Natural peanut butter and peanuts are also low glycemic index (GI) foods. This means that they have a lower effect on blood sugar levels.
This article explores research into the impact of peanut butter on diabetes, to help people with diabetes decide whether eating it could improve their condition. It also considers any risks involved and looks at other healthful snacks for people with diabetes.
GI and blood sugar
Peanuts have a very low GI score and release sugar more gradually into the blood stream.
GI is a 100-point scale applied to foods. This scale measures how blood sugar and insulin spike after eating specific food types.
Foods that are digested slowly and release sugar gradually into the blood stream have a lower GI. Peanuts have a GI score of just 14, making them one of the lowest GI foods.
Foods high in GI cause blood sugar and insulin to spike severely after eating them. This is followed by a crash in blood sugar that can result in hunger, cravings, 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.
By contrast, low-GI foods can help people to better control their blood sugar levels.
For example, a 2012 study looked into eating peanut butter or peanuts at breakfast. This helped obese women who were at risk of developing type 2 diabetes to control their blood sugar throughout the day.
In the study, the beneficial effects of the peanuts were observed. They were looked at hours later, 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 people in the study who ate peanuts than in the control group.
GLP-1 stimulates insulin production, lowers insulin resistance, and decreases appetite. The function of GLP-1 is so important to people with diabetes that some diabetes drugs, such as Byetta (exenatide), try to mimic this hormone.
However, it is important to remember that the women in this study did not have diabetes. The women in the study were only at high risk of developing 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 had a very small number of participants, with just 15 people taking part. The results therefore need to be reproduced in a larger study for experts to be certain that they were not down to chance.
Peanuts versus candy
Naturally, 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. As expected, the study found that participants who ate candy gained weight and their waistlines expanded as a result.
However, participants eating 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 experienced a change in metabolism. This actually caused them to burn more calories than they were consuming.
Again, this is a small study sample, so results should be interpreted with caution.
Risks and considerations
On the basis of the studies we have looked at here, it would seem that peanut butter is some sort of diabetes "superfood."
However, it is worth bearing in mind some potential risks to people with diabetes that may be posed by the inclusion of peanut butter in their diet.
Many store-bought peanut butters will contain added sugars. People with diabetes should choose all-natural peanut butters. Even low-fat peanut butters can be harmful as these also contain more sugar than other varieties.
For instance, omega-6 comprises around 30 percent of the fatty acids in peanut butter. While omega-3 fatty acids tend to reduce inflammation, some omega-6 fatty acids, such as linoleic acid, can make inflammation worse.
As diabetes is an inflammatory condition, it is possible that the omega-6 fatty acids in peanut butter could make some aspects of diabetes worse. More research is needed to investigate this.
Allergies to peanuts can be very serious and cause life-threatening reactions.
Experts are concerned about how these allergies are becoming more common. For instance, in 2010, it was reported that the rate of peanut allergies in children had more than tripled between 1997 and 2008.
Snack alternatives 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 good alternatives to peanuts and peanut butter.
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 are thought to help prevent diabetes.