Can We Eat Peanut Butter on a Low Fat Diet?

Knife Spreading Peanut Butter on a Slice of White Bread
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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.

Watch for Sugar

There is reduced-fat peanut butter on the market, but some of these are higher in sugar, which hardly makes 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.​

Hydrogenated Oil

One caveat, however. Most regular peanut butter has 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 are 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.

How to Avoid Hydrogenated Oil

To avoid partially hydrogenated oils altogether, we recommend using natural peanut butter, which should simply contain peanuts and perhaps salt.

But some "natural" peanut butter 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.