Knowing what’s OK to eat during pregnancy can be among the first concerns you have after getting a positive pregnancy test. In my dietetics practice, I work closely with pregnant people who share their strong food cravings and aversions.
As a dietitian, I remember feeling guilty in my first trimester of pregnancy because I couldn’t stand the thought of vegetables. Needless to say, pregnancy can change your tastes in ways you might not expect.
It’s likely no surprise that following a well-balanced healthy eating pattern is crucial for the optimal health of both mom and baby. You might wonder whether peanut butter can fit into a healthy pregnancy diet.
Yes, peanut butter is safe to eat during pregnancy. In fact, the nutrient-packed food is highly nutritious and brings many health benefits.
Whether you’re on team creamy or team crunchy, you’re free to enjoy peanut butter in pregnancy if you don’t have a peanut allergy.
Keep reading to find out all you need to know about eating peanut butter in pregnancy, its nutritional content, health benefits, food safety risks, and what kind of peanut butter to eat.
Many factors play a role in why you might crave specific foods in pregnancy. One study including 2,022 mothers found that peanut butter was one of several salty food cravings (1).
Food cravings are independent of hunger and characterized by a strong desire for a food, beverage, or flavor. Pregnancy can lead to increased cravings. Cravings typically make their appearance toward the end of the first trimester (2, 3).
According to research, the most commonly craved foods in pregnancy are sweets, such as chocolate and desserts, and higher carb foods, which include pizza and chips (3).
Peanut butter falls outside those two categories, as it’s a plant-based spread made from ground peanuts. Sometimes oils, sugar, and salt are added to peanut butter.
The causes of a peanut butter craving may be due to hormonal or physical changes in pregnancy; however, more research is needed. Fortunately, a peanut butter craving may be beneficial during pregnancy thanks to the food’s impressive nutritional profile. (4).
Pregnancy cravings may be due to hormonal and physical changes and differ from hunger. A craving is a strong desire for a specific food, such as peanut butter.
Here’s the nutrition breakdown for 2 tablespoons (33 grams) of natural peanut butter (5):
- Calories: 190 calories
- Protein: 8 grams
- Fat: 16 grams
- Saturated fat: 3 grams
- Carbs: 7 grams
- Fiber: 3 grams
Peanut butter is relatively high in calories compared with other foods, as it delivers a hefty dose of healthy unsaturated fats. Peanut butter also contributes protein and fiber to your diet (5).
May help manage gestational diabetes
Though peanut butter is high in calories, it’s low in carbs. You may need to monitor your carb intake you have gestational diabetes, a condition affecting 2–10% of pregnancies annually (6).
Gestational diabetes is characterized by abnormal blood sugar levels during pregnancy. Current recommendations are to eat moderate amounts of carbs throughout multiple meals and snacks daily (7, 8).
In addition, peanut butter has a low glycemic index. Low glycemic index foods have a more favorable effect on keeping blood sugar levels stable, compared with higher glycemic index foods (8).
Plant-based protein that supports a healthy pregnancy
Pregnancy is a time of rapid growth and development. The increased growth and development of the uterus, breasts, and baby calls for sufficient amounts of protein (9).
A 2-tablespoon (33-gram) serving of peanut butter has 8 grams of plant-based protein, which can help you meet your protein needs during pregnancy. Eating peanut butter in pregnancy can also help with feeling satisfied.
May lower heart disease risk
It’s easy to spot the pool of oil at the top of a jar of natural peanut butter. Indeed, peanut butter is a high fat food.
However, it’s rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats are touted for their role in reducing heart disease risk (10, 11).
May help with constipation
Given the significant number of hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy, pregnant people are at an increased risk of constipation.
The rise of a pregnancy hormone called progesterone may cause you to feel constipated by slowing down how quickly food moves through your intestines (12).
Constipation can be very uncomfortable, but there are ways to find relief. Fiber, a nutrient that’s naturally found in plant-based foods, promotes healthy digestion.
Including fiber-containing foods like peanut butter may help relieve or prevent constipation in pregnancy. A 2-tablespoon (33-gram) serving of peanut butter contains 3 grams of fiber (13, 5).
Be sure to drink plenty of water when you add more fiber to your diet and introduce it slowly.
Boasts a host of antioxidants
Peanut butter boasts a wide variety of antioxidants, including resveratrol, flavonoids, and vitamin E. These compounds are known for their ability to help reduce the risk of diseases like heart disease and cancer (11).
Antioxidants work to maintain a healthy balance of disease-causing free radicals. Free radicals are byproducts of everyday bodily functions. Lacking or out-of-balance antioxidant levels can increase your risk of disease (14, 15).
Peanut butter has an impressive nutritional profile. Eating it during pregnancy may help manage gestational diabetes, boost your protein intake, and prevent and relieve constipation.
A national study followed 10,901 children and their mothers from pregnancy to adolescence. The study aimed to explore the relationship between maternal peanut and tree nut intake and the prevalence of peanut and tree nut allergy in their children.
Approximately 8,509 mothers ate peanuts or tree nuts five times or more per month and reported lower incidences of medically diagnosed food allergies in their children (16).
Another U.S. study following 1,277 mother-child pairs found a 47% reduced chance of having a peanut allergy among children of mothers who ate higher amounts of peanuts during their pregnancies (17).
Large studies following mothers and their children over long periods have found associations between the consumption of peanuts during pregnancy and reduced peanut allergies among children.
Raw peanuts grow in the ground and carry a risk of contamination with a toxic agent called aflatoxin. Aspergillus is a type of fungus that produces aflatoxin. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates aflatoxin levels in peanuts and peanut products.
Aflatoxin ingestion may cause significant health problems, such as liver cancer, impaired fetal development, pregnancy anemia, premature delivery, and pregnancy loss (18, 19).
Aflatoxins, along with other fungi found in peanut products, pose a greater risk in countries where food system practices aren’t well controlled (18, 19, 20).
Choose commercial brands, as they’re subject to FDA regulation, and avoid unprocessed peanut butter, which is more likely to contain higher levels of aflatoxins. Also, you’ll want to avoid eating peanuts or peanut butter that appear discolored or moldy (21, 22).
Peanuts may be contaminated with a toxin called aflatoxin, which may cause poor pregnancy outcomes when ingested. It’s best to choose store-bought, FDA-regulated peanut butter and avoid unprocessed varieties.
Given the many peanut butter options available on store shelves today, it may feel challenging to decide on a jar. The healthiest peanut butter to eat during pregnancy — and in general — is natural peanut butter without additives.
Many peanut butters available at the store include added hydrogenated oils, salt, and added sugars. Hydrogenated oils contain trans fats, which have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Eating too much added sugar is also not great for your heart health (23, 24).
Check the ingredient list on your peanut butter — it should be concise and straightforward. Choose a jar of peanut butter that only contains peanuts or peanuts and salt. If there are ingredients other than peanuts and salt on the label, it’s best to skip that jar.
Avoid peanut butter jars with extra ingredients, such as hydrogenated oils and added sugars. Select natural peanut butter with simple ingredient lists. Peanuts or peanuts and salt should be the only ingredients.
If a pregnant person has a peanut allergy, peanut-containing products should be avoided.
If not, there’s no reason to avoid peanut butter in pregnancy. In fact, it can be a very healthy food to enjoy while pregnant.
Based on evidence, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology has not recommended avoiding eating peanuts in pregnancy (25).
Peanut butter is a highly nutritious, protein-packed food that’s great for pregnant people without a peanut allergy.
The popular spread is a low glycemic food, which may help you maintain healthy blood sugar levels. It also supplies protein — a key nutrient for pregnancy. Plus, its healthy fat may reduce your heart disease risk, and its digestion-supporting fiber helps relieve constipation.
Finally, peanut butter is rich in vitamins and antioxidants. As such, it can help prevent disease.
Eating peanut butter or peanuts during pregnancy may even reduce the risk of peanut allergies in children.
It’s safe to eat peanut butter in pregnancy as long as you choose an unprocessed peanut butter product. Enjoy commercial brands of peanut butter that are natural and free of additives.