If you are deathly allergic to peanuts, then peanut butter is most certainly bad for you.
If you are stranded on a desert island and peanut butter is the only food source available, it is extremely good for you. In other, more common scenarios, it is less black and white.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines peanut butter as a paste made by grinding roasted, skinned, and degermed peanuts. Other ingredients, such as salt, sugar, and palm oil are often added to the products sold in grocery stores. Peanuts are not actually nuts but legumes, and thus belong in the same category as peas, beans, and lentils. However, they are more often than not grouped with other nuts, such as cashews, almonds and walnuts since they have similar nutritional profiles.
The purest form of peanut butter contains only ground peanuts and possibly salt. Pure ground peanuts have a taste distinctive from “regular” peanut butter brands, such as Jif and Skippy. Their oils also separate and must be stirred back into the solids before being eaten. Fillers prevent separation and make the peanut butter taste sweeter.
Two tablespoons of peanut butter contain between 170 and 200 calories, around 16 grams of fat, 6-8 grams of carbohydrate and 7-8 grams of protein. Most of the fat is in the form of monounsaturated fat, which may decrease risk of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular risk factors.3 Although there is saturated fat in peanut butter, moderate intakes in the context of a healthy lifestyle and optimal body composition will not, for most people, be detrimental to health, and may actually be beneficial. The protein is complete, meaning it contains all amino acids. However, using peanut butter as a primary source of protein is not a great idea, as there is twice as much fat as protein. Additionally, it is very calorie dense, and most people greatly underestimate exactly how much 2 tablespoons is. As a reference, this is 2 tablespoons next to a car key.
Peanut butter contains high amounts of healthy fats, vitamins and minerals, and a decent amount of protein. As with most things, it should be used in its most natural form and in moderation. Any health benefits will be quickly offset if it causes an increase in body fat.
Ideally, use an organic brand like Smuckers Organic, which contains just peanuts and salt. Personally, I don’t love the texture or the fact it needs to be mixed. I use Jif Naturals, which is slightly less ideal but a much better option than regular or reduced fat peanut butters.
Whatever you choose, be careful of the serving size and make sure it fits into your nutritional plan.