For the Love of Peanut Butter!
Creamy or crunchy, natural or no-stir, fresh or packaged – I love it all. As long as the manufacturer doesn't cheap out and use partially hydrogenated oils (industrially produced trans fats), I consider peanut butter a healthful food choice for those without peanut allergies.
Calories & Nutrients
Peanut butter is a calorie-dense food. That is, for a small volume of food, it has a lot of calories. A standard 2-tablespoon serving of peanut butter contains 190 calories, 16 grams of fat, and 7-8 grams of protein. Although peanut butter, like all nut butters, is high in fat, most of the fat comes from heart-healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids. Peanut butter is also a good source of vitamin E, magnesium, manganese and niacin.
Tip: Don't use peanut butter as a main protein source if you are trying trim calories from your eating plan. Instead, consider it a healthy fat that has the added benefit of providing protein. For more tips on calories-efficient protein choices, see this article on MyNetDiary's main website.
Natural peanut butter made with only peanuts is the least processed form you can buy. However, it will typically separate at room temperature and requires refrigeration after opening. It is also important to have it out at room temperature to soften before trying to spread it. Spreading cold, natural peanut butter on a crumbly slice of bread will only invoke frustration and promises never to buy it again.
Tip: after buying a natural peanut butter, stir it well while it is still at room temperature BEFORE you put it in the refrigerator. There will be little if any separation while the nut butter is cold.
No-Stir & Shelf Stable
Added Trans Fats. If the extra care involved with natural nut butter is a nuisance to you, then go for no-stir but be aware of the added fats. Some companies cheap out and use partially hydrogenated oils to make their peanut butter "no stir" as well as shelf stable. Read the ingredient list for partially hydrogenated oils and avoid brands that contain them. No amount of industrially produced trans fats is healthful – ideally, consume none at all. Unfortunately, manufacturers can declare that their product is "trans fat free" as long as there is less than 0.5 grams/serving. You can thank the FDA for that odd rule. Small amounts of trans fats can add up during the course of the day so avoid foods that contain any amount of them.
Added Saturated Fats. No-stir peanut butters typically contain a small amount of added saturated fats such as palm oil or fully hydrogenated vegetable oils. In my opinion, these oils are less harmful than consuming trans fats, but some health professionals might disagree on this point. The saturated fat content increases a little (about 1/2 - 1 gram) per serving, but on the other hand, you avoid intake of trans fats.
Added Salt. Sodium content varies by brand but peanut butter is not typically high in sodium. For instance, Skippy & Jif both contain about 150 mg/2 tbsp serving whereas Maranatha contains 70 mg/serving. Watch what you put peanut butter on – most brands of bread contain 200 mg sodium/slice and many brands of crackers can go up to over 300 mg sodium/1oz serving.
Specialty Peanut Butters
Flavored Styles. Flavored peanut butters have added sugars along with the spices. You might consider buying a good quality peanut butter and simply adding your own sweetener and spices so that you can control the quality and nutrient content.
Low-fat. I laughed when I first saw low-fat peanut butter since the caloric content for most of these products is nearly identical to regular peanut butter. What would be the point in going low fat since the type of fat in peanut butter is so healthy to begin with? However, my opinion has changed with a product that a MyNetDiary forum member has raved about: PB2. This is a processed food but the calories are 50% lower than regular peanut butter, so it might be easier to fit into a calories-controlled meal plan. You be the judge.
Have questions or comments about this post? Please feel free to comment on MyNetDiary's Forum or Facebook page. I would love to hear from you!
Kathy Isacks, MPS, RD
Consulting Dietitian for MyNetDiary
Eating Well Magazine. Eating Well Taste Test: Natural Peanut Butters.
Harvard Health Publications. Ask the Doctor: Why is Eating Peanut Butter "Healthy" If It Has Saturated Fat?
Disclaimer: Please note that we cannot provide personalized advice and that the information provided does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit a medical professional.