Peanut butter may be high in calories, but when consumed in moderation, it is actually quite a healthy food. Generally, peanut butter made with raw peanuts is healthier and tends to hold less oil. Refined peanut butter spreads frequently lack the nutrients present in peanut skin; in addition, processed commercial peanut butter can contain trans-fatty acids, counteracting the healthy nature of peanut butter and increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. The safest bet is to stick to natural or homemade peanut butter.
In with the Good, Out with the Bad
Peanut butter’s calories are usually about 71% from fat, 14% from carbohydrates, and 15% from protein. Since the majority of calories come from fat, peanut butter is often avoided by people who are trying to lose weight. However, small amounts of peanut butter can promote weight loss. This is because most of the fats in peanut butter are monounsaturated, which can help to reduce the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels. The remainder of fat is mostly polyunsaturated, the kind which increases the high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels. This makes peanut butter a good cholesterol regulator, promoting freer blood flow and increased energy and stamina, which in turn stimulates fat loss.
Role in a Regular Diet
In a double-blind study performed in Spain and published in the medical journal Obesity, a diet in which monounsaturated fat sources (nuts and nut butters) replace saturated fat sources (refined oils and junk food) tends to result in a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases and fat gain. Consumption of just two 100-gram servings of unrefined nut products per week can result in phenomenal benefits, and those on high-intensity exercise regimens can afford to consume more portions. Regular moderated consumption of peanut butter is also recommended when attempting to gain muscle mass. Weightlifters, bodybuilders, and professional athletes commonly rely on peanut butter as a primary protein source during the ‘bulking up’ phase of their workout cycles. The fat content is again negligible, since the calories expended during exercise will often offset the fat calories.
Fiber and Nutrient Content
Peanut butter is also high in dietary fiber, providing nearly 10% of the daily recommended allowance (RDA). Aside from helping to regulate blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels, high fiber diets lower the risk of developing colorectal cancer (one of the most common cancers in developed countries) and atherosclerosis.
Large amounts of proteins are present in peanut butter (nearly 25% by weight). Combined with vitamin E, vitamin B3, and significant amounts of iron, magnesium, potassium, and calcium, peanut butter is among the most nutrient-rich food sources available, even to vegetarians and vegans. Vitamin E and vitamin B3 aid in the recovery of cell DNA damage, reducing the risk of cancer and helping to regulate sexual hormones, making peanut butter an ideal food for adolescents. The iron and calcium boost red blood cell function and promote bone strength, and the potassium serves many regulatory functions. A peanut butter and banana sandwich is often recommended to help recover from upset stomachs, dehydration, and certain infections.
In an extensive 20-year test done by the Nurses’ Health Study, people who ate 30 grams of peanut butter or similar nut-based products had a 25% lower risk of complications such as gallstones, kidney stones, and calcium deposits.
The Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry stated that the niacin contained in peanuts can help combat the onset and/or development of Alzheimer’s disease. The study was done on 3,000 men above the age of 65, all of whom were interviewed about their regular diet and tested on their cognitive skills. Those consuming 22mg of niacin every day were 70% less likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s than those consuming 15mg or less.
In 2003, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration made an official statement that the consumption of certain nuts – almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, walnuts, and peanuts – could play a major role in reducing the risk of heart disease. More recently, studies have shown that consuming around 30g of nut-based products per day can lower a person’s LDL levels by almost 10mg/dL.
Homemade Peanut Butter Recipe
- 1 cup (100g) roasted, unsalted, shelled peanuts (with skin)
- 2 to 3 tablespoons of peanut oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- sugar (optional)
Blend the peanuts in a food processor. Slowly add just enough oil to form a paste with a smooth and creamy consistency. Add the salt and sugar, if desired. For chunky peanut butter, add half a cup of chopped peanuts to the finished smooth peanut butter. Store the peanut butter in an airtight container in the refrigerator and use within two weeks.
Remember that, like all foods, peanut butter should be consumed in moderation. Commercial versions are often high in salt and sugar content, negating some of the benefits. People with high blood pressure and diabetes should consult a doctor before consuming commercially-made peanut butter.