Nuts Aren’t Protein – They’re Fat!

Anyone who has been in my office sees rows of diet books. Almost every new diet that comes along, I get the book to read about it, because at some point a patient will come in and say they’ve learned some nutrition when they were on some diet plan.

One of the most common bits of misinformation is that peanuts – and hence, peanut butter – is protein – or a healthy snack — or a complex carbohydrate. Book after book on my shelf lists peanuts as a great source of protein, and a “snack that is healthy for you.”

I wonder if they ever bothered to look at a jar of peanut butter? Of the 190 calories in two tablespoons of peanut butter, 140 of the calories are from fat. Two tablespoons of butter contain 200 calories – all of which come from fat. Basically, while there is a bit of carbohydrate and some protein – peanut butter is over 70% fat. A tablespoon of peanut butter isn’t much- seems to fit right on that celery stick– and four tablespoons of peanut butter — well, now you have just had more fat than in a Big Mac. A Snickers bar (not a healthy snack) has less fat than two tablespoons of peanut butter.

Fat is not, nor will it ever be, a healthy snack. Fat is a dense source of calories, and if you are thinking about losing weight – the last place you would want to get a snack from is a dense source of calories.

Now there are those who will tell you that fat does not make you fat (seriously, someone has this as the basis of their diet) – or that fat is healthier than bread (all I can say is they are nuttier than peanut butter).

If you want a quick, healthy snack  — think of an apple, or an orange, or almost any fruit (not fruit drink, not a fruit smoothie, but real fruit).  It will fill you, it has few calories, and will keep you satisfied for hours. If you think you need protein in a snack, think jerky (better yet make jerky), and there are a few more. But if you want to lose weight – don’t think of peanut butter.

One apple has 72 calories (only 2 of the calories are from fat).

Dr. Terry Simpson About Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and went to medical school. Dr. Simpson, a weight loss surgeon is an advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he believes teaching people to improve their health through their food and in their kitchen. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcolm Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska and in 2013 Dr Simpson won the National Indian Health Board Area Impact Award. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit www.terrysimpson.com.

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Latest Comments

  1. What says:

    this post is completely lost on me, you really don’t seem to have a very consistent or well thought out point of view on dietary health.

    after perusing your blog due to a post on randi.org here’s some of what i’ve “learned”:

    1) low fat vegan diets are quackery and possibly harmful

    2) there is no problem whatsoever eating chicken skin so make a rotisserie chicken covered in olive oil and munch away

    3) peanut butter is all fat, so that means it’s really bad for you. also eating peanut butter will cause plaque deposits.

    what is chicken skin? 90% fat. what is olive oil? 100% fat.

    so take chicken skin which is almost pure fat, and put another pure fat on top it, but don’t eat peanut butter, because peanut butter is mostly fat and fat is dangerous and obesity promoting?

    also, fat is bad and causes atherosclerosis, but low fat vegan diets aren’t protective?!

    what gives, doc.

  2. thedoc says:

    First of all, chicken skin is not fat. Chicken skin is dermis and skin, and if you cook chicken skin properly you will have removed the fat from it. Second, fat is not a simple topic in and of itself — fat is a very broad term for a group of chemicals.
    To put the posts in context: Peanut butter is a dense source of calories and is not a “healthy” snack as people claim. Peanut butter will not cause plaque deposits.
    My cousins who live on the Arctic Ocean (they’re Yupik) eat a diet very high in fat – and yet heart disease is almost not seen (until they learn to smoke).
    Vegan diets – well, if you get a diet that causes a high level of triglycerides then you will have more plaque than if you have a diet high in fish (fat).
    Yes- never simple.
    What gives- trying to show that what we know or think isn’t always what we think: Peanuts are not protein, they are fat, and if trying to lose weight they are not a snack. Chicken skin is not fat (if you prepare it then the subcutaneous fat renders out – I take it you are not a cook but if you ever had crispy chicken skin or crispy pork skin it is delicious). Vegan diets are diverse- and some quite harmful.
    Olive oil — well, again, it is fat, but all fat is not bad– too much of anything is (including chicken skin, peanut butter, tofu, and vegans)

  3. What says:

    thanks for the response!

    even though chicken is dermis and skin, it still has to consist of either fat, carbohydrates, or protein, those are our only options

    a cooked 8oz chicken breast with the skin on has 31 grams of fat, compared to a cooked 8oz chicken breast without the skin which has 17 grams of fat

    what else would chicken skin mostly consist of nutritionally if not fat? you’re getting double the amount of fat as a skinless chicken breast.

    the chicken skin adds about 111 calories, pretty dense for a thin layer of dermis & skin

    i agree calling nuts proteins is bizarre & stupid like 90% of standard nutritional advice, i just really don’t understand why you emphasize above how big of a deal it is that peanut butter has so much fat, more fat than a big mac if you eat 4 tablespoons, more fat than snickers bar (whats this got to do with the price of tea in china?) … you specifically say anyone who thinks eating fat doesn’t make you fat is nuts.

    if that’s true why doesn’t it matter that chicken skin adds calories, and this is before you even get started with the olive oil, which will add an untold amount of calories depending on how the person uses which it is generally extremely liberally… i was looking at recipes for cooking greens this week and 9 out of 10 called for a minimum of 330-400 calories in olive oil as an example. the food network is probably the most glaring example that the the amount of oil people use in everything is pretty out of control.

    it seems to me like you need to either rewrite this post or write a new post about when fat is good, when fat is bad, when you should eat it, when you shouldn’t.

    for what it’s worth, i’m a person who has done a ketogenic diet several times subsisting on 80% fat and lost 50-60lbs each time.

    there are many communities online of atkins & “paleo” eaters who eat 60-80% fat and post before and after pictures along the way of their weight loss

    i also did optifast which is another ketogenic liquid diet with 10% of calories from fat (causing gallbladder failure in some people), and lost around 60 pounds

    vastly different diet composition, same results.

    there’s no reason to think you have a better or worse chance of succeeding on a high fat diet than any other diet , as you know 90%+ of people doing any diet fail quickly or gain it back eventually which is why youre in business 🙂

  4. thedoc says:

    The nature of the post you refer was people who thought peanut butter was protein, and didn’t realize the dense calories. Now to chicken skin – subcutaneous fat in chicken is rendered out if you prepare it properly. If your chicken skin is crisp- no fat- if it is soggy, you left too much fat. You want to talk about chicken with skin and subcutaneous fat- and that is how it is measured- fine, you want to talk about calories after the chicken is cooked as most chefs do with crisp skin — different story.
    Olive oil- yes, it is fat- and if you are wanting to keep under 1500 calories then you watch it. But it is still dense calories, it is not as inflammatory as animal fats, not as toxic as trans-fat – and when you cook with olive oil you calculate that 10 per cent of the olive oil will end up in the product so if you cook with 300 to 400 calories of olive oil you end up with 30-40 calories if you cook it properly. Again- more to this than beaker science- this is why we teach people to cook.
    Ketogenic diets mean you are burning muscle, and you can lose weight with them and regain it.
    Yes, diets are evil- people regain- so it is finding a lifestyle you can live with not a diet. Optifast is for people who want to look good for the prom and then regain after.

  5. What says:

    is there a reference to oil cooking down to 10% of calories if you do it properly? i would really appreciate seeing this because it would revolutionize my greens cooking if i could use oil again.
    another question:

    in the last 10 years or so since the mantra became “diets don’t work, only changing your lifestyle works” everyone i personally know who has gone on a diet, and every forum/blog for weight loss, views their “new diet” this way, as a total lifestyle change forever. in fact the word diet as gone out of fashion for “way of eating” or ironically WOE for short. yet, despite this change in attitude of a lifestyle change to healthy eating rather than a diet, by all appearances both anecdotally and in the science (stanford study on ornish/atkins/zone/learn for example) even when given all of the advantages in the world short of surgery the same % continue to fail & regain the weight. many of the past biggest loser contestants get fat again within a year or two of leaving the show despite having it endlessly beat into their head this is a lifestyle change, healthy habits, exercise, management strategies, blah blah blah, everyone leaves the show announcing “this is for LIFE!”.

    so my question is, how do we figure out the lifestyle we can live with? it seems like for nearly everyone the only lifestyle they can live with is the one that made them fat in the first place.

  6. thedoc says:

    You can do the experiment for yourself with cooking- weigh the oil you put in the pan, cook the veggies and weigh the veggies after. In most calorie counting books that is the reference. We have done the experiment with our cooking – weighed the veggies going in- weighed the oil coming out.

    Diets don’t work – you are correct. And yes, people say “diets are lifestyles” and yet, most use a diet for short term. The only long term benefit from short term diets are woman who have just given birth. Surgery is the ultimate life style changer – if the person allows it to be. Surgery doesn’t do the work of weight loss, but people can eat out of it.

    How to change lifestyle- you have to be willing to (a) try new foods to change the ones you are eating (b) get rid of some foods that are an issue. A lifestyle change can be as little as changing from burgers and fries for lunch to a tuna sandwich. Or it could be giving up white flour altogether as if it is an allergy. (c) begin a moderate exercise program that is routine- like walking the dogs briskly every day. Lifestyle is what a person makes it- wanting to lose weight is not the same commitment as changing a lifestyle. So- it can be simple – after all, getting rid of 100 calories a day is about ten pounds in a year. It can be complex- some people want to have a plan with a major dietary change. That is a great question btw. Thank you

  7. Kyle says:

    I thought the objective was not to avoid fat, but to consume good fat (unsaturated), avoid bad fat (saturated), end exercise…if people did that, we wouldnt have an obesity crisis.

    Maybe im missing something, but dont the facts support nuts and seeds? They have a high quality protein, fight cholesterol, high density calories, and they dont impact your colon…none of those things can be said for meat.

  8. The Doc says:

    Nuts are mostly fat- some over 80 per cent fat- they are not protein, they are fat. In terms of meat- it has far more protein per ounce than any nut or seed does (with a few rare exceptions). The obesity crisis is not from eating meat, or fats- but too large a portion throughout. In terms of avoiding one fat, yes, some are worse for you- but if you have any in excess, they are still fat, and still can cause a problem

  9. Stephen says:

    Eh, I think most nuts are overrated. Even though they have some protein, isn’t the amino acid profile of most nuts incomplete? I’ve also been seeing a lot of stuff about having a one to three ratio of n3 to n6 polyunsaturated fats. I don’t know much this new advice, but aren’t most nuts also rich in n6 polyunsaturates that could easily break one’s ratio? What do you think The Doc?

  10. Jim says:

    Almonds have protein and are high in good fats. Good fats actually help us lower the amounts of bad fats in our body. See the article from WebMD: http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/skinny-fat-good-fats-bad-fats. The USDA says that 1 ounce of almonds contain 161 calories with 14g of fat. 13g grams of this fat is the good unsaturated fat that is healthy to eat. 1 ounce of almonds also contains 6g of protein and 3g of fiber. It is a very health snack if you don’t over-indulge. Peanut Butter is similar in calories, has the same amount of fat but only 11g grams of the fat is the good fat. Still a healthy snack in moderation, but not quite as healthy as almonds.

  11. The Doc says:

    71% of the calories in almonds come from fat. That means nuts are just fat, and the point of this is to point out the myth that nuts are protein. In terms of good fats and bad fats one has to look at the total quantity of fat that one has and keeping that quantity lower, and reducing weight is key. For people trying to diet having calorie dense items, such as nuts- is not healthy. When you say good fat or bad fat, you are talking about saturated versus unsaturated fats. Fat is, whether “good” or “bad” is calorie dense – more than twice that of protein. One ounce of almonds is anywhere from 17 almonds to 24- not too many. High calorie – too much fat, not a snack for people trying to lose weight

  12. The Doc says:

    Nuts are over-rated as a snack in terms of calories – and it is way to easy to over eat nuts. When we start talking about the amounts of and different types of fats, it has to be done in balance with what else a person eats.

  13. thedoc says:

    As a weight loss surgeon – no, nuts are dense in calories- they are not something you give to someone who wants to lose weight. But I have a lot of weight loss patients who believe that, and once they put the nuts aside they start to lose weight.
    The bit you read was cautious to state small portions. What they cite are some population studies- not scientific research.
    Here is something simple to remember- when you eat snacks high in calories, your odds of weight loss are very small. If, however, you have very small portions for meals, and small bits of nuts (about 17 nuts at the most) you can do ok. The key is not the nuts, the key is everything else, so you have room for those calories

  14. corey says:

    I enjoy reading the postings and gaining insight on your practice perspective on loosing wih the Lap-band.

    My surgon suggested that at higher fill levels that patiens avoid p.butter because it is mostly fat, and it has a tendency to clog the stoma on the inside of the stomach pouch, resulting in problems for the lapband paient. I gather that if you are banded you should avoid p. butter because it just does not sit will with the stoma that is created by the lapband.

  15. thedoc says:

    I think avoiding peanut butter because it is mostly fat is a better idea. I never like the band to keep people from doing anything- I want people to use the band to suppress hunger. Thank you for your kind words

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