorie standpoint getting your nutrition from leafy green veggies, but if you do eat peanut butter, you can be assured that you are taking in a lot of healthy nutrition.

Peanut Butter Can Protect You from Heart Disease

deshelled peanuts shaped as heart

Along with the vitamins and minerals listed above, peanut butter contains antioxidants such as resveratrol.

You may be familiar with resveratrol from red wine. Because of red wine’s resveratrol content, it is often recommended as protection against heart disease (6).

KEY POINT: Peanut butter contains p-coumaric acid, a healthy antioxidant that can protect your heart health.

Peanut Butter Can Help You Metabolize Energy

Peanut butter contains small quantities of an important nutrient called coenzyme Q10 (often called CoQ10 for short).

In fact, peanuts contain the highest amounts of CoQ10 compared to other legumes (30).

CoQ10 plays a key role in energy metabolism (7).

It has other benefits as well. Researchers believe that CoQ10 may help to protect against cardiovascular and neurodegenerative disease (8).

KEY POINTCoQ10 is present in small amounts in peanut butter. This antioxidant has many health benefits for energy metabolism and may protect both the brain and heart from diseases that are common with age.

Peanut Butter May Have Anti-Cancer Properties

Peanut butter contains antioxidants such as p-coumaric acid (29), that is assocaited with a lower risk of stomach cancer (4, 5).

Peanut butter also contains a nutrient called beta-sitosterol.

Research shows us that beta-sitosterol may help to fight cancer (9, 10).

A very promising study was conducted in Taiwan (11). 12,026 men and 11,917 women between the ages of 30 and 65 were recruited in 1990-1992 to take place in a decade-long study on colorectal cancer.

At the end of the 10-year study, the researchers concluded, “Frequent intake of peanut and its products may reduce colorectal cancer risk in women, demonstrating the anti-proliferating effect of peanut intake.”

KEY POINTThere is evidence to suggest that peanut butter may be effective as a preventative agent against cancer, particularly colorectal cancer in women.

Peanut Butter May Protect You From Type II Diabetes

Another large research program called the Nurses’ Health Study looked at 83,818 women from 11 different states between the ages of 34-59.

The results found that eating peanut butter is associated with reduced incidence of type 2 diabetes.

Researchers drew the conclusion, 'Our findings suggest potential benefits of higher nut and peanut butter consumption in lowering risk of type 2 diabetes in women' (12).

Aware of the problems with peanut butter's high-calorie count, the researchers further suggested that peanut butter consumption be used as a replacement for refined grain or red or processed meat product consumption.

KEY POINTAn large study found that peanut butter may provide protection against type 2 diabetes in women.


Peanut Butter Risks

One Potential Problem: Aflatoxins

peanut butter on sliced bread

While peanut butter is nutritious, there are a few drawbacks beyond the high-calorie content.

One potential concern is the presence of aflatoxins.

Aflatoxins are a class of carcinogenic chemicals.

They are produced by molds such as Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus.

These molds are found in soil and decaying vegetation and grains.

They are also found in food staples when they are improperly stored.

As peanuts are legumes, they grow underground, so they are exposed to the soil.

Aspergillus is commonly found in soil, so this is one source of potential contamination by aflatoxins.

If peanuts are improperly stored, this is another way that aflatoxins can contaminate them.

Thankfully human beings seem to have some level of natural resistance to the acute effects of these toxins, but researchers still are not sure how dangerous prolonged exposure can be over time.

Initial research tells us that aflatoxins may be linked to Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), one of the most common cancers in the world (13).

They may also have a connection to liver cancer (14).

Aflatoxins may also have a connection to impaired growth in children (15) and poor school performance (16).

None of this should cause you to panic, however - the aflatoxin content of your peanut butter is almost certainly quite low.

Why? Even though peanut butter is a fairly unprocessed food, it still is processed.

If you are a health-conscious individual, you may cringe at the word 'processed.' But not all processing adds toxins to food. Some forms of processing remove them.

Peanuts are shelled before they are used in peanut butter. They are then roasted, blanched and de-skinned, which is followed up by a grinding process.

A research study (17) analyzed the level of aflatoxins present in peanuts at the start of this process and after each stage of processing.

It was discovered that the different stages each contributed to reducing the aflatoxin content.

  • When the peanuts were roasted, the aflatoxin content dropped by 51%
  • After the peanuts were blanched and de-skinned, the aflatoxin content dropped another 27%.
  • Following grinding, the aflatoxins dropped an additional 11%

This means that the entire process from start to finish dropped the aflatoxin content 89%.

Peanut butter made from raw peanuts contains more aflatoxins than those made from roasted peanuts

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When you are shopping for peanut butter, check the label not just to learn about the ingredients, but also to find out how the peanut butter was made.

Peanut butter made out of raw peanuts probably will contain significantly more aflatoxins than peanut butter made out of roasted peanuts.

So you should always shop for peanut butter which includes roasted, not raw, peanuts.

You can also do some additional research on the farm if you want to learn how the peanuts are grown and stored.

KEY POINTLike any food grown underground, peanuts may have been exposed to an unhealthy compound called 'Aflatoxins.'

Human beings appear to have some resistance to short-term effects, but long-term exposure to aflatoxins is associated with growth impairment and the development of certain cancers.

Thankfully around 89% of aflatoxin content is purged during the manufacturing process into peanut butter. For this reason, you do not need to be particularly concerned. Processed peanut butter made from roasted peanuts is less likely to expose you to aflatoxins than a handful of raw peanuts.

Another Potential Drawback: Omega-6 Fatty Acids and Lectins

omega 6 oil isolated on white

Previously I discussed the fat profile of peanut butter a bit, mentioning that about 50% of the fat is monounsaturated and around 20% is saturated.

The remaining 30% is polyunsaturated fat.

But what I did not discuss is that this 30% consists largely of an omega-6 fatty acid called linoleic acid.

Additionally, peanut butter contains another compound known as Peanut Agglutinin. This compound is a lectin, which is a type of protein that can bind carbohydrates.

Lectins are very common, but it is believed that in high amounts, they may be linked to heart disease.

Nonetheless, it seems that peanut butter is unlikely to pose any serious health concerns - and may actually improve cardiovascular health.

Researchers studying the effects of peanut butter on heart health have found that a diet rich in peanut butter may reduce overall cholesterol by 11% while dropping LDL cholesterol by 14% (18).

Additionally, eating peanut butter may drop your triglyceride levels (19).

Are there any studies which indicate that peanut butter may be dangerous for heart health?

There have been animal studies (20) which suggest that peanut oil might stimulate a condition called atherosclerosis, the thickening of the arteries.

Atherosclerosis increases your chance of getting a heart attack.

But the peanut content of the oil may not even be what was responsible for the thickening of the arteries. These studies looked at diets that were extremely high in cholesterol.

And actually, animal studies which have looked at peanut oil’s impact without the high levels of cholesterol have found that peanut oil could even reduce atherosclerosis (21, 22, 23).

Still, the omega-6 fatty acids in peanut butter are bad news. These fatty acids increase inflammation and may also increase your chances of developing heart disease (24, 25, 26).

How much of an issue this is depends in part on the rest of your diet.

If you already eat a lot of omega-6 fatty acids and not a lot of omega-3 fatty acids (which can decrease inflammation), adding more omega-6 fatty acids to your diet is probably not wise.

But if you have a diet which is generally balanced in this respect or which is high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in omega-6 fatty acids, eating more peanut butter probably will not lead to major increases in body-wide inflammation.

KEY POINT: Peanut butter contains high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids and lectins, both of which may be bad for heart health.

Studies at this point indicate however that peanut butter may actually decrease your overall risk of heart disease. Just make sure it is part of a balanced diet.

One More Word of Caution: Peanut Allergies Can Be Deadly

For the vast majority of people, eating peanuts and peanut-based products such as peanut butter is completely safe.

But for a small minority, a type I hypersensitivity of the immune system may result in an allergy to peanuts.

woman rejecting peanuts

An allergy to peanuts is the second most common food allergy in children (27).

Peanut allergy is less likely in adulthood, but still fairly common. While about 1 in 50 children are allergic to peanuts, around 1 in 200 adults are allergic.

The same reference above indicates that of all food allergens, peanuts are most likely to cause anaphylaxis and even death.

While these reactions are most likely to result from ingesting peanuts, for some people skin contact or inhalation of peanut particles is enough.

For this reason, if you have a suspected peanut allergy, you should not eat peanut butter or any other peanut-based products at all.

KEY POINT: While peanut butter is entirely safe for most people, peanut allergies are common and deadly. If you are or suspect you are allergic to peanuts, you should not be eating peanut butter.

Conclusion: Peanut Butter is a Relatively Healthy Food - in Moderation

Peanut butter has its pros and cons, but all in all it is a relatively healthy food. Just make sure you do not go overboard with it.

To review, here are peanut butter’s health benefits:

  • Peanut butter is high in protein as well as other vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E, vitamin B6, magnesium, manganese, and zinc.
  • The CoQ10 in peanut butter may help you to metabolize energy while also providing heart and brain benefits.
  • The P-coumaric acid in peanut butter may reduce your risk of cancer.
  • Peanut butter contains resveratrol, the same compound found in red wine which protects heart health.
  • The Beta-sitosterol in peanut butter may also help prevent cancer.

And here are peanut butter’s downsides:

  • The lectins and omega-6 fatty acids in peanut butter are bad for heart health - but they do not appear to outweigh the benefits above.
  • Peanut butter may contain aflatoxins. Foods grown underground or stored improperly are frequently exposed to these carcinogens. Thankfully most aflatoxins are removed from peanut butter through processing.

As you can see, the benefits of peanut butter for health largely outweigh the drawbacks.

But to enjoy the health benefits of peanut butter while mitigating the drawbacks, you need to make sure you are following a few best practices.

Read the action tips below to make sure you are eating peanut butter as part of a balanced diet.

Stay Away from Peanut Butter with a Lot of Artificial and Added Ingredients

When you are shopping for peanut butter, always turn over the bottle and take a look at the ingredients listed.

The very best peanut butter products will contain only two ingredients: peanut butter and salt.

You will see sugars listed in the nutritional facts. There are natural sugars in peanut butter.

Stay away from products which list added sugar under the ingredients.

Always Shop for Peanut Butter Made from Roasted Peanuts

You may be tempted by the 'raw foods' trend to purchase peanut butter made with minimal processing, but this is not the best way to avoid aflatoxins.

Fully processed peanut butter contains around 89% fewer aflatoxins than raw peanuts.

From a purification standpoint, the most important step in that process is roasting, which removes around 51% of the aflatoxins.

If you buy peanut butter made from raw peanuts, you may be exposing yourself to more carcinogenic Aflatoxins.

If You Add More Peanut Butter to Your Diet, Reduce Your Calorie Intake Elsewhere in Your Diet to Compensate

If you are concerned about not losing weight by eating too much peanut butter, look for ways to compensate in other areas of your diet.

Obviously, your first step is to make sure you only eat the peanut butter in moderate amounts, but if you still are concerned, you should reduce meats or refined grains to make up for it.

I suggest cutting back on the refined grains. Meat is nutritious and keeps you full, but the refined grains are empty carbs.

I also recommend that you go on a low-carb diet and simply eat until you are full. This is ultimately more effective than counting calories.

Cut Back on Omega-6 Fatty Acids and Add More Omega-3 Fatty Acids to Your Diet

Since peanut butter is high in omega-6 fatty acids, you should cut back on them in other areas of your diet when you start eating more peanut butter.

Foods high in omega-6 fatty acids include:

  • Safflower, grapeseed and other types of vegetable oil
  • Mayonnaise
  • Fried foods
  • Processed snack foods

Meanwhile, you should increase your intake of foods which are high in omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Seafood such as halibut, mackerel, herring, salmon and oysters
  • Dairy products which have been fortified with omega-3
  • Eggs fortified with omega-3
  • Flaxseed
  • Oats
  • Walnuts

This will ensure that your diet remains an anti-inflammatory one.

So is peanut butter good for you?

Yes, if you eat it in moderation and balance out the rest of your diet accordingly. The exception is if you have a peanut allergy, and in that case, its bad for you.

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1 Comment on "Is Peanut Butter Good or Bad for Your Health? Nutrition Facts"

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Sarah
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Great article on peanut butter. So much great info!

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