In recent years, peanut butter has transitioned from being a humble sandwich spread to achieving near-superfood status.
But, as with all fad foods, questions have been raised about its real health virtues.
From smooth advocates to crunchy fans, those chowing down on the tasty spread made from the protein-packed legume may wonder whether it’s doing them more harm than good.
We chatted to the experts to uncover the happy truth: you’d have to eat a whole lot for it to have a detrimental effect.
The fat factor: Saturated and unsaturated fats
One serving of peanut butter – about two tablespoons – has 3.3 grams of saturated fat and 12.3 grams of unsaturated fat, or about 80 per cent unsaturated fat.
Practicing Melbourne dietitian Sarah Leung said all nuts were naturally high in fat and had a fat content of about 49 to 74 per cent.
Ms Leung said the fat composition of nuts included saturated fat, mono-unsaturated fat and poly-unsaturated fat.
She said peanut butter had a slightly higher saturated fat content to other kinds of nuts, but not enough for us to worry about.
“Most of the fat in peanut butter is still the heart-protecting fats of mono-unsaturated fat and pol-unsaturated fat,” Ms Leung said.
For those still concerned about saturated fat, Harvard School of Public Health nutrition professor Walter Willett said saturated fat wasn’t the “deadly toxin it is sometimes made out to be”.
“In moderation, some saturated fat is okay,” Dr Willett said.
Mr Willet said it was only too much saturated fat that promoted artery-clogging atherosclerosis – the process that underlines most cardiovascular disease.
What’s best: Peanut, almond or cashew butter?
Peanut butter is the most dominant spread on the supermarket shelves, but the growing world of ‘nut butters’ means it’s no longer a matter of simply opting for crunchy or smooth.
Peanut, almond and cashew butter all contain unsaturated fat, phytochemicals, protein and fibre, however differences can be found in the nutritional value of different kinds of nuts.
Ms Leung said all nut butters or pastes were a great source of healthy fats that protect against heart disease and diabetes and reduce cholesterol.
She explained the only difference between nut spreads was different offerings in vitamins and minerals.
For example, walnuts are high in Omega 3s, hazelnuts are high in fibre, cashews are high in iron and almonds are a good source of vitamin E and calcium.
Ms Leung said it was for this reason she often opted for ‘ABC spread’ – a mix of almond, Brazil nut and cashew nuts.
Don’t go nuts worrying about peanut butter
University of Canberra dietitian in residence Caroline Salisbury told The New Daily that the morning bread was just as important as the spread when it comes to a varied dietary intake.
“We generally don’t eat much peanut butter,” Ms Salisbury said when asked about the popular spread’s pros and cons.
“Some of us may be putting peanut butter it in our smoothies or cooking with it, and vegetarians may use it as a source of protein and for its fat content, but for most of us it’s a topping for toast,” she said.
“I would say it would be more important to be varying the bread as much as peanut spread on top.”
Ms Salisbury said she encouraged people to resist becoming anxious about particular ingredients or foods, and most of us needed to think about bringing foods into our diet rather than taking them out.
“As a single food, peanut butter is unlikely to make a significant contribution to the diet,” Ms Salisbury said.
“Looking at dietary patterns overall, adding nuts and seed spreads to our diets daily, along with whole nuts and seeds, can provide beneficial unsaturated fats, proteins and nutrients.”