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Peanut Butter: How it fits in a healthy diet

By Steve Marteski

Peanut butter has been consumed since ancient times in one form or another. Many tout its health benefits through its healthy fats, protein content, and micronutrient content. The other side of peanut butter is that is shockingly calorie dense. To put the total calories of peanut butter in perspective; a cup of wild rice has about 188 calories, a cup of oatmeal has about 145; whereas a basic cup of peanut butter has about 1,500. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but for those watching their calorie intake, a little bit adds up quick.

Peanut butter is about 70% fats, with the rest being split about 60/40 between protein and carbohydrates. Peanut butter is high in protein and is a great source for vegetarians and vegans. However, the protein in peanut butter is incomplete, meaning it does not contain all 20 amino acids necessary to be reconstructed into the protein your body needs; including some of the essential ones. Complete protein sources are generally animal derived sources like egg, chicken, milk, beef and fish. Fortunately, the fact that peanut protein is incomplete can be somewhat offset by eating other plant protein sources such as grains and cereals like bread and oatmeal. As far as the fat content, the fat calories in peanut butter are primarily monounsaturated fats which are highly beneficial to your health in many aspects. With that said, studies have shown that diets high in peanut oil combined with cholesterol intake cause heavy arterial clogging. So, in a word, moderation.

People tend to generalize foods as either “good” or “bad,” as does the media. It would be convenient if it was this simple, but unfortunately the answer is in the grey area. Nearly every food can be good (or insignificant) at one amount and very bad at a higher amount. Too little can be bad, too much is also bad. For instance, a raw onion is pretty healthy for you. It has about 100 calories, offers vitamins and nutrients, etc. A Bloomin’ Onion from Outback Steakhouse, however, has about 2,200 calories and has enough bad fats to cause serious problems quickly. While not as extreme, the same is true of peanut butter. There are two ends of the spectrum of peanut butter types and many options in between.

First, there is the $17.00 per jar natural, organic, wild-grown, vegan, grass-fed, dolphin safe etc. etc. version of Peanut Butter which is essentially roasted peanuts ground up and put in a jar by a woman who spends her free time planting trees. This version separates and needs to be stirred and tastes rather bland. It does, however, make for the healthiest version of peanut butter available. On the other end of the spectrum is the $1.99 plastic tub of Wal*Mart sugar, fat, fudge flavored, kids love it version of peanut butter. This version has perfect consistency and tastes sweet and rich. The main difference is that the latter version has added sugar, salt and partially hydrogenated oils that deteriorate its nutritional profile. It is also machine processed by milling the peanuts between two heated surfaces to get it to the desired consistency, which in turn deteriorates some of the nutritional quality.

On a side note, many opt for Almond butter as a ‘healthier’ alternative to peanut butter. The main decipherable difference between the two is that almond butter has a bit more vitamin E and magnesium and calcium. However, if you take your health seriously enough to buy almond butter over peanut butter, one would assume you already take a multivitamin, making this a moot point. As far as fat/protein quality however, there is no significant difference. It is possible that almond butter got its ‘healthier than peanut butter’ reputation by being compared to the mainstream added sugar/fat version of peanut butter; as almond butter doesn’t generally come with added sugar, oils, etc. Compared to natural peanut butter health wise, almond butter is essentially the same.

So in all, peanut butter has a lot of health benefits and is relatively unique in the plant world with its high levels of healthy fats and proteins. It can be used as a tremendous asset to your diet. Just don’t go overboard.