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Is Peanut Butter Healthy, Or Bad For You?

By Charlie Seltzer, MD / January 17, 2018

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.

What Is Peanut Butter, Exactly?

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.

What Are The Different Types Of Peanut Butter?

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.

  1. Natural peanut butters: it is important to look at ingredient lists as even “natural” peanut butters often contain added oils and sugar. For example, the ingredients list for Jif Naturals includes not only peanuts but sugar, palm oil, salt, and molasses. This is a better option than traditional store-brand peanut butters, but less ideal than pure peanut butter.
  2. “Regular” peanut butters: include traditional Skippy and Jif. Jif Creamy contains the following ingredients: peanuts, sugar, molasses, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (soybean), fully hydrogenated vegetable oils (rapeseed and soybean), mono- and diglyceridesand salt. [Editor’s Note: Jif Creamy has changed their ingredients so that partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (soybean) is no longer an ingredient]

    Partially hydrogenated oils are another name for trans fat, which does not exist in nature, and has been linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease.12 This is where labels can be deceptive and require close attention. If a product has less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, the manufacturers are allowed to say “0 trans fat” on the label. However, since this type of fat is so bad for you, even low amounts of it can be detrimental to health. It is wise to stay away from all products that list partially hydrogenated oils as an ingredient, no matter what the trans fat content says. Fully hydrogenated oils do not contain any trans fat, but if whether they are fully or partially hydrogenated isn’t specified (i.e. the label just says hydrogenated oils) stay away from it.
  3. Reduced-fat peanut butters: in these products, fat is simply replaced with added sugar. There is no significant decrease in calories and you should stay away from them.

What Is The Nutritional Breakdown Of Peanut Butter?

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.

If I Want To Be Healthy, Is Peanut Butter Good Or Bad For Me?

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.

Show 3 References

  1. Oomen,, C. Ocke M, Eeskens E, van Erp-Baart J, Kok F, Kromhout D. Association between trans fatty acid intake and 10-year risk of coronary heart disease in the Zutphen Elderly Study: a prospective population-based study. Lancet. Volume 357, Issue 9258, 10 March 2001, Pages 746–751
  2. Willett WC, Ascherio A. Trans fatty acids: Are the effects only marginal? Am J Public Health 1994; 84:722-724.
  3. Gillingham, L, Harris Janz S, Jones P. Dietary Monounsaturated Fatty Acids Are Protective Against Metabolic Syndrome and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors. Lipids. March 2011, Volume 46, Issue 3, pp 209-228


  • Sam says:

    Thanks for the tip on Jif Natural.. I'll give it a try. Right now I use Smuckers and another natural brand that need to be mixed, and I don't enjoy that either.

    If budget would allow, I'd stick with almond butter. I think it has a healthier fat.

    Your reminder on portion control is important - any of these nut butters are calorie dense

  • Jul says:

    "Peanuts are not actually nuts but legumes, and thus belong in the same category as peas, beans, and lentils."
    That's an interesting piece of info I wasn't aware of. I guess that means it's safe to to have more peanuts than the usual fist-sized portion of nuts a day? Also, just realized almonds aren't nuts either (apparently had the tendency to assume that most things in a trail mix are~ silly me;;).
    Personally, I don't like peanut butter, so I'll stick with the natural form; still, many thanks for the good read ^^

  • Matt says:

    If anyone would like a good alternative to even the Jif Natural; SantaCruz organic has no added ingredients other than salt and while it does separate it mixes well and tastes better than most of the other raw/organic butters I've tried. Raw peanut butter + raw honey = excellent muscle food before bed ;)

  • Pam says:

    Hey Charles thanks for the article. I love peanut butter but my BP has been on the rise in the past few years so I like to go low sodium where possible. It can be challenging to find a salt free product these days. Personally I love the Adams Unsalted Regular (creamy). I think I'll try almond butter if I can find a salt free version. Thanks Sam!

    Here's a tip: once the oil is stirred in, keep it in the fridge and you won't need to mix it again!

  • TJ says:

    I prefer Adam's natural peanut butter. Most of their types of pb are just salt and peanuts, but that do have one type that is 100% peanuts, according to the label. Thanks for the article!

  • Curt says:

    What is your opinion on PB2?

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      Hey Curt, I believe Charlie is a fan of PB2