Is peanut butter good for your health?
I never used to be a huge fan of peanut butter, but over the years I began to get accustomed to its taste and slowly began enjoying it. Nowadays I can’t get enough of the stuff and have to constantly control the urges I get to have just a tablespoon full more.
But does eating peanut butter bring any benefits to your health or should you stay far away from it? Let’s discuss that in this article.
How is peanut butter made?
Peanut butter is extremely simple to make, you can even do it at home! The main ingredient used in making peanut butter is (you guessed it!) the peanut. Fun fact: contrary to their name, peanuts are not actually nuts but legumes.
Dry roasted peanuts are added to large food processors and ground up until they form a smooth paste. This is what would be considered a natural peanut butter and is the healthiest kind you can eat.
In most cases however, other ingredients such as salt, sugar, oils, various fats and flavourings are added to give it a better texture and taste. There are hundreds of brands out there, so the recipes vary greatly. Some peanut butters you would buy in store can be considered healthy, whereas others you just need to avoid.
Two tablespoons (32g) of peanut butter contains:
|Fat||16g (3.3g saturated)|
As you will notice from the table above, peanut butter contains good quantities of each of the 3 macro nutrients: fat, carbohydrate and protein.
Peanut butter also contains various vitamins and minerals such as manganese, magnesium, vitamin B6, vitamin B3 and vitamin E.
Additionally, peanuts are a rich source of antioxidants. For example they are a source of resveratrol (also found in the skins of red grapes) which has been linked with lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Peanuts rival fruits such as blackberries and strawberries in the amount of antioxidants they contain. It is these antioxidants that bring about many of the health benefits of natural peanut butter.
The benefits of eating peanut butter
It is rich in protein
Legumes in general are an excellent source of plant based protein and peanuts are no exception. 2 tablespoons of peanut butter contain around 8g of protein, which is a decent amount, considering the volume.
Protein is important for repairing and building muscle tissue, which makes peanut butter great for those who exercise a lot.
The consumption of protein also keeps you feeling fuller for longer, which means you eat less throughout the day. This is important if you are trying to lose weight.
It should be noted however that peanut butter is not a complete protein. A complete protein is one that contains all 9 essential amino acids; these are the ones that your body cannot produce on its own and need to be obtained via food. Therefore peanut butter should be part of a diet that includes complete protein sources such as fish, meat and quinoa.
A good source of fiber
One tablespoon of peanut butter contain almost 1 g of dietary fiber. Fiber is important for your body as it keeps your digestive system in tip top shape and has been shown to reduce cholesterol.
There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber swells up when combined with water to form a gel like consistency. This helps to keep you feeling full, which as mentioned above is important for managing your weight.
Insoluble fiber on the other hand adds bulk to your stool, which makes going to the bathroom a pleasant experience. Peanuts along with foods such as chia seeds, oats and cranberries are excellent sources of fiber.
Bursting in nutrients
The vitamins and minerals mentioned in the previous section are important for your long term health. For example:
- Vitamin E is a fat soluble anti oxidant that prevents cell damage, protects your eyes and keeps your heart healthy.
- Magnesium keeps your bones strong & healthy, prevents depression and reduces your chances of developing hypertension. You can find more magnesium rich foods here.
- Manganese protects against free radical damage, controls blood sugar levels and promotes healthy skin.
- Vitamin B3 helps break down food into energy and lowers levels of bad cholesterol.
Could help prevent certain diseases
Various studies (some directly and others indirectly) have looked at how consumption of peanut butter can possibly help prevent certain diseases:
This study carried out in Taiwan showed that frequent consumption of peanuts could help reduce the risk of colorectal cancer in women.
This study of 83,818 women aged 34 to 59 years found that the consumption of nuts and peanut butter could potentially lower the risk of type 2 diabetes in women.
Provides a spike in energy
The carbohydrate, fat and protein in peanut butter will give you a burst of energy which will last much longer than if you ate something like a chocolate bar, which just contains sugar.
Your blood sugar levels will also be maintained at good levels, meaning you are less likely to come crashing down a little while after eating it.
Peanut and other nut butters are popular among gym goers and body builders as they provide the much needed calories, together with a good dose of all 3 macro nutrients.
It could prevent peanut allergies
I am pretty sure you are reading the title above again. I know I did when I was doing my research. Eating the very thing that gives people allergies could prevent it…say what?! Yes, eating peanuts at an early age could possibly prevent nut allergies later on.
Studies such as this and this showed that infants who were exposed to peanuts earlier on in their life were less likely to develop an allergy to them. This raises an important question – should infants who are highly likely to develop a nut allergy be introduced to nuts instead of being weaned off them?
The possible problems with eating peanut butter
Now that we have talked about the benefits, let’s discuss some of the potential disadvantages of eating peanut butter.
It could contain aflatoxins
Since peanuts grow underground, they are susceptible to being attacked by a fungus known as Aspergillus, which is a source of aflatoxins. Aflatoxins are toxic to the body and are therefore processed by the liver, where they pose a carcinogenic threat. Indeed, studies have been shown aflatoxins to have a link with liver cancer.
However the good news is that the processing of peanuts into peanut butter has been observed to reduce aflatoxins by about 89%. This might be a good reason to eat peanut butter instead of just peanuts on their own.
It is high in Omega 6
Peanut butter contains a lot of omega 6 but no omega 3. Your body needs a good balance of both to remain healthy. Over consumption of omega 6 causes inflammation in the body which in turn results in cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and even cancer.
To keep a good balance of omega 6 to omega 3 you need to consume more omega 3 rich foods, like oily fish.
It is highly addictive
When was the last time you had one or two tablespoons of peanut butter and were not tempted to indulge in more? If you enjoy the taste, peanut butter can be highly addictive, making it difficult to eat just a little amount.
The problem with this is that you end up over indulging and as you may have heard, too much of anything is bad. Apart from the potential aflatoxins and large doses of omega 6, peanut butter is also high in calories. If you are on a 2000 calorie diet, just 2 tablespoons accounts for almost 10% of your daily calorie requirements.
Which peanut butter should you buy?
The best types of peanut butter contain mainly peanuts and very few other ingredients. Perhaps a little bit of salt and oil, but that’s it. Try stay away from products that contain added sugar, hydrogenated fat and flavourings as the disadvantages from consuming these will far outweigh the potential advantages of eating peanut butter.
Always read food labels so you know exactly what the peanut butter you buy contains. Natural peanut butters may be a bit more expensive, but they are your best bet.
Alternatively, why not make your own peanut butter at home? It’s super easy to do and requires only a few key ingredients. Watch the video below for a delicious recipe:
So is peanut butter healthy? Yes it can be. Peanuts are nutritious and bring with them a lot of scientifically proven health benefits. At the same time however, you want to be careful not to overindulge and obviously stay away from it completely if you have a peanut allergy!