Can We Eat Peanut Butter on a Low Fat Diet?

Knife Spreading Peanut Butter on a Slice of White Bread
StockFood - Crystal Cartier/Riser/Getty Images

Question: Can We Eat Peanut Butter on a Low Fat Diet?

Is peanut butter a forbidden food when you want to eat low fat?

Answer: Peanut butter is a staple in many households, but at 16 grams of fat and around 200 calories per two-tablespoon serving, peanut butter is obviously not a low-fat, low-calorie food. But before we cross peanut butter off our list, there are some pluses that mean we can spread some on our toast or sliced apples from time to time.

Apart from being a good source of vitamin E, folic acid, niacin, and phosphorous, most (but not all) of the fat in peanut butter is the heart-healthy monounsaturated kind; plus, it contains no cholesterol.

There are reduced-fat peanut butters on the market, but some of these are higher in sugar, which hardly make these peanut ​butters much healthier. Instead of opting for those, it’s better to have the real thing but simply use less than the stated serving size. One tablespoon of peanut butter is usually all you need, especially if you add jam or some sliced banana to your ​peanut butter sandwich.

One caveat, however. Most regular peanut butters have a small amount of partially hydrogenated oil to prevent separation, although the nutrition facts label will claim 0 grams of trans fats. In reality, this means there is less than 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving. That’s not much, you might say, but if you exceed the serving size, or choose to eat peanut butter sandwiches every day, those fractions of a gram add up.

To avoid partially hydrogenated oils altogether, I recommend using natural peanut butter, which should simply contain peanuts and perhaps salt. But some "natural" peanut butters contain palm oil as a stabilizer in place of hydrogenated oils. Palm oil (not to be confused with palm kernel oil) is a plant-based fat that’s a little over 50 percent saturated.

Some research suggests that since plant-based saturated fats are metabolized differently than animal fats, they’re less harmful and perhaps even healthful. If you can, stick with the natural variety that doesn’t contain additional oil as stabilizers. And make peanut butter an occasional treat rather than an everyday one.