Some skeptics claim peanut butter is too high in fat and calories while others say it’s helpful for heart health and a well-balanced diet. Does this jar of buttery goodness work for weight loss?
As a registered dietitian and peanut butter preoccupied, I had to dig my spoon into the real recommendations when it comes to whether peanut butter is satisfactory for losing weight.
So, is peanut butter good for weight loss? Peanut butter can be an excellent aspect of a well-rounded weight loss plan. Since it’s high in calories and fat, it’s important to limit portion size and eat it in moderation. Aim to get the natural versions, without added sugars and processed fats.
Let’s go nuts on the science behind why peanut butter can be good for weight loss.
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Peanut Butter Nutrition
Peanut butter in its simple form is natural, whole food. It can be made with just ground peanuts, which contain healthy fats, protein, fiber, and vitamins and minerals.
Health authorities such as Harvard Health explain that consuming more highly processed foods can increase weight gain, while whole foods such as vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts and yogurt are associated with weight loss.
Although peanut butter is high in calories and fat, it contains many beneficial properties which can contribute to a healthy diet and weight (we’ll discuss these benefits later).
Here’s the breakdown of 2 tablespoons peanut butter based on USDA FoodData:
Fat: 15 grams
Protein: 8 grams
Carbohydrates: 7 grams
Fiber: 3 grams
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4 Beneficial Properties Of Peanut Butter
There are four beneficial properties of peanut better:
It is a “plant-based protein”
It is a “healthy fat”
It is high in fiber
It contains important vitamins and minerals
1. PLANT-BASED PROTEIN
Peanuts are an excellent source of plant-based protein. Getting enough protein in your diet is essential for maintaining or building muscle. Increasing muscle mass is associated with higher calorie burn.
Since peanuts are not a complete protein, it’s important to focus on a variety of plant-based protein sources, especially if you’re vegetarian or vegan. Complete proteins contain all of the essential amino acids (protein building blocks). Since peanuts are low in the essential amino acid methionine, you can pair it with whole grains. Put your peanut butter on some whole grain bread or crackers and you’ll be complete!
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2. HEALTHY FATS
Peanuts are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). These are one of the healthiest fats you can get from your diet. The American Heart Association emphasizes that MUFAs have beneficial effects on your heart when eaten in moderation and when used to replace saturated and trans fat sources such as fried foods or fast food.
Monounsaturated fats can help reduce bad types of cholesterol (LDL) in your blood while increasing the good cholesterol (HDL). They also contribute the vitamin E, which is an anti-inflammatory antioxidant, helping to reduce pain and reduce inflammation, which is linked to weight gain.
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The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that healthy adults get between 25 and 38 grams of fiber each day, but most eat about 15 grams.
Peanut butter is a good source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber absorbs water so it creates density and bulk, helping prevent overeating. This makes it so food moves slower through digestion, promoting fullness, and making it easier to stick to a healthy diet.
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3. VITAMINS AND MINERALS
Peanut butter is rich in vitamins and minerals that help support a healthy weight and keep your body healthy. Here are just a few of the nutrient highlights:
Vitamin E: antioxidant that helps protect the heart and skin.
B Vitamins: necessary for energy systems and healthy metabolism.
Magnesium: helps regulate blood pressure, muscle contractions, and keep bones strong.
Zinc: needed for immunity, creation of protein and cell health.
Phosphorus: builds healthy cells and bones and regulates electrolytes.
Niacin: aids digestion and helps create energy.
Why Peanut Butter Is Good For Weight Loss?
Even though nuts are high in calories, studies have shown an inverse relationship between frequency of nut consumption and body mass index (BMI).
Clinical trials revealed little or no weight change when participants included different types of nuts (although peanuts are technically a legume) in their diet, over a period of one to six months. This can be attributed to the fact that they are filling, have properties that decrease calorie absorption, and increase calorie burn.
PEANUT BUTTER IS SATISFYING
Dietary fat is often blamed for the prevalence of weight gain and obesity. Yet studies have suggested that certain types of fats can be satisfying. This is partially because dietary fat takes longer to digest, so there are more signals to your brain that you’ve had enough.
As a bonus, combining fat and fiber has been shown to increase the satiety effect, meaning you’ll be super full of a healthy fat and fiber combination. Peanut butter contains a good amount of both fat and fiber.
PEANUT BUTTER DECREASES CALORIE ABSORPTION
Another reason that nuts may not be as hard of a hit on calories and weight is that they have poor bioaccessibility. This means that there is limited ability for your body to absorb the energy.
Since the fat in nuts is stored in the cell walls, it’s more difficult for our bodies to access. As a result, some fat passes through our digestive system. Studies suggest that we may not absorb up to about 20% of the calories from nuts as previously thought.
PEANUT BUTTER DECREASES CALORIE ABSORPTION
The thermic effect of food is how much energy it takes to break down and absorb the food we eat. This includes chewing, digesting, making enzymes, and muscular movements and stomach contractions. On average, this accounts for about 10% of our total calorie expenditure per day.
The high protein and fiber contribute to an increased calorie burn. In one study, participants who ate healthy fats, such as the ones found in nuts, had 23% higher thermogenesis (calorie burn).
As health experts Precision Nutrition explain, protein takes the most energy to digest, at about 20-30%. Fiber also takes longer to digest and can also keep you full for longer.
Use Caution: Not All Jars of Peanut Butter Are Created Equal
Some brands of store-bought peanut butter are highly processed which is linked to weight gain. They have damaging hydrogenated oils (trans fat), added sugar, and are often genetically modified.
DANGEROUS TRANS FATS
Trans fats were originally created by food manufacturers to extend the shelf-life of foods. They have been linked to increased risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. They also increase inflammation in the body which can interfere with weight loss.
When you buy peanut butter, check out the ingredient list. Avoid the ones with partially hydrogenated or fully hydrogenated fats. This is another word for trans fat. Another quick way to know whether your peanut butter is a good option is the texture of it. If the oil separates from the peanuts, this is a good hint that the peanut butter is free of partially and fully hydrogenated oils.
Many store-bought peanut butters contain added sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. These further increase the calorie value, making it not an ideal weight loss option. Some studies have shown that when people lower sugar intake they more easily reduce their weight.
Commonly genetically modified crops include wheat, soy, corn, and peanuts. Genetic modification and its impact on health is up for debate. It has the benefit of supporting the increasing human population but it’s possible it may have a detrimental effect on the body including sensitivities which may have an impact on weight. Research is inconclusive so it’s best to limit or avoid consumption of these products whenever possible.
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How To Make Your Own Peanut Butter For Weight Loss
One of the best ways to avoid harmful hydrogenated oils, sweeteners, and artificial ingredients is to make your own peanut butter!
You can make homemade peanut butter in under five minutes with just one ingredient: dry roasted peanuts. Then you can add salt or seasonings, depending on whether you want savory or sweet. For savory, try garlic powder, a bit of hot pepper, or even herbs such as oregano. For a sweet vibe, try cinnamon, raw cocoa powder, or nutmeg.
HOMEMADE PEANUT BUTTER RECIPE
2 cups (16 ounces) roasted and shelled peanuts (without added oil).
½ teaspoon salt or salt to taste.
Optional: 1-2 tablespoons of the spices or seasonings of choice.
Food processor or blender.
Jar or sealed container.
Pulse the peanuts until ground by processing for one minute at a time. Stop and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl of blender between blends.
Add salt and any spices or seasonings.
Process one more time until the peanuts become smooth.
Transfer to a storage container, cover, and refrigerate or enjoy right away.
TIPS FOR HOMEMADE PEANUT BUTTER
Once you have your homemade peanut butter or healthy store bought version, you can enjoy peanut butter many ways:
Stir into oatmeal.
Add it to a smoothie.
Spread on whole wheat toast or crackers.
Dip celery or apple into it.
Use it as a sauce (such as Thai peanut)
Is Peanut Butter A Good Pre-workout Snack?
Peanut butter contains protein and carbs which both make for a good pre-workout snack. Protein helps prevent muscles from being broken down and boosts muscle growth and strength. Carbohydrates contribute enhanced training ability and preserve muscle and liver glycogen stores.
In the three hour window before you exercise, it’s important to eat something that will help you sustain energy, preserve muscle, and speed up recovery time. The best is to have a healthy and balanced meal containing protein and carbs about two hours before a tough workout and another meal within about one to two hours post-workout.
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Since exercise requires a lot of blood flow to the muscles that are working so hard, the blood is flowing away from your stomach. So if you have two to three hours before a workout, it’s good to include peanut butter. But if you only have about two or less hours to go before breaking a sweat, it’s best to avoid the foods that require a lot of effort on your stomach: complex carbs, high-fiber foods, high-fat foods. Give yourself time to digest before slaying your sweat sesh.
Read more about pre-workout nutrition here: The Powerlifting Diet: Eating For Strength (Definitive Guide)
What Weight Loss Is All About
When it comes to weight loss, what matters most is the overall number of calories you’re taking in through food and beverages, and the amount of calories you expend. You want to create a deficit, meaning burning more calories than you take in, without going too low or else it may make your metabolism slower – making it harder to lose weight and keep it off in the long term.
Your body burns calories through these factors:
Basal metabolic rate (BMR): the amount of energy needed to keep our bodies running, such as breathing, heart rate, cell and organ function.
Thermic effect of food: this is what we discussed before. Peanut butter has a better thermic effect since it takes more work to break down a food with fiber and protein.
Activity burn: this is both daily activities such as moving at work and also fitness.
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Let Portion Be Your Guide
As we learned, peanut butter can be very healthy and a favorable option for weight loss, but since it’s high in calories and fat, it’s important to monitor how much you eat. The creamy texture makes it all too easy to get too much. So no spoons in the jar folks.
Increased portion size is one of the main causes for unwanted and unexpected weight gain. Studies suggest that us humans have difficulty controlling what we eat once it’s served to us. So if you pre-measure your portion, you can make peanut butter a nutrient boosting part of your diet.
When it comes to the general recommendation for nuts, the American Heart Association recommends about four 1.5 ounce (about a small handful) servings of unoiled nuts per week and the Food and Drug Administration recommends states that the same portion daily may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
As for peanut butter, aim for about 2 tablespoons as a portion size. Using tablespoons to measure is your best bet. Two tablespoons equals about the size of a golf ball. This should be eaten as part of a balanced and varied diet.
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Peanut butter can be a valuable element of a weight loss program. Since it’s high in calories and fat, watch your portion sizes. Consider making your own at home or look for the natural versions, without added sugars and processed fats. As for crunchy versus smooth – that’s all up to you!
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About The Author
Lisa is a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) with over 15 years of experience in nutrition, fitness, and mental health coaching and education. She studied Foods and Nutrition at San Diego State University and earned a Master of Science in Holistic Nutrition at Hawthorn University.
Having certifications and experience in group exercise, intuitive eating, coaching and psychotherapy, and digestive wellness, she’s enthusiastic about the relationship between the body and mind.
She’s dedicated to helping people understand how to implement healthy habit change, while gaining a deeper understanding of what makes them feel their personal best.