Nutty About Peanut Butter

Shopping, eating, and cooking tips for peanut butter, an all-American favorite.

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

As American as apple pie, peanut butter has made its mark on American cuisine since the early 1900s. Whether it's partnering with jelly on bread or is the featured ingredient in cookie dough, it's an enduring favorite. Most households have a jar of it in the kitchen at all times.

But is peanut butter good for you? Well, like most nut butters, peanut butter is high in fat and calories (with around 190 calories and 16 grams of fat per 2 tablespoons). But the good news is, you get a lot of nutrition for your 190-calorie investment. Nuts and nut butters are a great source of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.

In 2003 the FDA approved a qualified health claim for peanuts and certain tree nuts. It basically says that scientific evidence suggests that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts (as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol) may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Most of the research suggesting health benefits to nuts has involved lowering the risk of heart or cardiovascular disease or their risk factors. But there is some evidence nuts may help with other diseases as well. For example, peanuts are a source of the phytochemical resveratrol (also found in grape skins and red wine). A recent German study explored resveratrol's possible cancer-preventing effects in colorectal cells.

Acts Like a Nut

The funny thing is, the peanut is actually a legume, native to South America, that happens to look and taste like a nut.

Nutritionally, peanuts act like nuts, too. About half their weight comes from fat, with the rest split fairly evenly between protein and carbohydrate (with fiber). About half of their total fat comes from monounsaturated fat, the kind that is linked to more healthful blood lipid levels. One-third of the fat comes from polyunsaturated fat (all of which is omega-6 fatty acid, not the superhealthy omega-3). About 14% of the fat is naturally saturated.

What to Look for in Peanut Butter

When shopping for peanut butter, look for a natural style product with little to no added fat or sugar. Some companies add partially hydrogenated oils to the regular type of peanut butter. And depending on the amount added, this could add trans fats into the equation.

When it comes to sodium, even most natural brands of peanut butter add some salt for flavor. A little goes a long way, though. Around 120 milligrams sodium per 2 tablespoons usually does the trick!

Here is a comparison of a few brands of peanut butter:

JIF. JIF is a great-tasting peanut butter, made mostly from roasted peanuts with a little bit of sugar thrown in, along with a bit (2% or less) of molasses, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, and fully hydrogenated rapeseed and soybean oil. Each 2-tablespoon serving contains:

  • 190 calories
  • 16 grams of fat, 3 grams of which are saturated
  • 0 grams trans fat (to make this label claim, the product must have 0.4 grams of trans fat or less per serving)
  • 3 grams of sugar
  • 8 grams of protein
  • 2 grams of fiber

JIF does make a reduced-fat variety. But don't be surprised to see that it contains the same number of calories per serving as regular JIF, even though there are 4 grams less fat per serving. This is because there are 8 grams more carbohydrate per serving (thanks at least in part to the extra 1 gram of sugar.

Smart Balance Omega Natural Peanut Butter. Not only has peanut butter gone "omega" with added flax oil, this peanut butter also contains no hydrogenated oil and no refined sugar (they do add a small bit of molasses). It still contains 3 grams of saturated fat per 2-tablespoon serving though. That's because in addition to the high omega-3 flaxseed oil, it contains palm fruit oil, which could add some saturated fat to the small amount naturally in peanuts (1.3 grams saturated fat per 2 tablespoons of roasted peanuts). Each 2-tablespoon serving has:

  • 200 calories
  • 17 grams of fat
  • 3 grams of saturated fat
  • 0 grams of trans fat
  • 12 grams monounsaturated fat
  • 2 grams polyunsaturated fat (1 gram of which is from plant omega-3s)
  • 1 gram sugar
  • 7 grams protein
  • 2 grams of fiber

Laura Scudder's Natural Style Reduced Fat. Natural-style peanut butter goes mainstream with Laura Scudder's Natural Style Reduced Fat Smooth Peanut Butter. This peanut butter is reduced fat because some of the peanuts they use are fat-reduced ground peanuts, plus there's no added fat. Maltodextrin is added instead, probably to help bind the peanut butter (maltodextrin is a moderately sweet compound produced from starch). Each 2-tablespoon serving has:

  • 200 calories
  • 12 grams of fat
  • 2 grams saturated fat
  • 0 grams trans fat
  • 2 grams sugar
  • 9 grams protein
  • 2 grams fiber


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