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Question: Is peanut butter good or bad for me?

Answer: Peanut butter is a healthy food! It's good for you! It gets a bad reputation because it is high in fat and calories. For instance, one tablespoon of peanut butter has 90 calories and 8 grams of fat – two teaspoons worth of oil. If you like a thick layer of peanut butter on your toast, you might be consuming more calories than you think and need.

Calories aside, the fat in peanut butter is mainly monounsaturated fat, the type of fat that can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and reduce inflammation in the body. (Olive oil and avocado are also excellent sources of this heart-healthy fat.) Peanut butter is also a decent source of B vitamins, most notably niacin, magnesium, zinc, potassium and manganese.

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Peanut butter also delivers protein to your diet. Two tablespoons of peanut butter is considered one "Meat Alternative" in Canada's Food Guide providing about 7 grams of protein, the amount of protein found in one ounce of chicken or meat. If you're eating only a little peanut butter – say less than a tablespoon – think of it as a healthy fat rather than a protein-rich food.

Eating peanut butter on a regular basis might help reduce the risk of diabetes. In 2002, a study of nearly 84,000 American women found that those who included peanut butter in their diet at least five times a week were 21 per cent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes over the 16 year study than their peers who rarely ate peanut butter. It's thought the monounsaturated fat, fibre and magnesium in peanut butter help the body use insulin – the hormone that clears sugar from the bloodstream – properly.

The most nutritious peanut butter is natural, meaning it contains only crushed peanuts – no added sugar (corn syrup, icing sugar), salt or hydrogenated oils. Hydrogenated oil is often added to help the peanut butter remain solid at room temperature. (That's why you'll see a layer of oil that's separated from the peanuts in jars of natural peanut butter.) The addition of hydrogenated oil ups the saturated fat content, but only by half a gram per tablespoon. Even the addition of sugar to many brands of peanut butter doesn't add as much sugar as you might think – again about half a gram per tablespoon.

The biggest nutrient difference between natural and regular peanut butter comes down to sodium. Natural peanut butter is salt free and therefore has no sodium. Regular peanut butters contain 50 to 75 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon, depending on the brand. If you're generous with your peanut butter serving, that sodium could add up.

Bottom line: Peanut butter is a healthy food. To limit your daily sodium intake, choose a natural peanut butter that's made from 100 per cent peanuts.

Send dietitian Leslie Beck your questions at dietitian@globeandmail.com. She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on the Globe website. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Leslie Beck.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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