IT’S NOT QUITE time to eat a meal, but you’re hungry. What’s going to do the trick? Yeah, probably heaping spoonful or two of peanut butter.
The nutrient-dense pantry staple is a much-loved food of endurance athletes and lifters alike. In addition to being supremely tasty, it’s a boon for healthy eating, too.
“Peanut butter, especially when it is just ground peanuts is an extremely healthy food that is full of healthy fiber, monounsaturated fats that are so good for our heart, and are high in plant-based proteins that support muscle health,” says Dana Ellis Hunnes Ph.D., R.D., author of Recipe For Survival.
Eating peanut butter can even help keep you satiated and helps with blood-sugar regulation. “People who eat peanut butter are no heavier than their peers who do not eat peanut butter, and often may even weigh less because they tend to eat fewer calories throughout the day and also tend to snack on healthier foods in general,” says Ellis Hunnes.
Paired with fruits, vegetables, or whole-grain breads/crackers, peanut butter has just the right mixture of healthy fat, carbohydrates, and protein to keep you going for several hours.
Here’s the scoop on everything you’ve wanted to know about peanut butter and your health.
What Is Peanut Butter?
The name itself is pretty self-explanatory: Peanut butter is a butter-like spread made of peanuts.
More specifically: “Peanut butter is made of dry-roasted peanuts that are then ground. In the past, peanut butter contained additional ingredients to preserve shelf life and mix all ingredients well (emulsifier),” says Blanca Garcia, R.D.N., nutrition specialist of MIDSS.
You can, of course, readily purchase peanut butter without any added sugars, preservatives, or emulsifiers.
“Typically you can get peanut butter as a smooth spread or a spread with chunks of peanuts. The most common peanut butter will often have 10 percent salt, added sugars, hydrogenated vegetable oils, and emulsifiers to keep all ingredients mixed,” Garcia says. “For the smooth style, ingredients may be added to create a thick paste that spreads easily.”
Your best route is all-natural peanut butter, which is typically made with only peanuts, and sometimes a touch of salt for flavor.
Want to dig deeper? Here are even more of your questions about peanut butter and health—answered.
Is Peanut Butter Good for You?
Yes, peanut butter is a great choice for healthy eating.
“Peanut butter has 22 grams per 100 grams (3.5 oz). Its highest nutrient is fat at 55 grams per 100 grams. It’s also an excellent source of vitamin B3 at 89 percent of the recommended daily value, a vitamin that is important in metabolism and reactions in DNA repair,” says Garcia.
It’s also got plenty of vitamin E at 60 percent of the recommended daily value per serving. Vitamin E “functions as an antioxidant, stabilizing free radicals and minimizing damage in the body,” says Garcia. “It is also known to help the immune system by defending the body against infectious agents.”
Although fat can contribute to greater calorie intake, the type of fat in peanut butter is monounsaturated, which has been shown to decrease low density lipoprotein (LDL), potentially lowering the risk of atherosclerosis.
“Peanut butter, when it is just ground peanuts, is an extremely healthy food that is full of healthy fats, carbs, fiber, and protein,” reiterates Ellis Hunnes, adding that you should aim to eat around an ounce (with a maximum of two ounces) per day; one ounce is two tablespoons of peanut butter.
Is Peanut Butter Good for Muscle Building?
If you’re looking to bulk up, peanut butter is your friend.
Ellis Hunnes says that peanut butter is a good choice for building muscle because it has protein and calories. “So many people focus on protein, don’t get enough calories, and then wonder why they have trouble gaining muscle,” she says. “It’s because we really need both (and actually, less protein than most people think). So, yes, it’s great to add to smoothies, eat on its own, eat with fruit, etc., to help with muscle growth.”
Is Peanut Butter Good for Weight Loss?
Yes, peanut butter might help people looking to slim down, too.
This is because eating a spoonful or two of peanut butter can help you stave off hunger and contribute to you consuming fewer calories later. “A 160-calorie portion (two tablespoons) may in fact keep you from eating 300 or 400 extra calories as snacks or other ‘treats’ later in the day, so it turns out to be a calorie savings, which is what you need for weight loss.”
Garcia says that peanut butter, with its protein and fiber, helps trap sugar molecules and prevent all of them from being absorbed. “Excess sugar can be sent to the liver for storage as fat, the idea is to consume foods that can help eliminate the excess sugar before it’s absorbed,” she says.
All that said, “because of [peanut butter’s] high-calorie content of 597 calories per 3.5 ounces, the calories can quickly add up.,” says Garcia. “Therefore, it’s important to be aware that more than 3.5 ounces of peanut butter per day can easily add to the equivalent of a meal.”
And whether buying peanut butter to amp up your biceps or drop weight, you should always seek out products with the least amount of ingredients as possible to ensure you’re getting a high-quality, nutrient-dense food without additives or excess sugar.
Perri is a New York City-born-and-based writer; she holds a bachelor’s in psychology from Columbia University and is also a culinary school graduate of the plant-based Natural Gourmet Institute, which is now the Natural Gourmet Center at Institute Of Culinary Education. Her work has appeared in the New York Post, Men’s Journal, Rolling Stone, Oprah Daily, Insider.com, Architectural Digest, Southern Living, and more. She’s probably seen Dave Matthews Band in your hometown, and she’ll never turn down a bloody mary. Learn more at VeganWhenSober.com.