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Can You Eat Peanut Butter On the Mediterranean Diet? [Evidence Based]

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

But it’s not a food commonly seen on a traditional Mediterranean diet, so you might be wondering if you can eat it.

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.
  • In the US, 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).

One study found that those who ate two or more portions of nuts a week had a 31% lower risk of weight gain than 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 butter 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 flavor. The problem is this can also reduce their nutritional value.

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

Ingredients to Avoid in Peanut Butter

Hydrogenated oils

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

During this process, 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 with high biodiversity. Plantations can often destroy biodiverse habitats like rainforests.

Often 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.

Stabilizer E471

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

The stabilizer 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.

Mediterranean-Style Recipes Containing Peanut Butter

Peanut butter can be used in many styles of cooking and is also great for vegetarians, dairy-free and gluten-free diets. Try some of these delicious recipes below.

West African-Style Curry with Chicken and Sweet Potato

Peanut-based West African curries bring out some fantastic flavors. It has almost 50g of protein per serving and the sweet potato adds some extra stodge to this hearty curry.

African Peanut Soup

This creamy soup is packed full of vitamins and minerals and contains multiple servings of vegetables. It makes for a delicious, warming soup on a cold day. 

Low Carb Peanut Chicken Skillet

This chicken skillet is packed with flavor and uses only one pan. The peanut butter sauce coats juicy chicken and red peppers, making for a tasty, high-protein meal.

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, fiber, 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.