Peanut Butter – really a health food?

There has been a great debate whether nuts and nut butters are considered a healthy food choice. With a food label that reveals a high calorie and high fat content, are nut butters such as peanut butter REALLY a healthy choice? The answer is YES! Whether it’s chunky, creamy, natural or organic, peanut butter is hailed as delicious and nutritious…as long as portion size is kept in control!

Fat: While peanuts contain about 14 grams of fat per serving (73% of the calories are from fat – hence the reputation of a high fat food!), 63% of total calories are from unsaturated fat (aka “good fat”). Peanuts are especially high in monounsaturated fats. These “good fats” that have been found to improve cholesterol by raising the beneficial HDL cholesterol. Unlike meats, which contain high amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol, nuts are a cholesterol-free food!

Protein: Peanuts and peanut butter are an excellent source of protein. Both contain 7-8 grams of protein per serving. Because of their non-animal origin, nuts are a key protein source for vegetarians and vegans. The protein in peanuts/peanut butter promotes muscle building and repair which helps with recover after exercise and will promote the development of more lean body mass.  

 Vitamins/Minerals: Just some of the vitamins and minerals found in peanut butter include Vitamin E, Potassium, Iron, Calcium, Copper, Niacin, Magnesium, and Folate.

Calories: Many people find this word terrifying for fear of weight gain, but the truth is calories are the fuel that the body needs to function properly. Without enough calories, the important organs such as the heart, brain, kidney and lungs would starve and ultimately fail. If you feel that 160-200 calories in one whole serving of nuts or nut butters is too much, try just half a serving (1 Tablespoon of peanut butter or 12-14 peanuts!)

Benefits of peanuts and peanut butter:

1)  Reduced risk of heart disease – nuts and nut butters play a role in raising good HDL cholesterol and lowering bad LDL cholesterol.

2) Reduced insulin resistance– the fat and protein in peanut butter help prevent blood sugar levels from rapidly spiking and dropping. Steady blood sugars have been found to reduce risk of Type 2 Diabetes.

3) Weight maintenance– the high fat content helps you feel fuller for longer which can curb post-meal cravings that often lead to over eating.

4) Healthy hair, skin and nails — the monounsaturated fat in peanut butter provides fat soluble vitamins needed to help promote beautiful, shiny hair and skin.

Tips to help you select a healthy peanut butter brand:

· Avoid hydrogenated oils- this is the process that produces trans fats. Look for zero grams trans fat.

· Avoid too much added sugar– choose one that is free of added sugars, but the next best choice is one  with no more than 4 grams of sugar per serving.

· Don’t be fooled by “all natural”- always read food labels to see what is being added.

· Monitor sodium content- salt is often an ingredient in peanut butter to give it its signature flavor. Steer clear of brands with more than 200 mg per serving.

Here are some of the brands that I often recommend:

Arrowhead Mills 100% Creamy Valencia Peanut Butter contains no added oil, sugar or salt.

Maranatha Organic Creamy Roasted Peanut Butter contains no added oil, sugar or salt.

Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter (Crunchy and Unsalted) contains no added oil, sugar or salt (in the Unsalted Peanut Butter).

Laura Scudder’s All Natural Smooth Old Fashioned Peanut Butter contains no added oil or sugar.

Skippy Natural (Creamy or Chunky) contains some added sugar, palm oil and salt, but total sugar content is less than 4 grams, sodium under 150, and still has 63% of calorie from unsaturated fats.

By Gail Wikler, RD, CDN