Peanut butter proponents tell you, ‘It’s good for you! Peanuts are legumes!’
Those who are opposed to peanut butter retort, ‘But it is so fattening, and it is packed with sugar!’
Hovering in front of the peanut butter jars in the grocery aisle, you may find yourself torn both ways.
‘I could sure use more protein in my diet …’ you think, ‘and peanut butter is so tasty. But … calories! Sugar! I’ll get fat!’
There has to be a scientific answer, right?
Of course. All we need to do is look at the evidence.
So let’s learn all about peanut butter – how it is made, what it contains, and its health benefits and drawbacks.
At the end of this article, we will be able to conclude once and for all whether peanut butter is good for us or not!
Peanut Butter Infographic
What is Peanut Butter?
This may sound like a ridiculously basic question – peanut butter is essentially just ground up peanuts, right?
But it is worth taking a moment to discuss what peanut butter is because what you are buying at the store may or may not be the real deal.
At its most basic, peanut butter is nothing more than peanuts (maybe roasted, maybe not) which have been ground up into a smooth, creamy consistency (sometimes with chunks).
Sometimes a little salt is added.
That is it! That is what peanut butter is supposed to be.
Now the problem is that a lot of peanut butter labels at the store look more like this:
As you can see, roasted peanuts and salt are just two of the ingredients listed here.
Also included in Smucker’s peanut butter are:
- Fully hydrogenated vegetable oils (soybean and rapeseed)
- Mono and diglycerides
- 4g of sugar per serving
This is not a huge amount of sugar, but it isn’t negligible either.
It may not be a big deal if you just eat a little bit of peanut butter spread on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich now and again, but a lot of peanut butter fans go through a lot of peanut butter fast – so that sugar can add up.
Keep in mind that even peanut butter that is made without added sugar still contains some natural sugar.
But obviously a product without any added is going to be healthier than one that has unnecessary extra sugar.
Then there are those ‘mono and diglycerides.’ What the heck are those?
Well, since 2006, the FDA has required food manufacturers to list trans fats on their labels, but this does not apply to emulsifiers.
Mono and diglycerides are emulsifiers.
And guess what? They may contain trans fats, and you would never even know it.
Another problem with these emulsifiers is that they are heavily processed using many chemicals.
Some of these chemicals may be present in your peanut butter in trace amounts.
The health effects of these chemicals have not been adequately studied.
What about the “fully hydrogenated vegetable oils?”
That one may sound bad, but it actually is not. Partially hydrogenated oils may contain trans fats, but fully hydrogenated oils do not.
They turn into saturated fats.
And what about salt, which is found even in the most innocuous peanut butters?
The dangers of sodium also have been exaggerated.
In fact, studies indicate that cutting back on sodium has no significant effect on curbing cardiovascular disease or mortality resulting from it (3).
But many of the commercial peanut butter products you see for sale are more heavily processed and may contain some unwanted and unnecessary ingredients such as sugar and mono and diglycerides.
Mono and diglycerides are emulsifiers, and may contain unlabeled trans fats.