Many adults avoid eating peanut butter, for one of two reasons: Either it seems like it belongs in the realm of kiddie foods (see: PB&J, ants on a log), or it’s considered an unhealthy food because of its fat content. But if you’re armed with the right information, you can reap many health benefits from this creamy, irresistible spread.
Although peanut butter gets a bad rap for being high in fat, the majority of it comes from monounsaturated fats, aka the good stuff for which olive oil is perennially praised. And as part of an overall low-fat diet, fats are known to increase satiety, so you feel full and satisfied. Peanut butter also is high in protein, low carb, and cholesterol-free.
There’s no denying that many commercially available peanut butters are made with partially hydrogenated oil—producers add the stuff to foods to extend their shelf life and, in the case of peanut butter, enhance the appearance. (Without the addition of partially hydrogenated oil, the natural peanut oil may separate from the solids in peanut butter; stirring it makes it uniform again.) Partially hydrogenated oils are the source of harmful trans-fatty acids, which are deleterious to cholesterol—they both raise LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol and lower HDL, or “good,” cholesterol. Trans fats also increase triglyceride levels and, according to the Mayo Clinic, may promote the growth of fatty blockages in blood vessels
Fortunately, it’s easy nowadays to find peanut butters that do not contain hydrogenated oils, including affordable store-brand versions. Look for words like “natural” on the front of the label—but still check the ingredients list, too: Be sure you’re avoiding hydrogenated oils as well as palm oil, sugar or artificial sweeteners, and salt. A good tip: If there’s not a thin layer of oil at the top of the jar, you should probably put it back on the shelf.
Once you find a healthy peanut butter, step outside the lunchbox and explore this food’s savory side. To get started, try this healthy recipe for chicken satay salad wraps, inspired by a traditional Indonesian dish. The flavorful sauce is made with a small amount of peanut butter, so you’ll keep calories in check, and the dish is bursting with fresh flavorful ingredients, from zippy ginger and fiery red pepper flakes to crisp cucumbers and fragrant cilantro.