Published 22nd June 2023

How healthy is peanut butter?

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Peanut butter is nutrient-rich. It has high levels of protein, healthy fat, and several vitamins and minerals. 

But not all peanut butters are equal. Some contain additives that make them less healthy for us.

How healthy a specific peanut butter is also varies from person to person. Our bodies all handle foods — especially fats — differently.

There’s a place for peanut butter in a healthy diet. So below, we’ll delve into the research to explore peanut butter’s benefits and drawbacks.

Nutritional information

Peanuts have a similar nutrient profile to many other nuts. They’re rich in protein and healthy fat, and they’re calorie-dense.

Two tablespoons, or 32 grams, of peanut butter gives you 7.2 grams of protein.

Peanut butter also contains:

  • fiber

  • phosphorus

  • magnesium

  • B vitamins, like niacin and folate

  • vitamin E

  • zinc

In its purest form, peanut butter is just ground, dry-roasted peanuts. An “all-natural” peanut butter may also have a little added salt. These tend to be the healthiest options.

Other peanut butters have added ingredients that make them less healthy. These additives might be:

  • Sugar: Manufacturers often add cane sugar or high fructose corn syrup to make their peanut butters sweeter.

  • Emulsifiers: Companies add these to stop the natural separation of peanut oil and solids.

  • Oils: Palm, canola, or rapeseed oil, for example, can increase shelf life.

Health benefits

Research suggests that, as part of a healthy diet, peanut butter could offer benefits. Let’s look at some in detail:

Weight loss and weight management

Eating peanuts and peanut butter may help with weight management. 

One large cohort study found that the more regularly people ate nuts  — including peanut butter — the less weight they gained over more than 20 years.

Even just a little every day (around 0.5 tbsp of peanut butter) helped with long-term weight management.

The same study also found that people who added peanut butter to their diets didn’t tend to gain weight.

Although peanuts and peanut butter are dense in calories, their fiber and fat contents help slow our digestion and reduce feelings of hunger. This is how they might help with weight management.

Peanut butter may be a good replacement for snacks containing lots of added sugar, salt, and saturated fat.

Heart health

A recent randomized controlled trial examined the effects of eating peanuts on cardiovascular health.

After 6 months, the researchers found that participants eating peanuts had more favorable levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol than those who ate standard butter.

HDL is also known as “good” cholesterol. It helps carry cholesterol back to the liver, which removes it from the body. So, having high levels of HDL cholesterol can reduce your risk of cardiovascular conditions such as heart disease and stroke. 

Meanwhile, the researchers also reviewed past research into eating peanuts and peanut butter. They concluded that eating peanuts was associated with favorable HDL levels among healthy people.

The review also found an association between eating peanuts and having reduced levels of triglycerides, a type of fat in our blood. High levels of triglycerides are associated with heart disease.

A small randomized control study looked at how adding ground peanuts to a meal affected participants’ levels of blood fats after the meal.

The team found that blood fat responses were better after the participants had eaten the meal with peanuts than the one without them.

Diabetes and blood sugar management

One old, small trial found that when women with obesity and a high risk of type 2 diabetes ate peanut butter as an extra part of their breakfast, they had better blood sugar management later in the day. 

They were also less hungry in the hours after breakfast.

Interestingly, whole peanuts didn’t have such a powerful effect.

This could be because fat is more readily available when peanuts are ground up. And this fat may slow the body’s absorption of carbs in the meal, limiting the blood sugar response.

A more recent study compared the blood sugar responses of 16 adults who ate sugary breakfasts with and without 2 tbsp of peanut butter. When peanut butter was added to the meal, blood sugar responses were lower.

But the research involving peanut butter and type 2 diabetes is less clear. 

A 2021 meta-analysis suggests that the more often you eat peanut butter, the smaller your risk of developing type 2 diabetes becomes.

But a larger and more recent meta-analysis concluded that there’s not enough strong evidence to suggest that eating nuts, including peanut butter, can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.

Overall, we need more research before we can say whether eating peanut butter can help prevent diabetes.

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Can it help with weight gain and muscle building?

Peanut butter is a popular pre- and post-gym snack. But there’s no evidence of special properties that help with weight gain and muscle building.

If you’re looking to build muscle, there are better protein-rich foods to try, like lentils, beans, fish, dairy, eggs, meat, and poultry.

Still, most people eat considerably more protein than they need, so you only need to up your intake if you’re working out a lot. 

And if you want to learn more about protein and its role in building muscle, you can listen to the ZOE Science and Nutrition podcast episode on the topic.

Possible risks

If you have an allergy to peanuts, any peanut butter is a problem, no matter how “healthy” it is. Make sure to avoid peanut butter and all other peanut foods.

For other people, here are some risks, depending on the peanut butter you choose:

  • Changes to your gut microbiome: Emerging research suggests that common emulsifiers may alter the community of bugs in your gut and promote inflammation. So, opt for emulsifier-free peanut butter. This will naturally separate, so you’ll need to stir it up.

  • Added fat intake: Eating peanut butter that contains extra oil, like palm oil, can mean that you're eating more saturated fat. It’s best to choose an all-natural peanut butter without added oil.

  • Added sugar intake: Eating sweetened peanut butter means that you’re eating more sugar, so this may affect your blood sugar responses. It’s a good idea to opt for sugar-free peanut butter. 

How much is OK to eat?

At ZOE, we run the largest nutrition science research study in the world. From this research, we’ve developed a personalized program to help you find the best foods and drinks for your body.

In the program, we score foods to show how often you should eat them. Your food scores will depend on your blood sugar and blood fat responses, as well as the types of bacteria in your gut.

For people in the program right now, smooth peanut butter has an average score of 63 out of 100. Crunchy peanut butter has an average score of 71.

These numbers suggest that, on average, people can enjoy peanut butter regularly — every other day.

Still, peanut butter scores lower than whole peanuts, which most people can eat freely every day.

This is because the process of manufacturing peanut butter breaks down the nut’s fiber and makes it easier for your body to take in the fat.

When you’re deciding on a peanut butter, go for the option with the fewest ingredients. No food should be off-limits in a healthy diet, but it’s worth paying attention to food quality and serving size.

If you're a ZOE member, you can use the food search function of your app to find out which type of peanut butter is best for you.

If you're not a member and would like to learn more, you can take our free quiz.

Ways to add peanut butter to your diet

Peanut butter is versatile. Here are some ideas for using it:

  • Breakfast: Stir peanut butter into porridge or oatmeal, or have it alongside yogurt and sliced fruit.

  • Lunch: Try it on rye bread, or whisk peanut butter with some extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar to make a quick salad dressing. 

  • Snacks: Have peanut butter with apple slices, or blend it into your favorite smoothie.

  • Dinner: Make a quick satay sauce by mixing peanut butter with coconut milk and soy sauce, and have it on your protein of choice. You can also try a side of roasted carrots with a dollop of peanut butter on top.

Because peanut butter contains protein and healthy fat, it can help manage your blood sugar response to food.

This means that adding peanut butter to carb-rich foods can help keep your blood sugar in check. And it can help you feel fuller for longer.

Other nut butter options

If you’re looking for a different nut butter, you might try:

  • Almond butter: This has more heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, vitamin E, calcium, and iron than peanut butter. But it’s also more expensive.

  • Walnut butter: This has more healthy omega-3 fats than peanut butter, and it often has fewer additives. But it costs more, and it’s harder to find. 

  • Cashew butter: This has less protein than peanut butter, so it won’t keep you full for as long. It’s also expensive and less readily available. 

  • Hazelnut butter: Pure hazelnut butter can be hard to find, as many manufacturers blend hazelnuts with sugar and chocolate. Also, pure hazelnut butter has less protein than peanut butter. 

  • Tahini: People make this from ground sesame seeds. It’s widely available and, while it could be pricier than peanut butter, it costs less than the other options here.

Summary

Peanut butter is a nutrient-rich food that provides healthy fats and various vitamins and minerals. It’s also energy-rich, and a 2-tbsp serving has just over 7 g of protein.

All-natural peanut butters tend to only contain ground peanuts, possibly with a little salt. These are the healthiest options. Others may contain sugar, emulsifiers, and added oils.

Research suggests that eating peanut butter may help with cardiovascular health, blood sugar control, and long-term weight management.

Pairing peanut butter with carbohydrate-rich foods can help manage your blood sugar response.

When you're choosing a peanut butter, opting for the one with the fewest ingredients will minimize any downsides.

Sources

Acute and second-meal effects of peanuts on glycaemic response and appetite in obese women with high type 2 diabetes risk: A randomised cross-over clinical trial. British Journal of Nutrition. (2012). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23122211/ 

Acute peanut consumption alters postprandial lipids and vascular responses in healthy overweight or obese men. The Journal of Nutrition. (2017). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5404215/ 

Changes in nut consumption influence long-term weight change in US men and women. BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health. (2019). https://nutrition.bmj.com/content/2/2/90 

Direct impact of commonly used dietary emulsifiers on human gut microbiota. Microbiome. (2021). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33752754/

Effect of peanut consumption on cardiovascular risk factors: A randomized clinical trial and meta-analysis. Frontiers in Nutrition. (2022). https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2022.853378/full 

LDL and HDL cholesterol and triglycerides. (2023). https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/ldl_hdl.htm  

Nut consumption and type 2 diabetes risk: A systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. (2021). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33471083/  

Peanut butter. (2020). https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/1100559/nutrients

The effect of added peanut butter on the glycemic response to a high-glycemic index meal: A pilot study. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. (2019). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30395790/ 

The effect of trans fatty acids on human health: Regulation and consumption patterns. Foods. (2021). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8535577/

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