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Is peanut butter really healthy? It depends

Is peanut butter really healthy? It depends

Is peanut butter really healthy? It depends
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By Shloka Badkar  Sept 19, 2022 9:07:20 PM IST (Published)

Like for just about everything in life, when it comes to peanut butter, experts also recommend moderation and a certain degree of savvy. CNBC-TV18 spoke to several nutritionists to give you a rounded understanding of the 'healthy' butter that America spread across the world.  

Peanut butter is gradually making its way into Indian diets. Rich in protein and fats, the spread is popular across all age groups.

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“It is now the preferred spread among teenagers, adults, and even kids love peanuts in the form of peanut butter because it just adds a little zing to the meal,” said Pooja Bhargava, a nutritionist.

Last week, Mensa Brands acquired Myfitness, a leading peanut butter brand, and its line-up contains variants of peanut butter, including chocolate, crunchy and high-protein.

CNBCTV18.com spoke to a few nutritionists to understand if peanut butter really is healthy, its nutritional value, how much of it is ideal for consumption and more.

Nuts about nutrition

Peanuts are considered to be fat and protein-sourced. “For example, for 100g of peanuts, 50g would be fats and around 25-30g would be protein,” Bhargava said, adding that they also contain a certain amount of carbohydrates.

Nutritionist Varsha Kripalani said that the majority of the fats present in peanuts are from mono-unsaturated fatty acids, which are good for us. “However, they also have a good amount of saturated fatty acids, which are not good for us,” she said.

Peanuts are also a great source of biotin, which is very good for the hair, said Bhargava. “They are a great source of magnesium, which helps in keeping a good gut health as well as muscle soreness. They are a good source of vitamin E, which is an anti-oxidant — it helps fight the distress in the cells. So peanuts and peanut butter put together have a lot of micro-nutrients present in them. But the only point here is one should know how to use them,” said Bhargava.

Read the labels — correctly

Peanut butter can be made at home; it takes around 10 minutes. One just has to roast the peanuts and then grind them to form a paste. This, according to nutritionists, is the healthiest form of peanut butter.

“Homemade peanut butter is the healthiest, because you have control on what and how much you add to it. When you make it at home, you don’t need to add extra salt because you don’t need a preservative. If someone does want a sweeter version, they can add raw honey or dates, which is better than adding refined or processed sugar,” Kripalani, who also holds an MSc in specialised dietetics (diabetes and cardiac nutrition) and is a certified diabetes educator, said.

However, to find out which of the peanut butters found in stores is healthy, it is important for consumers to check the ingredients.

“When you read the label, the first ingredient should be peanuts. Some brands are misleading, because they say it is peanut butter but it is never the first ingredient. Make sure that at least 70-80 percent of the peanut butter is made up by nuts. And the remaining, such as if dates, etc are added as a sweetener, so then that makes up the around the remaining 20 percent. It should largely be made of peanuts,” another nutritionist Divya Ahuja said.

She added that another way to know if it is a good-quality peanut butter is to check if it has only a few ingredients. “If there are a lot of ingredients mentioned then you know that it is a very highly-processed butter,” she said.

Kripalani agreed, saying it is important to check the labels. “Consumers should look at the fat content. Most brands have the total distribution — total fats, how much is saturated, how much is mono-unsaturated, poly unsaturated fats and how much is the trans-fat content — mentioned. It is ideal that the butter have zero trans-fat and a proportion of less saturated fats to more mono unsaturated fats,” she said.

Kripalani said consumers should preferably choose peanut butters that have zero added sugar.

Bhargava said often extra sugar is added to the butter to make it tastier. “Many brands use extra sugar to flavour the peanut butter and a lot of additives. That is what makes it unhealthy. Also, it is important to remember that peanut butter becomes unhealthy because we finally tend to forget that it has more fat,” she said.

Proportion is key

“Anything in excess is not good,” Ahuja said, adding that it is ideal to consume peanut butter in moderation.

Peanut butter is usually recommended for people who are wanting to gain weight or to growing children. “But when one is looking at weight loss, or someone who has cardiovascular diseases or high cholesterol, we do not recommend peanut butter,” Kripalani said.

Kripalani opined that one should limit peanut butter consumption to one tablespoon per serving while Bhargava said one can consume 1-2 tablespoons daily.

“How much a person can consume is very individualised and based on their goals,” Kripalani said.

Bhargava said that if a person’s goal is to reduce weight too much (six tablespoons) of peanut butter is definitely beyond their dietary limit. “That is where peanut butter does not become a healthier option. The right way to consume it is a maximum of two tablespoons in day because they give around 150-180 calories and a good 8-9g of protein and good amount of fat,” she said, adding that flavoured peanut butters with excess sugar is far from a healthy option.

Ways to eat peanut butter

Almost a staple in the United States, peanut butter has gained popularity across the world. A quick search for #peanutbutter on Instagram will lead to 6.5 million posts — ranging from peanut butter recipes, videos/photos of desserts with peanut butter in it and so on.

Thanks to the internet, there is a plethora of recipes that one can look up to rustle up peanut butter meals or desserts.

Here are a few peanut butter food ideas:

  • Add it to apple or pear slices as a pre-workout snack.
  • Pair it with crackers.
  • Add it to salad dressings.
  • Can be added to desserts.
  • Peanut butter soba noodle salad.
  • Summer rolls with peanut butter dip.
  • Peanut butter smoothie.
  • “If one wants to make a high-calorie or high-energy salad, then adding peanut butter to the salad dressing is better. Also when it is added to the dressing, the quantity (consumed) is lesser — not more than 1- 2 tablespoons of peanut butter,” said Kripalani.

    Postscript: Mom’s peanuts best

    Bhargava said she prefers the age-old way peanuts were/still are eaten in India, on their own or as a flavouring agent.

    “I really liked the way our mothers traditionally used peanuts for the family. We would have a small serving size, one tablespoon, of peanut chutney on the side. It would contain peanuts, garlic and little bit of shredded coconut. Garlic is known to help your digestive system, it helps as a prebiotic, and then the peanuts with the little bit of good fat, which is needed to absorb the food,” she said.

    She added that she often prescribes to her clients two tablespoons of peanut chutney with their lunch or during their mid-day meal — a khakra with vegetables and one tablespoon of peanut chutney on it.

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