Peanut butter is many things: a vegan-friendly protein source, a creamy spread, a source of natural fats, a legume butter that’s often mistaken for a nut butter. Among these labels, though, it is also sometimes considered a health food, with many athletes adding it to smoothies and spreading it on whole-grain toast.
But is peanut butter really healthy for you? Lately, more and more food bloggers and nutritionists have been spreading the word against peanut butter, claiming it is one of the worst foods for your health. So we’re here to set the story straight: Is peanut butter a health food, or a health nightmare?
HEALTH BENEFITS OF PEANUT BUTTER
Let’s start off with the positives. Peanut butter is, like I said, a tasty plant-based source of protein and healthy fats that is extremely palatable and easy to mix into a number of different meals. According to Healthline, peanut butter is about 72 percent fat, 15 percent protein and 13 percent carbohydrate, making it a balanced, though high-fat, food. Those fats are also quite healthy, with about 50 percent of peanut butter’s fat content coming from monunsaturated fats, the same type of fat that’s prevalent in olive oil and avocados.
Watch out for added ingredients in your peanut butter! Though some conventional brands load their peanut butter with sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners, peanuts themselves don’t contain a lot of sugar or carbohydrates. When made with just peanuts (and perhaps a little salt), peanut butter doesn’t contain added sugars and is rich in vitamin E, niacin, magnesium, copper and manganese.
DOWNSIDES OF PEANUT BUTTER
Now for the downsides. Some nutrition advocates swear by avoiding peanut butter altogether. One of the main reasons people fear peanut butter is because many peanuts are contaminated with aflatoxins, a type of mold toxin that’s known to be carcinogenic. Because peanuts grow underground, they are at risk of becoming contaminated with aflatoxin.
Fortunately, all commercially produced peanut butters must be tested for aflatoxin contamination, according to Foods for Better Health. This means you should avoid buying small-batch peanut butter or making your own, as there’s no way to guarantee that these butters don’t contain carcinogenic aflatoxins.
But that’s not all you should be on the lookout for: Many peanut butters are made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, which are also known as trans fats. And finally, because peanuts are one of the highest pesticide-sprayed crops, you’ll probably want to go organic with your peanut butter.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So, is peanut butter healthy? Yes, but you have to know what kind of peanut butter to buy. To protect yourself against aflatoxin exposure and pesticides, go for an organic peanut butter that’s also mass-produced… and make sure that peanut butter only contains two ingredients: peanuts and, if desired, salt!