The United States is one of the biggest markets for peanut butter, but this simple high-protein food is consumed all over the world. The global market was worth $3.8 billion in 2021, according to market researcher IMARC, and it’s still growing.
Newsweek has spoken to nutritional experts to get the low-down on the benefits of peanut spread, the healthiest ways to eat it—it might not be your mom’s PB&J—and whether you can have too much of it.
Readers may want to consult a health care professional before making any changes to their diet.
How Much Protein and Carbohydrate Are in Peanut Butter?
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s FoodData Central tool, 2 tablespoons (32 grams) of a generic smooth-style peanut butter with salt will provide around 7.2 grams of protein and between 6 and 7 grams of carbohydrates. Other sources put the protein content slightly higher.
Protein is essential for many bodily functions, but it is widely regarded as useful for the building of muscles. Carbohydrates, meanwhile, are a useful source of energy.
Healthy Ways to Eat Peanut Butter
Before heading to the kitchen to start spooning peanut butter from the jar, you might want to consider other, more nutritious ways to snack.
A slice of bread or toast is a go-to for many people, but peanut butter can also be combined with fruits and vegetables as a dip.
“There are many nutritious ways to eat peanut butter by using it as a dip for fruits and vegetables like apples, bananas, carrots, or celery,” according to Ashley Irwin, a registered dietitian and research project manager in the Department of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“Using peanut butter in this way is beneficial because it not only adds a source of healthy fat to your meal or snack, but can also be used as a way to add fruits and vegetables,” Irwin told Newsweek.
She also suggested combining peanut butter with whole grain products such as oatmeal or toast, which “can help keep you satisfied for longer than if you were to have those foods without a source of protein and fat.”
Kirsten Brandt, senior lecturer at the Human Nutrition Research Center at Newcastle University in the U.K., said people should also consider how peanut butter factors into their wider diet.
“The important point is to have a balanced diet,” she said. “If most of the foods in your diet are high in fats and protein, then it isn’t balanced—and adding more of the same, as peanut butter, will make it worse.
“While if the diet is mostly vegetables, low-fat dairy and whole grain foods, peanut butter will provide useful nutrients and improve the diet overall.”
What Is the Healthiest Peanut Butter?
Most peanut butter lovers fall into one of two camps—smooth or crunchy—but that’s not the only difference between all those jars at the grocery store. Next time you’re there, take a look at the list of ingredients.
“There are peanut butters that have only one ingredient—peanuts,” said Irwin. “These peanut butters do not have any added sugars or oils, which means they have less carbohydrate and saturated fats than peanut butters with other additives.”
Some common additives in peanut butter include sugar, palm oil, salt and vegetable oils. Such products are generally less healthy than an additive-free option, Irwin added.
Ginger Hultin, a Seattle-based registered dietitian nutritionist, told Newsweek that this is “a big problem” with many brands of peanut butter found in American stores. She advised people to look for a natural brand without additives, or even to try to make their own.
How Much Peanut Butter Is Too Much?
Generally, peanut butter is a healthy and important food, said Brandt, particularly for people who can’t or don’t get many nutrients.
“Compared with its cost, it is exceptionally good for you in such situations, and has probably saved the lives of many thousands of children, in particular since peanuts and other legumes have an amino acid composition which complements that of cereals like maize or wheat or rice; so a combination of peanuts and cereals is more nutritious than a diet relying on one or the other of these,” she said.
Peanut butter may be favored for its high protein content—not to mention its suitability for vegan diets—but people should still be mindful of how much they consume in one go.
“Serving size is something to be conscious of when it comes to peanut butter because it is very energy-dense, meaning that it packs a lot of calories and fat into a small amount of food,” said Irwin. She recommended eating it in combination with other healthy foods.
The portion that is right for each person will differ based on their individual needs and health goals. Hultin advised reaching out to a registered dietitian nutritionist, or RDN, to get personalized nutrition advice.