Peanut Butter: Good Or Bad For Cholesterol?
Cholesterol can be difficult to control, especially when you don’t know which foods are good for your heart and which ones should be off-limits. Fortunately, for those who like nut butters like peanut butter and almond butter, they are very healthy. And nut butters, including peanut butter, don’t cause any cholesterol problems as long as they don’t contain hydrogenated fats.
High-density lipoprotein cholesterol versus low-density lipoprotein cholesterol
There are two main types of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Lipoproteins are made up of fats and proteins. Cholesterol circulates through the body in the form of lipoproteins.
HDL is called “good cholesterol” because it carries cholesterol to the liver, where it is excreted by the body; HDL removes excess cholesterol so that it does not end up in the arteries.
LDL is called “bad cholesterol” because it carries cholesterol into the arteries and builds up in the artery walls. Too much cholesterol in the arteries can lead to a buildup of plaque, known as atherosclerosis. This may increase the risk of blood clots forming in the arteries. If a clot breaks off and blocks an artery in the heart or brain, it can cause a stroke or heart attack.
Plaque buildup can also reduce the flow of blood and oxygen to major organs. Lack of oxygen to organs and arteries can lead to heart attacks and strokes, as well as kidney and peripheral artery disease.
Causes of High Cholesterol Levels
Lifestyle factors that can lead to high cholesterol levels include
- Red meat diet, whole milk diet, saturated fats, trans fats and processed foods.
- Large waist size
- Lack of exercise
According to a 2013 Confidence Source study, smokers generally have lower HDL cholesterol levels than non-smokers. Studies have shown that quitting smoking can increase HDL. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about a smoking cessation program or other ways to quit.
It is not known if stress is a direct cause of high cholesterol. Unmanaged stress can lead to behaviors that raise LDL and total cholesterol levels, such as consuming too much fatty foods, lack of exercise, and increased smoking.
In some cases, high LDL cholesterol may also be hereditary. This condition is called familial hypercholesterolemia (FH), and it is caused by a genetic mutation that affects the ability of a person’s liver to remove excess LDL cholesterol. This can lead to high LDL levels and increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes at a young age.
Peanut Butter and Cholesterol
Many high-fat foods contain high levels of cholesterol. However, a high fat content does not necessarily mean that cholesterol will follow suit. In fact, you can only get cholesterol from animal products. For example, plant foods that are high in fat, such as nuts and avocados, contain very little cholesterol!
According to the American Heart Association, nuts are rich in protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Some, like walnuts, are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Nut butters, including peanut butter, contain a variety of nutrients and are cholesterol-free, making them a heart-healthy snack.
As an added bonus, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported in a 2002 study that women who consumed peanut butter five or more times a week had a significantly lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to women who rarely ate peanut butter.
Now, let’s compare notes: what’s the best way to crush nuts on a sandwich?
Comparison of nut butters
The three most popular nut butters are peanut butter, almond butter and cashew butter. We did a side-by-side comparison to see which one had the most nutritional value. And as it turns out, the contest was pretty close.
As you can see, each nut butter has its strengths, but almonds win in several categories: they have the most fiber, the least saturated fat, the most monounsaturated fat and the fewest carbohydrates. They are all cholesterol free! Other differences are worth noting.
- Cashew butter is very low in protein and very low in fiber, but very low in total fat.
- Almond butter is high in calories, but low in saturated fat (which you don’t want) and high in polyunsaturated fat (which helps raise cholesterol levels).
- Peanut butter is a big contributor to protein, and the thicker the peanut butter you choose, the more that number doubles.
With low calorie, nutrient and saturated fat content, these nut butters are a healthy choice in moderation.
Read the label
It’s important to note that not all nut butters are created equal. Different brands may have different ingredients added during the manufacturing process. Some may add sugar or oil. The best advice is to look for products that have the fewest ingredients and contain hydrogenated or partially non-hydrogenated fats.
Compare several labels when you’re in the nut butter aisle to make sure you’re getting the most nutrients for your money. Look for products made with only 100% nuts, with no added salt, sugar or oil.
A cousin to nut butter
What about options that have nuts but aren’t really nut butters? Most often, you’ll find these in chocolate, maple or vanilla butter. And you may have heard of Nutella.
While these creams may be good for your health because they contain nuts, they usually contain more sugar and calories than real nut butters. In other words, use them sparingly.
Words of Wisdom for Nut Allergies
If you have a family history of nut allergies, be sure to check with your doctor to see if you or your child has ever had a mild allergic reaction to nuts. If you have had a mild reaction in the past, this means you may have a severe reaction in the future.
High cholesterol levels can be a problem. However, in most cases, it is a warning sign. Being diagnosed with high cholesterol doesn’t mean you’ll have a heart attack or stroke, but it does mean you need to take it seriously.
If you’re concerned about cholesterol, nut butters are safe to eat, so why not spread them on a few apple slices or use them in a recipe? Keep in mind that the calorie count is relatively high, so you’ll need to control the portion size. But consider this your official permission to enjoy this PB&J!