The Peanutbutter Conundrum

Peanuts and peanut butter are often a hot topic in the keto world for a few reasons. Usually people are clearly on one side of the debate or the other. I personally eat peanut butter, it’s a weakness. I’m not sure I could give it up. But peanuts and peanut butter are technically not considered to be keto friendly. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

Peanut origins. 

Peanuts are believed to have originated in Peru or Brazil in South America, with some growing as far north as Mexico. Spanish explorers brought them back to Spain and began trading them to Asia and Africa, which eventually got them to America in the 1700’s. The first commercial crops in America were grown in Virginia and used mainly for livestock feed. Peanuts became more popular during the civil war when soldiers from both sides developed a liking for them, and subsequently brought them back to their hometowns. In the late 1800’s as the circus traveled across the country, they often peddled hot roasted peanuts to the crowds. Street vendors began to sell them and they gained popularity at baseball games.

As the 1900’s rolled around and we became more mechanized, the peanut became easier to plant, harvest, and shell. This drove the market for more peanut oil, roasted and salted nuts, and peanut candy. It was around that time that the first American versions of peanut butter were said to be invented. During world wars I&II, peanut butter became an integral part of the troop’s rations. And it is thought that that’s where the peanut butter and jelly sandwich was created due to its convenience and nutritional content.

Peanuts are the 12th most valuable cash crop in the United States, and Americans consume more that 6lbs on average of peanut products per year.

Not actually a nut.

Peanuts, despite their given name, are not actually nuts. They are classified as legumes. Legumes are edible seeds enclosed in pods. They belong to the same botanical family that contain soybeans, lentils, and peas. Typically nuts grow on trees, like almonds or cashews. Peanuts, on the other hand, grow under the soil from creeping plants that live on the ground.

Because they grow in the soil, they are at risk of contamination from a mold called aflatoxin, which has been linked to several health concerns including liver damage and cancer. Certain brands have been pulled from the shelves over the years if they are found to have higher levels of the toxin than are allowed. This is much more common in developing countries, we don’t have too many cases here in the US. But some choose to avoid peanut butter because of this reason.

Peanut butter pros and cons.

Let’s start with the positives. Besides the fact that peanut butter is delicious, it has a lot of healthy benefits.

  • Peanut butter has both a low insulin and low glycemic index, meaning it does not impact blood sugar levels too terribly nor does it spike an insulin response.
  • It is low in net carbs, generally 2 g per 2 tbsp serving. (Almond butter is around 4g net carbs in the same serving size).
  • It is high in fat, which we all know is the main source of fuel on keto. This also makes it very filling, keeping your hunger satisfied for longer.
  • It is moderate in protein, which is also in line with the keto plan, containing many of the amino acids we need.
  • Peanut butter has vitamin E, niacin, magnesium, and assorted other vitamins and minerals.
  • It is a good source of fiber.

Now let’s take a look at some of the arguments against peanut butter.

  • Probably the biggest, it can cause an inflammatory response in some people. Its omega-3/omega-6 ratio is not ideal. It’s much higher in omega-6 fatty acids which can cause inflammation.
  • The presence of aflatoxins, while not a big problem in developed countries, a concern nonetheless.
  • Phytic acid, present in all edible plant seeds (legumes), can impair the absorption of zinc, iron, and calcium, as well as lead to other mineral deficiencies. Although this is only the case when meat is absent from the diet. Meat eaters are not subject to phytic acid mineral deficiencies.
  • Lectins are proteins found in legumes that resist digestion and may affect cells lining the intestinal tract.
  • Saponins are questionable, as they are nutrients found in some plants thought to contribute to leaky gut (intestinal permeability), but no hard evidence on the subject exists.
  • And obviously if you are allergic to peanuts, don’t eat them. I would hope that goes without saying.

The bottom line.

You have to figure out what’s right for you. As I said, peanuts do not cause an inflammatory response in everybody. We cannot make a blanket statement saying peanuts are perfectly fine or they are the devil incarnate. If you like them and they don’t cause you any issues, enjoy. But if you find that you are having trouble achieving your health goals, you may want to consider laying off for a while and seeing if it makes a difference. And this applies to anything you suspect may be inhibiting your progress, such as dairy or sugar substitutes. Be informed, be deliberate, and be well. Thanks for reading.



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