Is Peanut Butter Healthy? Not Really
Here is a question I receive in my nutrition classes quite often: Is peanut butter healthy? Well, the answer is, “not quite”. Peanut butter is considered an inflammatory food because of its ratio between Omega 6 and Omega 3 fats. And as you probably know, chronic inflammation is the root for many health problems.
There are three kinds of dietary fats in the food we eat:
1. Saturated fats. These fats are found mainly in animal foods and tropical oils. They are not considered healthy.
2. Monounsaturated fats. They are found mainly in olive oil and they are considered healthy.
3. Polyunsaturated fats. They are found in many vegetable foods and marine foods.
Keep in mind that none of these fats are entirely made of just one kind of fats. For example, monounsaturated fats will still have a small portion of saturated fat, although the main component will be monounsaturated.
Polyunsaturated fats include three different fats
1. Omega 3 fatty acids
2. Omega 6 fatty acids
3. Omega 9 fatty acids
The type of fat you eat changes the metabolism in your body
The type of fat you ingest will change your metabolism. This is because both Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats produce powerful chemicals similar to hormones that change the landscape in your body either to health or disease. The proportion of these fats has the last word in the health of your body.
A diet rich in Omega 3 fatty acids protects your health
Omega 3 fatty acids manufacture certain molecules that fight inflammation, prevent the formation of blood clots, and lower the chemicals produced in our body by stress. All this helps prevent chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
The biological reactions caused by Omega 3 fatty acids are so powerful that scientists dedicated to heart disease research have created the “Omega 3 index” which reflects the amount of Omega 3 in the heart cells. Some researchers believe that this biological marker can be one of the best indicators of heart problems.
A diet high in Omega 6 fatty acids promotes disease
Omega 6 fatty acids have different effects in the body. They directly compete with Omega 3s to manufacture their powerful components. A diet rich in Omega 6 changes the biological balance of our body towards one that promotes inflammation, blood clots and increased stress chemicals.
Omega 6 fatty acids produce harmful components associated with arthritis, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, stress, depression, and cancer to name a few.
Both Omega 3s and Omega 6s are necessary for our body. Our organism cannot fabricate them and we must obtain them from our diet. However, the problem resides in the proportion of Omega 3s and Omega 6s we ingest. When we eat too many foods containing Omega 6s and not enough Omega 3s, we should expect major health problems.
What is a healthy proportion of Omega 3s and Omega 6s?
If you include too much Omega 6 fat in your diet, it will interfere with the Omega 3 fat benefits. Unfortunately, that is the case of Western diets where the proportion of Omega 6s to Omega 3s can reach up to 20 to 1.
Nutrition scientists recommend that if you eat 2 grams of Omega 3s per day you should limit the consumption of Omega 6s to 4 grams. This is the amount of Omega 6s contained in a muesli bar or a tablespoon of mayonnaise. In other words, the ratio should be 2 parts of Omega 6 and 1 part of Omega 3. At the most, 4 parts of Omega 6 and 1 part of Omega 3.
Scientists emphasize that reducing Omega 6s in the diet without increasing Omega 3s does not reduce the risk of lowering the production of components harmful to health.
Proportion of Omega 6s to Omega 3s in peanut butter and other butters
Values are based on 1 tablespoon of the product.
- Peanut: total fat 9.6 grams; Omega 6: 2.59 g; Omega 3: 0.01 g; Ratio 259
- Almond: total fat 9.2 grams; Omega 6: 1.86 g; Omega 3: 0.07 g; Ratio 27
- Cashew: total fat 7.9 grams; Omega 6: 1.31 g; Omega 3: 0.03 g; Ratio 44
- Sunflower: total fat 7.6 grams; Omega 6: 5.03 g; Omega 3: 0.01 g; Ratio 503
As you can see, peanut butter is not the healthiest food. Its proportion of Omega 6 fats to Omega 3 fats is way too high and the same can be said for other popular foods that are part of our regular diet. Always remember that an excess of Omega 6 fats lead to inflammation which in turn leads to many diseases.
To your health!
Emilia Klapp, R.D., B.S.