Peanut butter is one of those controversial foods many people in the health industry have very different opinions on.
Many factors come into play when assessing the health benefits vs potential down side of this commonly consumed food item.
While the right types of peanut butter can be part of a healthy diet for most people, the wrong type is awful and can be very harmful.
Some folks also have food allergies or sensitivities to the stuff so for that portion of the population, it's obviously a no-go.
But, if you feel fine after eating peanut butter, love the stuff, and are wondering if you should cut it out of your diet for health reasons or possibly minimize consumption, then keep reading because I will outline in this article what you need to know to enjoy the creamy deliciousness of peanut butter without negatively impacting your health.
What is Peanut Butter?
Peanut butter is simply peanuts (often roasted) that have been ground up into a paste type consistency.
Despite common misconceptions, peanuts are actually not a nut, they are technically a legume. Americans consume FAR more peanuts than any other type of nut, with approximately 67% of all nut consumption being peanuts. (1)
In its natural and minimally processed form, peanut butter only consists of peanuts and possibly sea salt.
Sadly, the vast majority of peanut butters sold and consumed in the U.S have added sugar and hydrogenated vegetable oils (trans fats)
Why Peanut Butter is Bad for you
It’s likely you have heard at one point or another that you should stop eating peanut butter.
Many “health experts” have taking a strong stance against it, and it seems only reasonable to follow suit considering they have more education on the matter than you might.
Well, as with any food, it’s important to consider the quality before jumping to conclusions.
Let's discuss some of the downsides to peanut butter and the reasons many people caution against it.
The Vast Majority of the Peanut Butter People are Consuming is Awful!
Unfortunately, over 99% of the peanut butter Americans consume is a toxic, adulterated version of natural peanut butter.
Commercial food conglomerates have been selling peanut butter that contains added refined sugars and hydrogenated vegetable oils.
Over consumption of added sugars has been linked to weight gain and increased risk of diabetes, among many other health issues. (2)
I strongly believe eating vegetable oils, especially hydrogenated vegetable oils (trans fats), can very well be one of the most harmful foods to your health. Possibly even worse than sugar!
Many studies have clearly demonstrated many negative health effects of these trans fats, including an increased risk for cardiovascular disease.(3)
As though that's not bad enough, many of these peanuts used in conventional peanut butter are sprayed with pesticide chemicals which can cause serious harm to your health.(4)
2. Type of Peanuts and Toxic Mold Potential
In addition to these toxic additives, most commercial peanut butters are using cheap varieties of peanuts.
The most commonly cultivated peanut varieties are grown underground, or low to the ground in a moist environment. These growing conditions cause the peanuts to be very prone to mold, specifically a type of mold called Aspergillus.
This mold has been shown to have aflatoxins, which are very harmful to the body and can result in numerous health problems.(5)
Multiple studies have found links between aflatoxins and negative health consequences. One study in particular found that exposure to aflatoxins increases your chances of liver cancer.(6)
Experts believe that these mold toxins may be one of the major reasons why peanut allergies and immune system dysfunction are so prevalent and increasing in our children.
Although, there is a bright side because there are varieties of peanuts that grow higher up from the ground and are much less likely to contain these mold toxins.
The process of making peanut butter (roasting, blanching/de-skinning, and grinding the peanuts) has been shown to eliminate 89% of the aflatoxins.(7)
3. High in Omega-6 fatty acids
Americans in general consume far too many omega-6 fats, and not nearly enough omega-3 fats.
It’s not that omega-6 fats are all bad, or omega-3’s are better.
The key to optimizing your omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is balance.
Most experts believe that an ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is somewhere around 4:1 or less, with some folks stating that a ratio of 2:1 or even 1:1 would be ideal.
The standard American eats a ratio between 12:1 to 25:1! Clearly people are over consuming omega-6 fats while skipping out on their omega 3’s!
Multiple studies have demonstrated this imbalance in omega-6 to omega-3 ratios and explained the potential problems associated with it.(8)
A study conducted in March of 2016 found a direct link between this fatty acid ratio and obesity, concluding: “Obesity is a preventable disease that can be treated through proper diet and exercise. A balanced omega-6/omega-3 ratio 1–2/1 is one of the most important dietary factors in the prevention of obesity, along with physical activity. A lower omega-6/omega-3 ratio should be considered in the management of obesity.”(9)
One potential problem with peanut butter is that it is high in omega-6 fats. This can be problematic for folks who are consuming large amounts of it, combined with the lack of sufficient omega-3 intake.
"I strongly believe eating vegetable oils, especially hydrogenated vegetable oils (trans fats), can very well be one of the most harmful foods to your health. Possibly even worse than sugar!"
Health Benefits of Peanut Butter
Peanuts are a Good Source of Many Essential Vitamins and Minerals
50 grams of Peanut Butter (about 3 TBSP) contains a solid amount of many essential nutrients including:
- Vitamin E: 22.5% of the RDA
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin): 33.5% of the RDA
- Vitamin B6: 13.5% of the RDA
- Folate: 9% of the RDA
- Magnesium: 19.5% of the RDA
- Manganese: 36% of the RDA
Peanuts also contain many other vitamins, minerals, and trace minerals that are not listed above, all of which are beneficial to your body.
It Contains Antioxidants Shown to Reduce Your Risk of Certain Diseases.
In addition to essential vitamins and minerals, peanuts contain resveratrol which has been shown to reduce your risk for certain types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and overall slow down the aging process. (11)
This may be one of the many reasons studies have demonstrated peanut consumption to be associated in reducing in reducing your risk for cardiovascular disease. (12)
Peanuts are also a great source of p-coumaric acid, an antioxidant that has shown health benefits in animal studies and experts believe to be very beneficial to our health.
2. Peanut Butter is low-glycemic
It’s no secret that I believe keeping your blood sugar stable throughout the day is one of the most important factors for good health and having a high quality of life.
This glycemic variability is one of the many reasons we here at Living Phit recommend a dietary approach that entails a (low, strategic consumption of starches and sugars)
Luckily for all you peanut butter lovers, peanut butter has a low-glycemic index of 14.
In other words, it will provide stable blood sugar and insulin levels which will enable you to keep your energy and productivity levels high, while helping with weight loss.
3. Good Source of Plant-Based Protein
100 grams of peanut butter provides you with 25 grams of protein and also contains all 9 essential amino acids.
Since peanuts are a legume, they do not contain large enough amounts of certain amino acids such as methionine, so it is important to intake high-quality animal protein to optimize your amino acid consumption.
4. Rich in Healthy Fats
The right types of fats are critical for virtually every function in our body, from our cell membranes to our brains.
As we discussed previously, peanut butter is high omega-6 fats and lacking omega-3 fats.
Although, it is a great source of monounsaturated fats making it a great choice, even for weight loss. (13)
Phit Tip: The healthy fats in peanut butter work great when consumed with fruit, like an apple, to slow the conversion of the sugar in the apple making the snack overall healthier and more complete.
How to Eat Peanut Butter for Weight Loss and Better Health
1. Buy Organic, High-Quality Peanut Butter
Avoid eating peanut butter that contains added sugars, hydrogenated oils, and conventionally grown peanuts.
When choosing a peanut butter to purchase, the only ingredients it should have are organic peanuts and sea salt.
Yes, this means that the oil will naturally separate and you will have to deal with the inconvenience of mixing it the first time you open the bottle. This is the small price to pay in order to enjoy delicious, high-quality peanut butter that is much better for your health.
Once you initially mix it, store your peanut butter in the fridge. The cool temperature will extend shelf life and prevent the oils from separating again.
2. Go For Valencia Peanuts or Jungle Peanuts
These varieties of peanuts are much less likely to be contaminated with mold toxins since they are not grown underground. They grown on bushes that are much higher from the ground which helps to prevent the problem of excess moisture and mold.
If the peanut butter does not list the variety of peanut, that typically means they are using a low growing variety and should be avoided.
These varieties of peanuts are much healthier and more costly for the manufacture. Therefore, they have incentive to advertise these varieties and will list it somewhere if valencia or jungle peanuts are being used.
3. Consume ample omega-3 fats in your diet
As discussed before, your ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is extremely important. So, since peanut butter is high in omega-6 fats, to balance your ratio, consume more omega-3’s.
Good food sources of omega-3 fats include:
- Wild caught fatty fish (stick to low mercury options)
- Cod liver oil
- Flax seeds
- Chia Seeds
Eliminating your consumption of vegetable oils is an excellent idea to improve your health and will also aid in bringing your ratio into balance.
What's the Healthiest Peanut Butter?
The best peanut butter for your health should meet these criteria:
1) No harmful Ingredients - The only ingredients in your natural peanut butter should be peanuts and sea salt. Nothing else.
2) Organic - Avoid conventional options
3) Valencia or Jungle Peanuts - Peanut butter that uses a variety of peanut that is grown off the ground and not likely to have mold and mycotoxin issues.
Peanut butter has been scrutinized due harmful added ingredients in low-quality products, high omega-6 fat content, and potential for mold toxins.
On the flip side, peanut butter is a great source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, as well as protein and monounsaturated fats.
Bottom Line: There are both positive and negative health implications when it comes to peanut butter, but if you implement the advice outlined in this article, you can greatly minimize the negative effects while still reaping the positive aspects.