A Nutritionist's Take on Peanut Butter

If you haven’t heard, we got a puppy over Christmas. Her name is Moon, and like every puppy, she loves peanut butter. She’s an Australian Shepherd with a need to stay engaged and challenged between naps. We bought her a puzzle toy from West Paw (a sustainable dog company in Bozeman, MT) that we fill with peanut butter once a day to keep her busy.

Before you gasp about feeding my dog peanut butter, let’s dive into the nutrition facts. Peanut butter gets mixed reviews in the world of nutrition for a number of reasons. Like a lot of things we can eat, it’s about quality, sourcing, and quantity above just calling something “bad”.

the bad: pesticides

Did you know that peanuts aren’t nuts at all?

Peanuts are legumes grown inside of a soft shell. But because that shell is soft and peanuts grow in the ground, they’re extremely absorptive. So pesticides and mold found in the soil some peanuts grow in are absorbed easily, compromising on the health qualities of the peanut.

Crop rotation happens frequently with peanuts, usually with the cotton crop. Cotton is another heavily sprayed crop with the pesticide glyphosate. It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that peanut allergies have risen astronomically in the U.S. (+ 400% by some estimates) since the introduction of glyphosate into our agricultural system.

the bad: mold and fungus

Aflatoxin is produced by fungus that generally grows on peanuts among other large crops like corn and cotton. The content of aflatoxin is the number one concern around peanut butter because of its inflammatory, toxic effects on the body. The FDA has declared acceptable levels of aflatoxin allowable in foods, but you can mitigate the aflatoxin scare by buying the right kinds of peanuts and supporting your detoxification system with supplements like chlorophyll, milk thistle, and dandelion root if you do eat a lot of questionably-sourced peanut butter.

the bad: additives

Like with most foods, simple is better. When peanut butter is “unhealthy”, we’re looking at brands like Jif and Skippy. Sugar and hydrogenated oils are added to a ton of peanut butters to increase spreadability and flavor.

the good: valencia peanuts

Of all the peanut butters on the market, peanut butter made from valencia peanuts has the least amount of aflatoxin on the market. The majority of valencia peanuts come from New Mexico where the climate is dry and they’re less susceptible to this aflatoxin.

As mentioned before, certain supplements can potentially reduce the harmful effects of aflatoxins in the body, but if you’re eating the right kind of peanut butter in modest amounts, it shouldn’t be of concern.

the good: nutrient-dense

Vitamin E, B vitamins, and protein are a big draw to the nutrition of peanuts. Sprouting or roasting peanuts also increases the nutrient bioavailability of the legume. So if you tolerate peanuts well, I say go ahead and include it in moderation as a source of quality protein and fat.

so, which one should I eat?

I personally buy and dry-roast valencia peanuts to make peanut butter at home using this recipe method with a food processor or blender. Even if you’re not in the market for a DIY, here are my favorite brands:

Trying to be perfect in nutrition is impossible and not something we should strive for endlessly. Sure, valencia peanuts are the best for us, but if you can’t go that far just make sure the peanut butter you buy is organic to avoid the harmful effects of pesticides.