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Is Peanut Butter Good for Diabetics?

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Is Peanut Butter Good for Diabetics?
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For many, peanut butter is a staple. From growing up eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to spreading peanut butter on crackers to, yes, eating a spoonful of peanut butter straight out of the jar, it’s not uncommon for most people’s kitchen cupboards to have a jar or two of this nut butter within easy reach. But is peanut butter all that it’s hyped up to be? And how does it affect your diabetes, if at all?

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What is peanut butter?

The website Wikipedia describes peanut butter as “a food paste or spread made from ground, dry-roasted peanuts. It often contains additional ingredients that modify the taste or texture, such as salt, sweeteners or emulsifiers.”

That description pretty much hits the nail on the head. Peanut butter is so basic that you can make it yourself. Simply toss some roasted peanuts into a food processor and process until a thick, creamy paste forms. You now have peanut butter. Search the internet for how to make peanut butter and you’ll come across plenty of recipes. Some recipes may suggest adding some salt and/or honey, for example.

History of peanut butter

No doubt many people would like to shake the hand of the person (or persons) who invented peanut butter. According to the National Peanut Board, the South American Inca Indians are credited with first grinding peanut to make what we call peanut butter. The peanut butter that we’re all familiar with, however, is credited to at least three men: Marcellus Gilmore Edson from Canada who patented peanut paste in 1884, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg who patented a process for making peanut butter from raw peanuts in 1895, and Dr. Ambrose Straub from St. Louis who patented a peanut-butter-making machine in 1903.

Peanut butter was first introduced at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. Interestingly, for about 20 years after, peanut butter was an expensive treat. It wasn’t until the 1920s, when peanut butter began to be commercially produced, that it become more affordable. Peanut butter even played a key role in both World Wars; it’s thought that the now infamous peanut butter and jelly (aka PB and J) sandwich came about during World War II as sustenance due to a meat shortage.

(By the way, if you’re wondering, peanuts really aren’t nuts, and peanut butter really isn’t a nut butter. Peanuts are actually legumes, like lentils and peas. Legumes grow beneath the ground’s surface whereas nuts grow on trees. But for ease and practicality, we tend to lump peanuts together with other nuts, and peanut butter with other nut butters. That’s because peanuts’ “use in diets and cuisines more closely resemble that of nut,” proclaims The Peanut Institute. And that makes sense – can you imagine substituting peanuts for lentils to make lentil soup?)

Peanut butter is pretty big business in the United States. Peanuts are grown in 13 states across the U.S., as well as in many other countries, such as China, India and Nigeria. The U.S. is the third largest producer of peanut butter, according to the American Peanut Council’s website. In 2018, about 60% of peanuts grown in the U.S. were made into peanut butter. It’s ranked as being one of the most popular foods in the U.S., with an average consumption of three pounds per person per year.

Peanut butter health benefits

While not a low-calorie food (about 70% of its calories comes from fat), peanut butter definitely has merits when it comes to health.

Weight management

If you’re trying to lose weight or keep your weight stable, peanut butter can help keep you feeling full, thanks to its fat and protein content.

Heart health

About 80% of the fat in peanut butter comes from healthy unsaturated fat, which is a type of fat that may lower the risk of heart disease. Peanuts themselves contain a number of nutrients that boost heart health, including magnesium, B vitamins, phytosterols and antioxidants such as resveratrol.

Diabetes management

Peanut butter contains a small amount of carbohydrate. The glycemic index (GI) of peanut butter is 14, which is quite low. This means that peanut butter is less likely to cause high glucose spikes compared to foods with a high GI, such as white bread, for example.

Decreased spread of cancer cells

Nutrients in peanut butter, including unsaturated fats, phytosterols and resveratrol, have been shown to reduce the growth of cancer cells and limit the spread of cancer to other parts of the body.

Protection against Alzheimer’s disease

The niacin, vitamin E and resveratrol in peanuts have been shown to protect against Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related cognitive decline.

Less gallbladder disease

In one study, people who ate peanuts and peanut butter at least five times a week lowered their risk of gallbladder disease by up to 25%.

Peanut butter nutrition

Peanut butter has a pretty impressive nutrient profile – at least, in regard to the number of nutrients that it contains. These include:

· Unsaturated fat

· Protein

· Magnesium

· Phosphorous

· Zinc

· Niacin

· B vitamins

· Folate

· Vitamin E

· Copper

· Manganese

· Potassium

On the other hand, because commercial peanut butters often have added ingredients, you might also get sugar, salt, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (even natural and organic peanut butters ca contain these ingredients). And again, the number of calories in peanut butter is a force to be reckoned with if you have a hard time keeping the portion under control.

A 2-tablespoon serving of regular peanut butter (e.g., Jif) contains:

· 190 calories

· 16 grams of fat

· 2.5 grams of saturated fat

· 8 grams of carbohydrate

· 3 grams of sugar

· 2 grams of fiber

· 7 grams of protein

· 135 milligrams of sodium

A 2-tablespoon serving of natural, unsalted chunky peanut butter (e.g., Teddy All Natural Super Chunky Unsalted) contains:

· 190 calories

· 16 grams of fat

· 2.5 grams of saturated fat

· 7 grams of carbohydrate

· 2 grams of sugar

· 3 grams of fiber

· 8 grams of protein

· 0 milligrams sodium

You might be a little surprised to see that, apart from the sodium content, these two peanut butters don’t differ a whole lot in terms of nutrients. The Teddy peanut butter, however, contains only dry-roasted peanuts, whereas the Jif contains molasses, hydrogenated vegetable oils, mono and diglycerides, and salt.

What about reduced fat peanut butter? Here’s a 2-tablespoon serving of Skippy Peanut Butter Spread Creamy Reduced Fat:

· 180 calories

· 12 grams of fat

· 2 grams of saturated fat

· 14 grams of carbohydrate

· 4 grams of sugar

· 2 grams of fiber

· 7 grams of protein

· 170 milligrams of sodium

Not much here to write home about. There’s only a 10-calorie savings and notably, the carb content has doubled in this peanut butter. This makes sense, since when some fat is removed, something else needs to take its place. That something is sugar; specifically, corn syrup and sugar.

Let’s take a look at one more type of peanut butter: Skippy Protein Creamy Peanut Butter, which is peanut butter blended with pea protein. A 2-tablespoon serving contains:

· 210 calories

· 16 grams of fat

· 3 grams of saturated fat

· 6 grams of carbohydrate

· 3 grams of sugar

· 2 grams of saturated fat

· 10 grams of protein

· 150 milligrams sodium

This peanut butter contains 20 more calories, 3 grams more protein and 1 less gram of carb than the regular version of Skippy. It’s also more costly, thanks to the added pea protein.

Choosing peanut butter

Peanut butter has come a long way since it first hit the scene in the U.S. in 1904. Today, there are many brands and types of peanut butter that line grocery store shelves. Some are touted as being “natural”; others are organic, reduced-fat or chunky. You can even find powdered peanut. Many of the newer varieties of peanut butter come with a hefty price tag, as well. So how do you choose the healthiest peanut butter without breaking your budget?

· Choose a peanut butter with the least number of added ingredients, when possible. No one really needs added sugar, salt or hydrogenated fats in their peanut butter.

· Don’t be fooled by the terms “natural” and “organic.” Both can still contain added sugar, salt and fat.

· Stick with full-fat peanut butter. The difference in fat between regular and reduced fat is negligible, and remember that reduced fat has added carb.

· A higher price tag doesn’t mean a better peanut butter. A 16-ounce jar of Justin’s Classic Peanut Butter, which costs $1.30 more than the same size of All-Natural Unsalted Teddy Peanut Butter, is higher in fat than many other brands and also contains palm oil, a type of saturated fat.

· Steer clear of peanut butter mixed with jelly (e.g., Smucker’s Goober Peanut Butter & Grape Jelly) or chocolate. You’ll end up with considerably more calories or carbs.

Can diabetics eat peanut butter?

Absolutely. As with any food, though, you need to consider your portion and your own nutrient goals. Reading the Nutrition Facts label of your peanut butter jar, no matter which type or brand you choose, will help you determine how to fit peanut butter into your own eating plan. Here are some tips:

· Add peanut butter to your breakfast: spread on whole-grain toast or an apple, stir it into overnight oats, or blend it into your favorite smoothie.

· Enjoy a lower-carb snack by spreading peanut butter on celery, raw carrots or a rice cake.

· Don’t use peanut butter to treat a low blood sugar. The fat in the peanut butter will prevent your blood sugar from rising fast enough.

· If you’re allergic to peanuts or just don’t care for them, try another type of nut butter or give sunflower seed butter a try. Again, read the label and ingredients list so that you know what you’re getting.

· Keep tabs on your blood sugar, especially if you are switching up your brand of peanut butter or eating it more often. Checking your blood sugar with your meter a couple hours after you eat peanut butter can give you a good idea as to its impact; likewise, referring to your CGM, if you use one, will give you valuable insight.

Want to learn more about eating well with diabetes? Read “Improving Your Recipes: One Step at a Time,” “Top Tips for Healthier Eating” and “Cooking With Herbs and Spices.”

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES on social media

A Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Good Measures, LLC, where she is a CDE manager for a virtual diabetes program. Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition & Meal Planning, a co-author of 16 Myths of a Diabetic Diet, and has written for  publications including Diabetes Self-Management, Diabetes Spectrum, Clinical Diabetes, the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation’s newsletter, DiabeticConnect.com, and CDiabetes.com

 

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