Above image Corleto Peanut Butter via Unsplash
There’s nothing quite as joyful as watching a dog indulge in a peanut butter snack. That content smacking of their lips, that look in the eyes that says: more, please! We get it, dog. And, also: same! For those who don’t suffer from peanut allergies (our deepest condolences), peanuts and peanut butter are, quite simply, amazing. Versatile, delicious, and a cornerstone of pantry ingredients: we stan this nut! But are peanuts all they’re cracked up (or ground up, thankyouverymuch) to be? What about their fat content—too much? Do they have enough protein? And how can peanuts help support a vegan or plant-based diet? Here’s a breakdown of everything you need to know about the nutritional value of peanuts and how they stand up to other vegan sources of protein.
Are Peanuts Healthy?
Peanuts are actually legumes, not nuts. But, they are considerably higher in fat compared to other legumes, including chickpeas, lentils, and black-eyed peas. A serving of peanuts (one ounce) or peanut butter (two tablespoons—debatable in our book) is a healthy source of protein, fat, and other nutrients.
“Peanuts also contain 80% heart-healthy unsaturated fats (specifically monounsaturated) to 20% saturated fats, which is a similar profile to olive oil,” Jody Bergeron, an RN at Cape Cod Healthcare tells LIVEKINDLY. “They also contain phytosterols (beta-sitosterol) which can block the absorption of dietary cholesterol therefore have a cholesterol-lowering effect.”
Peanuts are a good source of vitamins and minerals including biotin, copper, niacin, vitamin E, and phosphorus. They’re also a decent source of protein—but more on that later.
“Peanuts are also a source of resveratrol, a polyphenolic compound also found in grapes, some berries, cocoa, and wine,” Bergeon continues. Polyphenols are a micronutrient packed with antioxidants, which can protect against cell damage.
Peanuts aren’t without their controversy, though. Peanuts contain certain antinutrients, which are compounds that interfere with the absorption of other nutrients. They also contain phytic acid, an antinutrient found in other legumes, plus nuts and seeds. This can impair the body’s ability to absorb iron and zinc from other food eaten at the time. But that doesn’t mean you have to skimp on your favorite peanut butter recipes. It’s just important to eat a well-balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and other plant-based protein sources throughout the day.
Is Peanut Butter Vegan?
Peanut butter is a staple food. A spoonful of peanut butter with sliced banana on toast has come to the rescue for breakfast for many (confession: peanut butter on spoon will do just as nicely in a hangry pinch) It’s amazing in oatmeal, a smoothie superhero, a lunchbox staple (PB&J 4-eva), and it’s a key ingredient in many-a savory recipes from West African peanut stew (check out #20 on this list) to pad Thai.
Good news: most peanut butter is vegan, containing only a few ingredients: peanuts, oil, and salt. Some brands add sweeteners like sugar or agave syrup, which are both vegan. Others, typically the pre-stirred variety that doesn’t separate on the shelf, may contain palm oil, which is vegan, but has its own environmental footprint to consider.
“When shopping for peanut butter it is best to look for one with no added sugars or hydrogenated oils. Peanuts should be the primary ingredient,” says Bergeron.
You might come across the occasional high-protein peanut butter made with whey protein or certain brands might use honey, but other than that, peanut butter is a good source of plant-based protein. There’s not much to worry about when it comes to powdered peanut butter, either. Some brands might add a little bit of sugar. The only thing to look out for is the occasional addition of whey protein.
If you’re allergic to peanuts, then there’s some more good news: most nut and seed butters are plant-based. And there’s a lot more to choose from than just almond butter. There’s sunflower seed butter, cashew butter, tahini (which is made from sesame seeds), walnut butter, and pecan butter. Like with peanut butter, just keep an eye out for honey and dairy-based ingredients.
How Much Protein Do Peanuts Have?
Protein is the celebrated hero of macronutrients. It’s composed of amino acids, organic compounds that link up to form chain sequences that make up the protein. Protein is essential not only to help build and repair muscle, but also to practically every cell and tissue in the body from your hair and nails to your bones and organs. It also aids in bodily functions like blood clotting, proper immune system function, and more.
Meat, fish, eggs, and certain dairy products may be high in protein, but it is also easy to get enough protein on a plant-based diet. Peanuts and peanut butter can also help you meet your recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein, which is .8 grams per kilogram of body weight, according to Harvard Health. Every form of peanut gives you roughly the same amount of protein, though peanut powder is significantly lower in fat.
Raw peanuts: A quarter cup of raw peanuts contains 9.5 grams of protein
Peanut powder: A quarter cup of peanut powder contains 8 grams of protein.
Peanut butter: Two tablespoons of peanut butter contains 8 grams of protein.
Peanuts Vs. Other Plant-Based Protein Sources
How do peanuts stand up to other sources of plant-based protein? Out of the various nut butters, peanut butter has the highest amount of protein (bonus: also the most affordable). But at 8 grams of protein per serving, other foods have it beat. Here’s how it compares to some of the top plant-based protein sources:
Tofu: A four-ounce serving of firm tofu contains about 10 grams of protein.
Seitan: Made from wheat protein, a one-ounce serving of seitan has 21 grams of protein.
Chickpeas: One cup of chickpeas contains 39 grams of protein. Chickpeas for the win.
Black beans: A cup of black beans will give you 15 grams of protein.
Lentils: Protein content varies by lentil (red, brown, beluga, black), but the average cup of lentils yields about 17.9 grams of protein.
Quinoa: A cup of cooked quinoa provides 8 grams of protein.
Hemp seeds: A quarter-cup serving of hemp seeds provides 15 grams of protein.
Nutritional yeast: Delicious sprinkled on top of salads or when used to make vegan cheese sauce, two tablespoons of nutritional yeast contains 9 grams of protein.
Plant-based burgers: You don’t have to stick to just whole food sources. Plant-based burgers, like the Beyond Burger, the Impossible Burger, and Trader Joe’s Protein Patties, provide between 18 and 20 grams of protein per serving.
And for peanut butter recipes (plus instructions on how to make your own, which saves money and plastic), see here.