You are here

Why Peanut Butter May Not Be As Healthy As You Think

July 30, 2013

Main Image

Unless you’re part of the 1% of the population who is allergic to peanuts, chances are that peanut butter is a staple in your household. The National Peanut Board estimates that the average American consumes more than six pounds of peanut butter per year—and not just in the form of PB&J sandwiches. Peanut butter is added to just about everything, ranging from smoothies and breakfast foods to savory dinner recipes like chili and stir-fries.


Why is peanut butter present in the majority of American diets? Not only do most people find it very tasty, but many health experts also recommend consuming a serving of peanut butter a day (2 tablespoons) as part of a healthy diet. According Dr. Walter Willet, Professor of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, “unsaturated fats, which make up the majority of the fat content in peanut butter, help reduce LDL cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease.”  

However, not everyone in the health field is an advocate for labeling peanut butter a health food. In fact, new research suggests that the health benefits of peanut butter are minimal compared to the risks.


The Paleo diet, a diet that has been gaining popularity over recent years, includes nuts as a part of its inflammation-fighting menu, but notably discourages the consumption of peanuts.  That’s because peanuts are not actually nuts, but are in fact legumes. The Paleo diet generally discourages the consumption of legumes because it’s believed that in order to experience nutritional benefits, legumes must be cooked for long periods of time and sprouted in order to remove most of the phytic acid and lectins they contain.


Research shows that peanuts can contain aflatoxins, a naturally occurring toxin created by mold that forms when crops like peanuts are stored in large masses. It’s been said that large doses of aflatoxins are a liver carcinogen and could be causing an immune system reaction. This might also explain why peanuts are one of the 8 most common ingredients that trigger food allergies.


Although mostly speculative, studies also suggest that peanut agglutinin, a peanut lectin, has been shown to make it through the gut lining to end up in the blood stream causing digestive issues and increasing the risk of developing inflammatory bowel related diseases.


As Mark Sisson explains on Mark’s Daily Apple, peanut butter does contain nutrients, but there are other options that are a healthier choice.“I don’t see anything at which it particularly excels. You can get your polyphenols and your minerals from fruits and vegetables, your monounsaturated fat from meat, olive oil, mac nuts, and avocados, and your smooth pulverized salty nutty fix from almond butter, mac nut butter, coconut butter, or any other nut butter – without the peanut lectin, the weirdly atherogenic fat, the aflatoxin load.”


Almond butter is a healthy alternative to peanut butter if you’re looking to swap out peanut butter or to add some additional healthy fats, protein and vitamin E to your diet.


What’s your favorite nut butter?