Let’s discuss the benefits and downsides of eating peanut butter containing palm oil, why palm oil is added to peanut butter and the healthiest peanut butters available.
As a Registered Dietitian, I often get questions regarding what oils are good or bad, what additives should be avoided and if certain food products are good or bad for you.
Honestly, there is so much nuance in these kinds of conversations and it really comes down to dose, personal preference and what the rest of your diet looks like.
In this article, we go into detail about if peanut butter is good for you, if palm oil is beneficial or detrimental to your health, what makes an oil “good” and what makes a peanut butter healthy or unhealthy.
As usual, I will go into detail about the research behind palm oil and peanut butter and explain how to apply that information to your own diet based on your personal circumstances.
Is peanut butter good for you?
To start off with, is peanut butter good for you in general? Well, it does depend on your definition of “healthy”, but as a Registered Dietitian, I like to look at the nutrients that a certain food provides to determine how healthy it is.
One tablespoon of standard peanut butter contains about 95 calories, 8 grams of fat, 4 grams of protein and 4 grams of carbohydrates.
The fat in peanut butter comes from mostly monounsaturated fats and some polyunsaturated fats and saturated fats. In general, reducing saturated fat intake while increasing unsaturated fat intake leads to better health outcomes, so peanut butter is going to be a healthier source of fat compared to something like cream or fatty red meat.
Along with this, peanut butter provides an array of nutrients, most notably niacin, vitamin E, magnesium, manganese and phosphorus. If you struggle to get these nutrients in your diet, having some more peanut butter can help!
So… is peanut butter good for you? Well, in general it does provide some beneficial nutrients, but it’s also important to consider your overall diet. Do you struggle to get enough healthy fats? Are you eating enough foods rich in magnesium? Or vitamin E? Are you consistently under-eating and need an easy way to get in some extra calories?
If you are unsure about these questions I suggest tracking your food for a few days on an app or website that provides micronutrient data (I use cronometer). What nutrients do you have a hard time getting enough of? What nutrients are you perhaps getting too much of?
It’s important to think of your diet as a whole when determining if a certain food will be beneficial to your health or not.
Why is palm oil put in peanut butter?
In natural peanut butters, you may notice that the oil from the peanuts separates from the peanut butter.
To prevent this, some peanut butter companies will add a bit of palm oil to the peanut butter. This prevents the separation of the peanuts and the oil and leads to a creamier consistency that doesn’t require stirring.
Palm oil is also pretty neutral in flavor, so it doesn’t affect the taste of the peanut butter, which is always a plus.
Overall, palm oil is added to peanut butter to improve the consistency and avoid separation. That being said, in some cases other oils are added to produce the same effect. It’s not unique to palm oil.
Is palm oil unhealthy?
Again, it really depends on your definition of unhealthy. The biggest concern with palm oil is the saturated fat content.
One tablespoon of palm oil contains 120 calories and about 14 grams of fat. The fat comes mostly from saturated and monounsaturated fats, with some polyunsaturated fats. It also contains some vitamin E.
Saturated fat is associated with higher risk of heart disease and there is evidence to suggest replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat or high quality carbohydrates can reduce this risk.
That being said, when it comes to different oil or fat options, palm oil is not going to be the best. But, it’s also very important to consider the dose and the rest of your diet.
It is recommended to reduce your saturated fat consumption to less than 10% of your daily caloric intake. So if you consume about 2000 calories per day, this would be about 22 grams of saturated fat daily.
Saturated fat is included on the nutrition label, so you can pretty easily check how much saturated fat is in a product.
For example, Justin’s Classic Peanut Butter contains 3.5 grams of saturated fat per 2 tablespoons. So if you love this peanut butter, you can definitely include it in your diet without going over your recommended saturated fat intake for the day.
While it’s probably best to monitor how much saturated fat you are eating, it’s not something to worry or stress over. And you definitely don’t need to cut any foods out of your diet. Plus, the amount of palm oil added to peanut butter is so small that I wouldn’t even consider peanut butter a high saturated fat food.
Are partially and fully hydrogenated oils the same?
You may see that your peanut butter contains fully hydrogenated oils. While you may have heard about hydrogenated oils at some point in time, it’s very important to understand the difference between partially and fully hydrogenated oils.
First, it’s important to note that the FDA has determined that partially hydrogenated oils are not GRAS (generally recognised as safe). There is plenty of evidence suggesting partially hydrogenated oils increase your risk of heart disease due to them containing artificial trans fat.
While trans fats occur naturally in small doses, the FDA has banned any foods containing artificial trans fats, including foods containing partially hydrogenated oils, due to their health consequences.
Fully hydrogenated oils are not the same as partially hydrogenated foils and are recognised as safe. They contain zero trans fat.
It’s very important to understand this difference. I’ve seen many people on the internet get them mixed up or think that all hydrogenated oils contain trans fat. This isn’t the case. Partially and fully hydrogenated oils are very different and one is banned while the other is safe for consumption.
Many peanut butters contain fully hydrogenated oils (which are safe to consume). You will not see products in the store that contain partially hydrogenated oils since they are banned by the FDA.
What is the best kind and worst kind of oil?
In general, it’s best to consume oils that are high in unsaturated fats and low in saturated fats. Both palm oil and fully hydrogenated oils are very high in saturated fats, while olive oil, avocado oil and other vegetable oils are high in unsaturated fats and low in saturated fats.
If you are at high risk for heart disease, it’s probably best to consume mostly unsaturated fats and limit saturated fats. This is also a good recommendation for the general population.
That being said, it’s so important to emphasize dose. One tablespoon of butter is very different from ½ teaspoon of butter. There is no need to completely eliminate any foods for good health (unless you have an allergy or a certain medical condition), just focus on moderation.
As for peanut butter, the amount of palm oil or fully hydrogenated oil is so small that you shouldn’t stress about it. As mentioned above, if you are concerned about your saturated fat intake, just read the label and adjust your serving based on your total saturated fat intake throughout the day. Simple as that!
Is it ok to eat peanut butter with palm oil?
The short answer… yes! You can absolutely eat peanut butter that contains palm oil and stay in good health (unless you are allergic to peanuts of course).
As I’ve mentioned throughout this whole article, what really matters is your overall diet. Focusing on one individual food or ingredients is probably doing more harm than good!
Remember, a healthy diet is one that provides all your essential nutrients, while also avoiding overeating or undereating. How does peanut butter with palm oil fit into a healthy diet? Well, it provides healthy fats along with several essential vitamins and minerals.
Do you have to eat peanut butter to be healthy? Of course not! There are no certain foods that you must eat for good health and there are no foods that need to be avoided for good health (with the exception of allergies or certain medical conditions).
Focus on eating a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats, whole grains and high calcium foods. Peanut butter can be a great way to get in some healthy fats and nutrients.
What is the healthiest peanut butter you can eat?
If you are really set on avoiding saturated fats, then it’s probably best to stick to natural peanut butters (where the ingredients are just peanuts and salt). Here are a few examples:
But that being said, even if you are at higher risk for heart disease, you can still enjoy peanut butters that contain palm oil or fully hydrogenated oils in moderation.
You can live a long and healthy life and consume peanut butter with palm oil every single day as long as your overall diet quality is good. Instead of focusing on individual foods or ingredients, start focusing on your diet as a whole.