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Can You Eat Peanut Butter On the Mediterranean Diet?

Peanut butter is one food many of us love to snack on.

But if you’re about to start a Mediterranean diet, should you ditch it altogether?

After all, how can peanut butter fit with a traditional Mediterranean diet?

This article will go through some of the key points to remember so you can make an informed choice.

Is Peanut Butter Healthy?

Peanut butter is fairly rich in nutrients and a decent plant-based protein source. It’s also loaded with fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Here’s the breakdown of the most abundant vitamins and minerals found in peanuts:

Peanuts, raw 0.25 cup/36.50g
Calories: 207
NutrientAmount Daily Recommended Value (%)
Copper0.4247
Manganese0.71 mg31
Vitamin B34.40 mg28
Molybdenum10.77 mcg24
Folate87.60 mcg22
Biotin6.40 mcg21
Vitamin E3.04 mg (ATE)20
Phosphorus137.24 mg20
Vitamin B10.23 mg19
Protein9.42 g19
Credit: WHFoods

Many studies have found peanuts can help lower LDL (the ‘bad’) cholesterol, heart disease and cardiovascular disease risks (1, 2, 3, 4).

One study found women who ate peanut butter 5x per week or more were at a 21% reduced risk of type 2 diabetes (5).

Peanut Butter Contains Saturated Fats — Is That Healthy?

The Mediterranean diet generally recommends lowering your saturated fat intake.

A typical 2 tbsp serving of peanut butter has 3.3g of saturated fat.

In the UK, the NHS recommends 30g of saturated fat a day for men and 20g for women at most.

The American Heart Association recommends 5-6% of calories coming from saturated fats. For a 2,000 calorie diet, that equals 11g-13g of saturated fat.

Simply eliminating all foods containing saturated fats might not be the best idea though.

This is because the foods tend to get replaced with refined carbohydrates and sugar. This may worsen the risk of cardiovascular disease (6).

Instead replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats helps reduce heart disease (7).

Foods aren’t unhealthy simply because they contain saturated fat. It’s the whole package of nutrients that determine how healthy a food is

Even healthy foods such as olive oil which are regularly consumed in the Mediterranean diet contain some saturated fats.

Even though it has saturated fats, it is also full of healthy unsaturated fats too.

About 80% of the fat found in peanuts is unsaturated. These are found in similar ratios even when compared to olive oil.

In moderation, some saturated fat is fine. Eating a lot of it though can clog up your arteries and underlies most cardiovascular disease.

Can I Lose Weight on the Mediterranean Diet Whilst Eating Peanut Butter?

Because nuts are high in calories and fat, many people avoid eating them out of fear they are fattening.

However, those fears are misguided. Studies regularly find eating peanuts doesn’t result in weight gain and may even prevent it (8, 9101112).

It found that those who ate two or more portions of nuts a week had a 31% lower risk of weight gain, compared to those who never or rarely ate them (13).

There are a few reasons for this:

  1. Nuts have a high satiety value. This means they help you feel fuller for longer and this helps reduce overall calorie intake (14, 15).
  2. Some studies suggest we may not absorb 5% to over 20% of the fat in nuts, which is excreted instead  (16, 17, 18, 19).

What Type of Peanut Butter Should I Buy?

You should try and buy peanut butters that are as close to 100% peanuts as possible, with some salt at most. Check the ingredients on the label before you buy.

Many brands add extra ingredients such as oil and sugar to enhance the flavour. The problem is this can also reduce their nutritional value.

Some of the common ingredients you’ll want to watch out for include:

  • Hydrogenated oils

Liquid unsaturated oil is turned into a solid fat by artificially adding hydrogen. This process is called hydrogenation.

During this processing, trans fat is made. Trans fat can increase the risk of many health problems including heart disease and inflammation.

  • Palm oil

These do add some extra saturated fats to the peanut butter already.

However, are additional environmental concerns with the plantations needed to grow palm oil.

This is mainly because oil palms need to grow near the equator or high-productivity areas that have high biodiversity. Plantations can often destroy biodiverse habitats like rainforests.

Often the palm oil is certified as sustainable, but it seems unlikely that any plantations can be truly sustainable.

If you’re following a Mediterranean diet and want to eat locally sourced food, then be aware.

  • Stabiliser E471

Stabiliser E471 is a mono- and di-glycerides of fatty acids. It is used as an artificial stabilizer, often used instead of palm oil.

The stabiliser helps oil and water to blend. This prevents the oil in peanut butter from separating.

Currently, food producers mostly use monoglycerides and diglycerides in small amounts. This makes it is difficult to say how eating large amounts of these types of fat will impact human health.

Recommended Peanut Butters

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Mediterranean-Style Recipes Containing Peanut Butter

It’s a versatile cooking ingredient and perfect for vegetarians, dairy-free and gluten-free diets.

Try some of these recipes below.

  • West African-style curry with chicken and sweet potato

Inspired by the peanut-based curries of West African cooking, this recipe is a simplified version, using peanut butter as a quick shortcut. It also freezes really well if you fancy making a double batch.

Get the recipe here.

  • African Peanut Soup

Creamy, delicious, and filling, this African peanut soup is brimming with rich full-bodied flavour and each serving contains a significant source of Vitamins A and C to boot.

Get the recipe here.

  • Low Carb Peanut Chicken Skillet

Chicken isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of peanut butter, but this protein-packed dish is perfect for hungry families!

Get the recipe here.

In Summary

Peanut butter isn’t found in traditional Mediterranean diets. That doesn’t mean you can’t eat it though.

If you buy 100% peanut butter, the health effects of regular peanuts should be almost identical to those of peanut butter. It’s essentially just ground peanuts.

As with all types of nuts, they contain high amounts of plant protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Although they are calorie dense, most studies suggest they can help you lose weight.

Simply eat in moderation, don’t gorge and you’re all set.