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Truth About Peanut Butter: The Good, Bad & Ugly

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If there is one food item that has quite some controversies surrounding it with regard to its health benefits, then it is peanut butter. Some contend that it is good for you while some maintain that is not. It is tough to not love peanut butter. What better than the sweet, sticky concoction that you can scoop out of the jar and just lick off your spoon, spread generously onto your freshly toasted bread, or put over some chocolate ice cream! It, however, is getting a lot of flak for the fattening properties that it entails.

Of course, peanut butter can be a little harmful but it does have its share of benefits that cannot be ignored. Keeping aside the fact that it comes with high-fat content, it is also loaded with nutrients. If you can keep from eating an entire jar of peanut butter in one sitting, you will face no harm. Thus, controlled consumption is sure to be beneficial than harmful.

What is Peanut Butter?

Peanut butter is nearly unprocessed food. It’s primarily just peanuts, usually roasted, that are ground until they turn into a paste. However, this doesn’t apply to many commercial brands of peanut butter that contain several added ingredients, such as sugar, vegetable oils, and even trans fat. Eating too much added sugar and trans fat has been associated with several health problems, such as heart disease.

Rather than buying junk food, opt for real peanut butter. It should contain nothing except peanuts and maybe a bit of salt.

For all purposes, the health effects of regular peanuts should be almost similar to those of peanut butter since it’s essentially just ground peanuts.

The Good Things About Peanut Butter

Great source of protein

Peanut butter is a reasonably balanced energy source that provides all of the three macronutrients. A 100g portion of peanut butter contains:

  • Carbohydrate: 20 grams of carbs (13% of calories), 6 of which are fiber.
  • Protein: 25 grams of protein (15% of calories), which is quite a lot compared to most other plant foods.
  • Fat: 50 grams of fat, totaling about 72% of calories.

Peanut butter is composed of about 25% protein, making it an outstanding plant-based protein source. However, it is low in the essential amino acid methionine.
For other protein-rich plant foods, check out this article on the top protein sources for vegans and vegetarians.

Low in Carbs

Peanuts are low in carbs and can be consumed by people with type 2 diabetes or those following a low-carb diet. Pure peanut butter has only 20% carbs, making it suitable for a low-carb diet.

High in Healthy Fats

Pure peanut butter is a great source of healthy fats. While some people have been worried about its omega-6 linoleic acid content, limited studies justify their concerns. Half of the fat in peanut butter is composed of oleic acid, a healthy type of monounsaturated fat also found in high amounts in olive oil. Oleic acid has been associated with several health benefits, such as improved insulin sensitivity. Peanut butter also has some linoleic acid, an essential omega-6 fatty acid ample in most vegetable oils. Another benefit of this food is that it leaves you feeling full and satiated after eating it.

Rich in Vitamins and Minerals

A 100g serving of peanut butter gives you quite a large percentage of:

  • Vitamin E: 45% of the RDA
  • Vitamin B3 (Niacin): 67% of the RDA
  • Vitamin B6: 27% of the RDA
  • Folate: 18% of the RDA
  • Magnesium: 39% of the RDA
  • Copper: 24% of the RDA
  • Manganese: 73% of the RDA

It is also rich in biotin and contains decent amounts of vitamin B5, iron, zinc, potassium, and selenium.

Rich in Plant Sterols and Antioxidants

Peanut butter contains more than just the primary vitamins and minerals. It also has plenty of other biologically active nutrients, which can have some health benefits. Peanut butter is loaded with antioxidants, including p-coumarin and resveratrol. These plant compounds have been linked to several health benefits. Experts recommend 3g of plant sterol per day to reduce cholesterol levels which is where peanut butter comes in handy.

Peanut Butter is an Inexpensive Food

One of the biggest pros to peanut butter is that it is inexpensive to buy. A jar of peanut butter can be used to make many sandwiches. Most small jars make around 14 or more sandwiches. Peanut butter could solve hunger problems in developing countries because of its inexpensive cost and high nutrient value.

Peanut Butter is an Easy Lunch for Children

Peanut butter sandwiches or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are popular for children’s lunches because kids love their sweet taste, they don’t require refrigeration, and they are easy to make. Thus, it is a nutritious food for children.

The Not-so-great Things About Peanut Butter

A Potential Source of Aflatoxins

Aflatoxins are “poisonous and cancer-causing chemicals that are produced by certain molds (Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus) which grow in soil, decaying vegetation, hay, and grains”. Mold grows easily in nuts, especially when exposed to moist and humid environments. The aflatoxins formed in peanut butter are highly toxic and carcinogenic, and studies have also associated with liver cancer, impaired child growth, and lessened mental functioning.

High in Fats

A 100g serving of peanut butter gives you a staggering 588 calories, and 50g of fat (of which 50% are monounsaturated – good, 30% polyunsaturated – also good, but 20% are saturated – bad). A 2.5 tbsp serving of peanut butter has the same fat content as one chocolate bar. Thus, having too much of it can lead to weight gain.

Your Peanut Butter is not Real Peanut Butter

Ideally, peanut butter should be made from ground peanuts only. But that does not seem the case with what we consume in the name of peanut butter. The label shows redundant ingredients like salt, corn syrup, dextrose, hydrogenated vegetable oil and what not! All this is definitely not good for your body. Make sure you read the label before buying a jar of peanut butter.

Common Allergen

Peanuts are one of the top 10 allergens that can induce rash in some people and even death in some others. If you are allergic to it, better steer clear.

Contaminated Peanut Butter can Cause Sickness for Days

Peanut butter can become tainted with salmonella and cause food poisoning. Those who become sick can experience vomiting and diarrhea for days. Some dieticians suggest that even if you are not allergic to peanuts, you should avoid peanuts and eat tree nut spreads instead.

Alternatives to Peanut Butter

Considering a couple of not-so-good things about peanut butter, you can look for the following alternatives:

Coconut Butter

As sweet as peanut butter, coconut butter is good for the immune system and metabolism.

Almond Butter

This tastes almost like peanut butter, but it has a higher nutritional value. It contains more calcium, potassium, phosphorus, Vitamin E, and magnesium than peanut butter, and plenty of brain-boosting, heart-smart Omega-3 fatty acids. It’s great for reducing blood pressure and bad cholesterol.

Soy Butter

It’s high in Omega-3 fatty acids, but it also contains more Omega-6s. You get a lot of protein from soy butter.

The cons are scary enough to make you want to pass on peanut butter. However, studies are still underway.

Homemade Peanut Butter Recipe

Let go of the highly processed peanut butter in the market. If you wish to extract full benefits, better to use homemade ones. Here is the recipe.

  • First, we start off with some dry roasted peanuts.
  • Throw the peanuts into the bowl of your food processor.
  • Start running the processor.
  • After 30 seconds, the nuts are much more finely ground, and they’re starting to stick to the outside of the bowl.
  • After 1 minute, the peanut mixture will start to clump up.
  • We’re 1 minute 30 seconds in, and the peanut butter has gotten to a very thick, paste-like stage. Keep going!
  • At 2 minutes, the peanut mixture has broken down and it’s starting to look like peanut butter… we’re almost there!
  • Finally, around 2 minutes 30 seconds, we have our peanut butter!

Bottom Line

Doesn’t peanut butter make everything taste better? Put some of it on anything and everything you like and it only gets more delicious. Having said that, the cons cannot be undermined. Even if you are slightly allergic, DO NOT consume it. Other than that, it is all good if taken in a controlled manner. Peanut butter is known for being high in protein, fiber, heart-healthy fats, and essential vitamins, making it an optimal choice for a well-balanced diet.

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