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Peanut butter may help people manage diabetes, a condition that affects blood sugar levels. How exactly does this popular snack help to manage the condition?

Past studies have shown that, in a low-carbohydrate diet, replacing certain staple foods with tree or ground nuts, including peanuts, can help decrease weight, improve blood sugar, and regulate blood lipids, or fats, in people with type 2 diabetes.

Natural peanut butter and peanuts are low glycemic index (GI) foods. This means that when a person eats it, their blood sugar levels should not rise suddenly or too high.

A diet that is high in magnesium may also offer protective benefits against the development of diabetes. Peanuts are a good source of magnesium.

This article looks at how peanut butter might impact diabetes, considers any risks involved, and looks at other healthful snacks for people with diabetes.

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Peanuts have a very low GI score and release sugar gradually into the bloodstream.

The GI is a 100-point scale that ranks foods according to how blood sugar and insulin change after eating specific food types.

Foods that digest slowly and release sugar gradually into the bloodstream have a lower GI score.

Peanuts have a GI score of just 14, making them one of the lowest GI foods.

After eating a food that is high on the index, such as glucose, blood sugar levels will spike dramatically and quickly.

After this, a rapid fall in blood sugar can result in renewed hunger and tiredness.

These cycles of spiking and crashing blood sugar and insulin levels are not good for the body. They can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes.

A pilot study involving 16 healthy adults found that taking 2 tablespoons of peanut butter with white bread and apple juice led to a significantly lower glucose spike, compared with taking only bread and juice. The results were published in 2018.

Peanuts are a good source of magnesium. Many people with type 2 diabetes have low magnesium levels.

Scientists have suggested that supplemental magnesium, especially with fiber, might offer protection from type 2 diabetes by:

  • improving insulin sensitivity
  • reducing oxidative stress
  • helping prevent systemic inflammation

Peanuts and peanut butter can provide dietary magnesium.

Nutrition

Everyone can benefit from eating foods that are rich in nutrients. Peanut butter provides protein and a range of vitamins and minerals.

One tablespoon (32 grams (g)) of chunk-style peanut butter with salt contains:

  • calories 188
  • protein 7.7 g
  • carbohydrates: 6.9 g including sugar (2.6 g) and fiber (2.7 g)
  • saturated fat: 2.4 g
  • unsaturated fat 7.4 g
  • monosaturated fat 4.5 g
  • calcium: 14 milligrams (mg)
  • iron: 0.6 mg
  • magnesium 51 mg
  • phosphorus 102 mg
  • potassium 238 mg
  • sodium 156 mg
  • zinc 0.9 mg

It also contains B vitamins, especially niacin and folate, vitamin E, and vitamin K.

The nutritional value will depend on the type and brand of peanut butter. Fortified and unsalted versions are also available.

A range of peanut butter is available for purchase online.

A 2012 study found that women with obesity — a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes — were able to manage their blood sugar throughout the day after eating peanut butter or peanuts at breakfast.

The researchers focused on the beneficial effects of the peanuts after the participants had consumed a high-carbohydrate lunch.

The participants in the study who ate peanuts for breakfast:

  • experienced reduced blood glucose levels
  • experienced reduced appetite
  • consumed less food throughout the day

Levels of a hormone called GLP-1 were also higher among those who ate peanuts, compared with the control group.

GLP-1 stimulates insulin production, lowers insulin resistance, and decreases appetite. The function of GLP-1 is important to people with diabetes. Some diabetes drugs, such as Byetta (exenatide), try to mimic this hormone.

However, although the women in this study were at risk of developing diabetes, they did not have the condition.

As such, the study does not give us a complete picture of how peanut butter for breakfast might benefit people with diabetes.

The study also involved just 15 people. Scientists need to reproduce the results in a larger study to confirm that they were not down to chance.

Peanuts versus candy

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Peanuts are a more healthful alternative to candy.

In a 2009 study, 25 men and women ate a set amount of either peanuts or candy every day for 14 days.

The participants who ate candy gained weight, and their waistlines expanded.

However, the participants who ate peanuts did not put on weight, and their waistlines remained the same as at the start of the study.

Furthermore, the participants who ate peanuts rather than candy appeared to experience a positive change in metabolism, as their basal metabolic rate increased.

Those who consumed candy had a negative effect on their metabolism.

Again, this is a small study sample, so people should interpet the results with caution.

The results of these and other small studies appear to suggest that peanut butter is some sort of diabetes "superfood." However, there may be some risks.

Added sugar

Many store-bought peanut butters contain added sugars. People with diabetes should check the label and choose all-natural peanut butters. Low-fat peanut butters, too, may contain more sugar than other varieties. Look for peanut butter that includes only peanuts and maybe some salt in the ingredients.

Fatty acids

Peanuts contain fat, including relatively high levels of omega-6. Omega-3 fatty acids tend to reduce inflammation, but having a higher ratio of omega-6 may increase it. A high intake of omega 6 may cause an imbalance in the ratio of healthful fatty acids and increase the risk of obesity and insulin resistance, according to a study published in 2016.

As diabetes is an inflammatory condition, it is important to have a balanced ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 in order to manage and reduce the risk of obesity and diabetes complications.

Calories

Peanut butter is a high-calorie food. Eating too much could contribute to obesity, and this is a risk factor for diabetes and for a worsening of diabetes. People should consume peanut butter in moderation and be mindful of the calories in each serving. One tablespoon of peanut butter contains around 188 calories.

Peanut allergies

Some people have a peanut allergy. This can be serious and possibly life-threatening.

People who know or suspect they may have a peanut allergy should speak to a doctor before consuming peanuts or related products.

Need for more evidence

Human studies on the effects of peanut butter have mostly been small and have not focused on people with diabetes. More evidence is needed to confirm that peanut butter is useful for people with diabetes.

Dietitians specializing in diabetes suggest that almonds and almond butter, as well as sunflower seeds and sunflower seed butter, can be alternatives to peanuts and peanut butter.

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Almond butter is a delicious alternative to peanut butter for those who are allergic to peanuts or dislike the taste.

Almonds and sunflower seeds are high in vitamins and minerals that are important for people with diabetes.

Some of these include:

Sunflower seeds are also high in polyunsaturated fat, while almonds are rich in monounsaturated fats. Both of which may help prevent diabetes.

Peanut butter contains essential nutrients, and it can be part of a healthful diet when a person has diabetes.

However, it is important to eat it in moderation, as it contains a lot of calories. People should also make sure their brand of peanut butter is not high in added sugar, salt, or fat.

Q:

Is it a good idea to eat peanut butter for diabetes or will it be very fattening?

A:

Consuming peanuts and peanut butter can be a great way to balance blood sugar and provide fullness.

Since peanuts are a fat, they have higher calories per gram than carbohydrates and proteins. This means you don't need as much to feel full.

However, overeating fats, even healthy ones, can cause weight gain, and being mindful of serving size is important for blood sugar management.

When consuming a carbohdyrate, such as fruit, pairing it with peanut butter can provide a nutrient-dense, balanced snack that keeps you satisifed for longer than just consuming the fruit alone.

Peanut butter can definitely be part of a healthy diabetes diet plan. Always look for peanut butter that contains only peanuts and maybe some salt. Avoid peanut butter that includes added sugars and hydrogenated oils.

People should work with a Registered Dietitian to identify their specific needs and how they can best incorporate this healthy fat.

Natalie Olsen, RD, LD, ACSM EP-C Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.