What's the healthiest type of peanut butter? A dietitian explains

Peanut butter is a pantry staple in many households around the world. The sweet and salty spread is delicious, filling and easy to enjoy on its own or with other food.

Peanut butter, made from ground roasted peanuts, is often hailed for being packed with protein and other nutrients. But is peanut butter actually good for you? And is it OK to eat every day?

Peanut butter nutrition

The nutritional content of peanut butter will vary slightly depending on the brand and type. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one serving (two tablespoons) of the standard, store-bought smooth peanut butter provides the following:

  • 191 calories

  • 7g of protein

  • 16g of fat

  • 7g carbohydrates

  • 1.6g fiber

  • 3g sugar

One serving of peanut butter also provides 16mg calcium, 54mg magnesium, 28 micrograms folate, and 136mg sodium, Frances Largeman-Roth, a registered dietitian nutritionist, tells TODAY.com.

The serving size for peanut butter is two tablespoons, says Largeman-Roth, which is enough to spread on a sandwich or eat with an apple or banana, for example.

The majority of peanut butter brands are gluten-free and vegan, but always check the labels to be sure.

Health benefits

Peanut butter provides a number of benefits, especially when eaten as part of a balanced, healthy diet. First, it's an accessible, inexpensive plant-based protein source, says Largeman-Roth. One serving provides 7 grams of protein.

Healthy adults should consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily — for the average adult that's about 50 grams to meet the basic nutrition needs, TODAY.com previously reported.

In addition to protein, peanut butter provides plenty of healthy fats. "The majority of the fat that peanuts (and peanut butter) contain is heart-healthy monounsaturated fat," Largeman-Roth explains.

Peanut butter is also a very satiating food, which means it can help you feel more full and satisfied for longer, especially when added to other foods, Largeman-Roth says.

The sweet and salty spread is also loaded with nutrients and vitamins. "Peanut butter provides minerals, including calcium and magnesium, as well as folate, which is a nutrient that’s necessary for a healthy baby," says Largeman-Roth.

In addition to its health benefits, peanut butter is portable and has a long shelf life, which makes it an incredibly convenient option.

Health risks

While it's true that some brands of peanut butter have higher amounts of sugar or sodium, peanut butter is generally still a safe and healthy option when consumed in moderation.

"The only significant downside to peanut butter is that 1.8% of the population has an allergy to peanuts, which can be life-threatening," says Largeman-Roth. Peanut butter's sticky, oily consistency also makes it easy to spread and contaminate surfaces like countertops, tables, desks and doorknobs.

"This impacts not only the individual with the allergy, but also their family, classroom and workplace," Largeman-Roth notes.

Is peanut butter good or bad for cholesterol?

"Peanuts are a plant-based food and therefore do not contain any cholesterol," says Largeman-Roth.

Peanut butter does contain plenty of heart-healthy unsaturated fatty acids, per the USDA. “Peanuts and peanut butter is rich in oleic acid, a type of omega-9 fatty acid which helps lower LDL or bad cholesterol,” says Largeman-Roth.

Peanut butter does not contain any trans fat, per the USDA, but it does contain some saturated fat. Saturated fats are considered "bad" fats because they may raise LDL cholesterol and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, TODAY.com previously reported.

The AHA recommends aiming to get only 5% to 6% of your calories from saturated fat — based on a 2,000-calorie diet, that's about 13 grams of saturated fat per day.

Fortunately, there's only about three grams of saturated fat in one serving of standard, store-bought peanut butter — well below the recommended daily limit. The AHA recommends paying attention to labels and looking for brands with lower amounts of saturated fat.

Is it OK have peanut butter every day?

Yes, it's OK to eat peanut butter every day (in moderation), says Largeman-Roth. That means sticking to the recommended serving size of two tablespoons, or close to that amount.

Eating peanut butter every day could become an issue if someone is eating far too much of it and exceeding their daily limit of saturated fat, per the Cleveland Clinic.

According to the AHA, people who regularly eat nut butters have a lower risk of heart disease or Type 2 diabetes than those who do not include them in their diet.

While there's no shame in enjoying a spoonful of peanut butter right out of the jar, Largeman-Roth recommends eating peanut butter with another food for a more filling, nutritious snack. She suggests fruits and vegetables (such as apples, celery, or bananas), oatmeal, whole-grain toast, yogurt or smoothies.

Does peanut butter go bad?

Yes, peanut butter can go bad.

According to the USDA, you can keep a jar of unopened peanut butter in the pantry at room temperature for six to nine months. After opening, you can keep peanut butter in the pantry for two to three months.

Just be aware of the “best by” dates, says Largeman-Roth, and make sure not to put a dirty knife or spoon into the jar, which can contaminate the peanut butter with germs and other ingredients that can make it spoil faster at room temperature.

Standard processed peanut butters often contain stabilizers to prevent the ingredients from separating. If you opt for a natural peanut butter without these stabilizers, the oil may separate and rise to the top of the jar, which is normal. “Just stir before using,” says Largeman-Roth.

Should peanut butter be refrigerated?

Technically, you do not need to refrigerate peanut butter, says Largeman-Roth. "In fact, many of them become impossible to spread if refrigerated," she adds.

The fact that peanut butter doesn't require refrigeration and lasts for a long time is another reason it's such a convenient, budget-friendly option, says Largeman-Roth.

Which peanut butter is healthiest?

At the grocery store, you can find a wide selection of different brands and types of peanut butter. While the core ingredient is peanuts, these may contain different amounts of other added ingredients (like sugar or salt), which affect the texture and taste.

The healthiest peanut butter option, Largeman-Roth suggests, is peanut butters that have less than 5 grams of added sugar per serving and less than 100 milligrams of sodium per serving.

Reduced-fat peanut butters might sound healthier, but you're likely trading those healthy fats for more carbs. According to the Cleveland Clinic, low-fat peanut butters may have the same amount of calories or higher because they often contain extra ingredients (usually sugar or salt) to improve the taste after removing the fat.

“I think it’s also smart to eat a variety of nut butters, including peanut, almond, cashew and pistachio,” says Largeman-Roth.

Peanut-free nut butters are a great option for people with peanut allergies, but always check the labels to make sure a product is safe to consume.

This article was originally published on TODAY.com