In a time when most people were staying at home more and avoiding excess trips to the grocery store as much as possible last year, many of your favorite pantry staples—like creamy, melt-in-your-mouth peanut butter—were pulling double snacktime duty. But even pre-pandemic, peanut butter has long been one of America’s most-loved and versatile foods. You can spread it on a banana or celery for a protein-and-fiber-packed snack, you can add it to breakfast smoothies, overnight oats, and dessert recipes for extra flavor, and there’s no shame in enjoying a few spoonfuls of yumminess on its own.
When not overly processed (like some commercial brands), peanut butter is a very healthy food that boasts tons of nutrients and health benefits, and can even help with weight loss. However, there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing” and eating peanut butter in excess can come with some risks.
We looked at the science and asked experts to weigh in on what can happen to your body—both the good and the bad—if you eat a ton of peanut butter. And just so you know, here are 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time for you to try out, too.
Peanut butter is chock full of nutrients and antioxidants that can help boost heart health, including niacin, magnesium, vitamin E, and healthy unsaturated fats. It’s also low in carbs.
One study revealed that people with cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease had a lowered risk of mortality with increased peanut butter intake, due to the powerful antioxidants found in nuts. Peanuts are a rich source of the micronutrient polyphenols, which may be the reason for their heart-healthy nature.
As nutritious and delicious as peanut butter can be, your go-to creamy snack can also contain hidden added sugars and unhealthy trans fats.
If you’re scanning the shelves for peanut butter to buy, “check the back of the labels,” says Marysa Cardwell, nutrition therapist and contributing dietitian to Lose It!. “Buy peanut butter with only a little bit of salt and avoid ones with more than three ingredients.” Even the Reduced Fat version of the popular Skippy brand, for instance, has corn syrup solids and hydrogenated vegetable oil listed high up on the ingredients list—yikes!
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“Peanut butter is high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, and consumption of these may improve insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism,” says Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN.
In a 2018 randomized control trial that examined eating nuts and inflammatory markers in people with type 2 diabetes, it was found that nut consumption—and specifically consumption of peanut butter—resulted in improved fasting glucose as well as after-meal blood sugars. (And FYI, this is How Every State Eats Peanut Butter.)
Aflatoxins—toxins produced from a fungi that can contaminate agriculture and peanut plants—are linked to an increased risk of liver and kidney cancer in humans. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tests foods like peanuts and peanut butter for aflatoxins; there have been no reported illnesses in the United States, but there have been outbreaks in developing and tropical countries.
While there is only a small chance of ingesting aflatoxins, here’s how you can be surely safe: “Buy reputable peanut butter grown closer to [the U.S.], since studies found that American grown peanuts were under the safe limit for aflatoxins,” says Cardwell. (Related: The Nutrition Low-Down on Peanut Butter.)
A small 2017 randomized control trial revealed that peanut consumption is associated with a reduced intake of snack foods and may help with weight management.
“Peanuts are a rich source of protein and fiber in a convenient form,” says Feller. Come snack time, even just a few bites of peanut butter spread on an apple will stick to your ribs and keep you satisfied until your next meal—unlike an empty-but-high-calorie nosh like potato chips, which will leave you unsatisfied and reaching back into the bag an hour later.
That said, peanut butter is still a calorie-dense food (about 200 calories a serving) and you can OD on its deliciousness. “Peanut butter is what I call a ‘domino food,’ meaning, it’s easy to eat more than a serving,” says Cardwell. “If you are watching your weight, you might want to measure out your peanut butter.” For more, check out the top 10 peanut butters that we taste-tested, and which one is the best!