If you didn't know, today is National Peanut Butter Day. So we thought we'd take a moment to honor the humble spread, not only for its role in our childhoods and its deliciously rich taste, but also for its nutritional power. Sure, the stuff is yummy, but did you know that peanut butter can also play a role in preventing everything from heart disease to Alzheimer's?
Keep in mind that all-natural peanut butter without added ingredients is the healthy option -- many brands include added sugar. And, as with all good things, everything in moderation: a spoonful may be healthy, but a whole jar is certainly not.
Here are some top health properties for peanut butter:
It's Heart Healthy
Yes, peanut butter has saturated fat and some sodium, but that doesn't automatically disqualify it as a good-for-you treat. As nutrition expert Dr. Walter C. Willett wrote in the Havard Heart Letter, one serving of peanut butter (about two tablespoons) contains 3.3 grams of saturated fat, but a whopping 12.3 grams of unsaturated fat. That ratio of about 80 percent unsaturated fat is akin to olive oil, a known heart booster. Explained Willet:
The body's response to saturated fat in food is to increase the amounts of both harmful LDL and protective HDL in circulation. In moderation, some saturated fat is okay. Eating a lot of it, though, promotes artery-clogging atherosclerosis, the process that underlies most cardiovascular disease. In contrast, unsaturated fats, which make up the majority of the fat content in peanut butter, help reduce LDL cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease.
It's High In Potassium, The 'Good' Salt
A high-sodium diet is associated with high blood pressure, stroke and a host of other conditions, but a high-potassium diet can actually reduce risk of heart disease and improve health. One 2010 study even found that eating just 4.7 grams of potassium had the same health benefit as cutting out 4 grams of sodium. (Of course eating enough peanut butter to reach 4.7 grams of potassium would be excessive, but try combining it with a banana, for a double punch.)
With about 200 milligrams of potassium, peanut butter is a good source of the salt that also helps stave off arthritis, cancer, digestive disorders, and infertility.
It Keeps You Full To Prevent Weight Gain
Peanut butter is definitely a rich food, but it can help keep you full for longer. In one study, adults who snacked on peanuts and peanut butter reported feeling fuller than those who chose lighter fare like rice cakes and pickles.
And in an unrelated study published in Obesity of nearly 9,000 Spanish men and women, those who incorporated nuts into their diets at least twice a week were 31 percent less likely to gain weight than a control group.
It's A Cheap Source of Good Calories
At about 30 cents per serving, peanut butter is an affordable source of good quality calories -- containing fiber, protein, potassium, unsaturated fat, folate, vitamin E, magnesium and resveratrol. That's a lot better than other affordable calorie sources, like fast food value meals.
It Could Keep You Sharp
Peanut butter has about 4.3 milligrams of niacin per two-tablespoon serving -- an important nutrient that plays a protective role in preventing cognitive decline. A study of 3,000 men over the age of 65 in Chicago found that those who consumed 22 milligrams of niacin per day were 70 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's than their peers who consumed just 13 milligrams.