Is peanut butter good for you?
A popular spread and a good source of protein but does peanut butter make a healthy choice? Our nutritionists answer these questions and more.
What is peanut butter?
Despite common perceptions, peanuts, also known as ground nuts, are a legume rather than a nut, and peanut butter is the popular spread made from them.
Commercially produced peanut butter is made by roasting the peanuts, blanching them in heat or water to remove their skins and then grinding them to a paste. The ‘butter’ may be flavoured with oil, seasoning, sweeteners and other ingredients to enhance taste and texture. Peanut butter is available in either smooth or crunchy varieties.
The health benefits of peanut butter may include:
1. Is nutrient dense
2. Provides a balanced source of energy
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3. Is full of healthy fats
4. Is a compact energy source
5. Makes a useful plant source of protein
6. Is a source of protective plant compounds
7. Is a source of fibre
8. Has a low glycaemic value
9. Is a source of co-enzyme Q10
10. Is rich in plant stanols and sterols
Nutritional profile of peanut butter
A tablespoon of peanut butter (16g) provides:
- 3.6g protein
- 8.3g fat
- 2.0g saturates
- 2.1g carbohydrates
- 1.1g sugars
- 1.1g fibre
Many brands add ingredients such as oil, sugar or xylitol as well as salt, and these will change the nutritional profile. For example, products marketed as 'reduced fat' may have added sugar to enhance their taste. When buying peanut butter check labels carefully and, where possible, choose peanut butter made with as close to 100% peanuts as possible.
Top 10 health benefits of peanut butter
1. Nutrient dense
Peanuts are nutrient rich and provide a number of minerals including magnesium, iron and zinc, as well as copper. They are also a source of vitamins including the B group and vitamin E.
2. Provides a balanced source of energy
Peanuts offer a balanced source of protein and carbs with a slightly higher contribution of energy from fat. This makes peanut butter calorie dense.
3. Source of healthy fats
Peanut butter is a rich source of fat, including oleic acid, a healthy monounsaturated fat that is also found in olive oil. Oleic acid has been linked to several health benefits, including improved insulin sensitivity. Although peanuts contain some saturated fats, the majority of fats in peanuts are the monounsaturated variety, with balanced levels of polyunsaturated and saturated fats. One tablespoon of peanut butter contributes about 10% of an adult's recommended daily saturated fat intake.
4. Compact energy source
Peanuts provide high energy for lesser consumption levels. This can be useful for those with poor appetites, as well as anyone who is malnourished. The reason for the high energy contribution is the peanut’s relatively high fat content which, at 9kcal per gram, contributes more calories than other common foods like milk, soy and grains.
5. Useful plant source of protein
Peanuts are a good source of plant protein although, like other legumes, they are low in certain essential amino acids including lysine and methionine. As part of a balanced, plant-based diet they can make a useful contribution – this is supported by the fact that the digestibility of their protein (how well we can digest and absorb the protein) is comparable to that from animal sources.
6. Source of protective plant compounds
Peanut butter is rich in plant compounds that have a protective antioxidant effect – examples of these compounds include p-coumaric acid and resveratrol. Animal studies have suggested these compounds are associated with various health benefits, including lowering the risk of heart disease and reducing arthritis in rodents.
7. Source of fibre
Peanut butter is a good source of fibre, and when made using peanuts with their skins intact it contributes about 1.3g fibre per tablespoon (compared with 0.98g -1.1g from peanut butter made without the skins). Dietary fibre helps support gut health and digestive transit as well as managing appetite by improving satiety levels.
8. Have a low glycaemic value
Peanuts have a low glycaemic value – this refers to the rate at which our bodies break down carbs to energy in the form of glucose. The speed at which this occurs, and the amount it raises glucose levels in the blood, is measured by a score on the glycaemic index (GI) scale. Peanuts have a low-GI so when peanut butter is added to a high-GI food, such as a bagel, the peanut butter helps lower the GI of the meal and stabilise your blood sugar so it doesn’t rise too quickly.
9. Source of coenzyme Q10
Peanuts and their skins are rich in biologically active components including coenzyme Q10 – this essential compound may support the skin, brain and lungs as well as protect the heart from a lack of oxygen, a situation that may arise as a result of coronary artery disease.
10. Rich in plant stanols and sterols
Peanuts and peanut butter are rich in plant compounds called stanols and sterols – these inhibit the absorption of dietary cholesterol. It is thought these compounds may also contribute to the decreased risk of heart disease.
Is peanut butter safe for everyone?
Peanuts are a common allergen and as such should be avoided by those with a known allergy to them. If this is relevant to you, check product labels carefully.
Learn more about this from our expert nut allergy guide.
How much peanut butter should I eat?
If you don’t have an allergy to peanuts and you enjoy their taste, a moderate amount – about two tablespoons a day – may be enjoyed as part of a varied, balanced diet.
If an allergic reaction to peanuts is suspected, make an appointment with your GP or NHS allergy clinic to confirm diagnosis.
Learn more about food allergies on the NHS website.
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This article was reviewed on 18 January 2024 by Kerry Torrens.
Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.
Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a registered nutritionist with a post graduate diploma in personalised nutrition & nutritional therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food. Follow Kerry on Instagram at @kerry_torrens_nutrition_
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