Peanut Butter and Acne: 5 Reasons to Quit This Acne Trigger

peanut butter

Delicious peanut butter… an acne trigger disguised as a health food!

Peanut butter tastes ridiculously amazing, right?

Nothing quite like the salty, peanutty taste…

Reese’s peanut butter cups, PB&J’s, Thai peanut sauce… even “ants on a log.”

So good.

And amazingly, you can trace the roots of a jar of Jif back to the Aztecs. They were grinding peanuts into a paste well before Shakespeare was in diapers.

But right now, I’m going to give you 5 reasons to avoid this potentially acne-causing food. That’s right, peanut butter can trigger acne!

I know, it’s a bummer… but I do have a few nutty alternatives for you at the end.

First, let’s see if there’s anything actually healthy about peanut butter.

What Are the Health Benefits of Peanut Butter?

Actually, peanut butter seems like a pretty healthy food, if you squint your eyes and don’t look too closely.

Peanut butter is pretty fatty. Two tablespoons of peanut butter has about 16 grams of fat.

19% of the fat is saturated, which is the most stable form of fat, and easiest for your cells to break down for energy. No complaints there, especially if you’re hip to the fact that saturated fat doesn’t actually cause heart disease.

It’s got a lot of monounsaturated fat, and is a pretty good source of protein, vitamin B3 and vitamin E, magnesium, and folate, and it even contains resveratrol (although grapes and wine are much better sources of that).

Monounsaturated fat is great for your skin, and a couple studies have found that eating nuts, and monounsaturated fat in general, lowers cholesterol levels.[1] [2]

Peanut butter also contains an antioxidant called coumarin, which theoretically could be good for acne. Antioxidants in general protect against oxidative stress, which is a big criminal in the acne process.

So we’ve got monounsaturated fat, protein, vitamins, magnesium, even antioxidants.

Sounds pretty good, right?

But when we dive in deeper, we’ll see why peanuts are pulling the wool over our eyes, at least for us acne sufferers.

Peanut Butter is a Health Food Fraud for Acne Sufferers

Peanut butter has 5 major problems that could make it trigger acne for you.

Let’s dive in! Get ready to say goodbye to your little friend, peanut butter…

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Big Problem #1: Omega-6 Fatty Acids (TONS)

Peanut butter is pretty fatty. In two tablespoons, you get 16 grams of fat. 50% of that is monounsaturated, 19% saturated (no complaints there), but 31% is polyunsaturated.[3] No bueno!

Excess omega-6 fats can trigger acne. In a bad way.

Here’s why:

Omega-6 fats are generally responsible for triggering inflammation. (Specifically, the omega-6 arachidonic acid, or AA, does this.) That means they start the inflammation process in your body. So when you get a clogged pore, a sebaceous gland might rupture, causing a sort of “internal wound” in your body, and your immune system rushes in to save the day.

Your body uses omega-6 fats to produce cytokines and prostaglandins, which start inflammation, signaling immune cells to rush in and clean up the mess.[4]

Problem is, if you have way too much omega-6 fat in your body (by eating foods like peanut butter), your body has trouble stopping inflammation. That’s because omega-3s are required to halt inflammation. (Specifically, DHA.)

Remember, omega-6s start inflammation, omega-3s stop it.

If you had an ideal omega-6:3 ratio (between 1:1 or 4:1, researchers think), your body would launch a strong inflammatory attack against the wound, clean it up, then cease inflammation quickly.

But if you don’t have a good balance – the average American, for example, has more like a 20:1 ratio of omega-6:3 – then you’re likely to get what’s called systemic inflammation. That is, your body’s under a more-or-less constant state of low-grade inflammation.

That’s going to make for red, swollen, painful pimples that stick around for a long time!

So back to peanut butter – why is it a problem?

Let’s say you eat two tablespoons of peanut butter for a snack. That’s a whopping 4.5g of omega-6. It’s pretty hard to get that ideal omega 6:3 ratio of 1:1, or even 4:1, when you’re packing down that much omega-6 from peanut butter.

Most of that omega-6 is LA (linoleic acid), which the body can convert to AA (arachidonic acid), which is what triggers inflammation.[5] .

Even worse, besides the systemic inflammation problem, omega-6 fats are highly unstable (like ticking time bombs, in a way).

They react with heat and oxygen extremely easily in the body. They form “zombie fats” that then zombify other PUFAs, triggering a chain-reaction zombie outbreak of peroxidized fatty acids, which eventually break down into toxins like malondialdehyde (MDA) that can damage the fundamental structures of basically any cell in your body.[6]

Your immune system already has a really big job keeping you free of invaders – and its not going to be able to do that as well if it also has to deal with a constant supply of damaging zombie fats.

Even worse… SIBO!

To add insult to injury, eating lots of omega-6 fat tends to promote what’s called “small intestinal bacterial overgrowth” (SIBO). That’s where your small intestine gets colonized by a ton of bad bacteria. It’s not supposed to have many bacteria (compared to the colon / large intestine), but in SIBO things get way out of hand.

SIBO can worsen acne, because all those bacteria tend to (obnoxiously) spew out a bunch of toxins as they go about their lives. They literally spew out toxic bacteria poop. That can worsen systemic inflammation, tax your immune system, and lead to vitamin deficiencies.[7] [8]

Okay, high levels of omega-6 are a good enough reason to avoid peanut butter, right?

But wait, there’s more!

Bad Problem #2: Peanut Agglutinin

Peanuts contain a lectin (a kind of protein) called peanut agglutinin.[9]

In general, lectins are found in grains and legumes, and can cause a variety of digestive problems. Peanut agglutinin is no exception.

That’s bad news for your skin!

Peanut agglutinin enters the bloodstream quickly after eating. [10] In fact, it’s very likely that peanut lectin increases intestinal permeability. In other words, it opens up the holes in your intestinal wall slightly, making it easier for food particles to pass through into your bloodstream.

That’s not supposed to happen! Intact food particles are not supposed to pass through your intestinal wall into your bloodstream. That’s a disaster waiting to happen. That’s how people develop autoimmune conditions, food allergies, and systemic inflammation.[10]

This is also known as “leaky gut,” which in general compromises your immune system, making it a lot more difficult for your body to fight the everyday fights, like clearing and healing clogged pores before they develop into full-blown inflamed pimple disasters.

So again, peanut agglutinin may contribute to leaky gut, leading to potentially systemic inflammation and autoimmunity, and worsened acne.

Ready for #3?

Bad Problem #3: Aflatoxin, or Attack of the Toxic Fungus Poop

Aflatoxin is a toxin created by molds (fungi) of the Aspergillus genus. While a direct link to acne has not been established, aflatoxin is a known contributor to liver cancer, kidney cancer, malnutrition, and birth defects.[11]

Peanut butter, along with corn, is one of the top dietary sources of aflatoxin.

Now peanut butter is actually one of better ways to consume peanuts. The peanut-butter-making process reduced aflatoxin by 89% in one study.

That said, another study found that the crappy brands of peanut butter (like Jif) have way less aflatoxin, while the grind-it-yourself peanut butter in natural food stores had the most aflatoxin. Bummer of an irony, right?

The jury’s still out on whether the levels of aflatoxin in peanut butter are dangerous, but in my book, it’s not worth the risk. Especially given the other problems with peanut butter (omega-6 and leaky gut).

Bad Problem #4: Peanut Butter Is Delicious And Addictive

Let’s face it.

It’s hard to eat a small amount of peanut butter!

It’s just so dang good, it begs to be wolfed down, spoon after spoon. I don’t know if you’ve ever put away ¼ or ½ jar in one sitting, but I have. And I can tell you… that was a fart disaster. And yes, it gave me a few pimples as well.

Peanut butter is what I would classify as a “domino food” – a food that you just have a hard time stopping eating. Once you pop, the eatin’ don’t stop.

If this isn’t true for you – if you regularly eat only 1-2 tablespoons of peanut butter a day or less – then I’d challenge to quit peanut butter because of reasons #1, 2, and 3 above.

Bad Problem #5: Peanut Butter’s Evil Sidekicks – Sugar and Gluten

The most insidious problem with peanut butter might not actually be peanut butter itself, but the fact that it’s almost always packing those evil sidekicks, sugar and gluten.

A lot of lower-quality peanut butter (like Jif) is made with hydrogenated oils and sugar. The hydrogenated oils keep the fat from separating, and the sugar, obviously, makes it sweet (and more addictive). Hydrogenated oils are bad for acne for the same “zombie fat” reason described above in #1. And sugar is one of the top four worst foods for acne, leading to inflammation, glycation, clogged pores, producing too much sebum, and a compromised immune system.

Even if you get “natural” peanut butter, you likely don’t eat peanut butter by itself. I’m guessing you eat it with with jam (tons of sugar) and bread (gluten, another one of the top four worst foods for acne).

Are you the type that only eats a small amount of peanut butter on a banana, avoiding the jam and bread entirely? High-five! I still challenge you to quit peanut butter for reasons #1-3 above. 🙂

Is Peanut Butter Really That Bad?

Let’s put it this way. It’s not the worst food you could eat for acne. Milk and dairy, vegetable oil, sugar, and gluten are worse.

But I think peanut butter is a big enough issue that it’s just adding fuel to the fire.

Why risk eating peanut butter when there are tasty, healthier options like almond butter and cashew butter?

And peanut butter is such a simple taste anyway… it’s totally one-dimensional and boring, once you’ve lived without it for a while. It’s like Cheetos, in a way – it just screams “PEANUTS!” and nothing else. Almond butter, in comparison, tastes way more complex and satisfying (in this author’s opinion).

(Note: a few folks have reported that they DO react to almond butter and cashew butter (read: it makes them break out), while they do NOT react to peanut butter. It just goes to show that any general prescription will never apply to everyone, and that you really need to test foods on yourself. We still don’t recommend eating a ton of peanut butter, generally speaking, because of the reasons outlined above. In our opinion, it’s not really a health food.)

What About Peanuts?

Same problems as peanut butter. And loads more aflatoxin to boot, since they don’t benefit from the aflatoxin-reducing process of peanut-butter-making.

Will a few peanuts make you break out? Probably not.

That said, I wouldn’t make them a regular part of your diet. In the day-to-day, I’d say better to avoid!

Clear Skin Friendly Alternatives

Try almond butter or cashew butter. The honest-to-goodness best almond butter I’ve ever had in my life is made by a farm in California called Zinke Orchards. I’m not affiliated with them in any way – it’s just freaking amazing almond butter. Look ‘em up.

BTW, go a little easy on the nut butters. Stick to 1-2 tablespoons a day. That’s because most nuts, including almonds, are relatively high in omega-6 fats.

(Truth be told, I actually don’t keep almond butter around the house, because it’s a huge domino food for me. I can’t stop myself just scarfing down disgusting amounts of it. That’s a huge load of omega-6 that I’d rather not be eating. And it displaces other healthier foods like grass-fed beef, vegetables, and fruit. But that’s just me – Sonia, for example, has no trouble with it!)

Key Takeaways

  1. Peanut butter has tons of omega-6 fat, which can lead to wild, rampant inflammation (and red, swollen pimples that stick around for a long time).
  2. Peanut agglutinin can lead to leaky gut and inflammation, thereby worsening acne.
  3. Peanut butter is delicious and addictive, and it’s hard to eat just a small amount, multiplying the problems.
  4. Peanut butter often comes along with bread and jam (gluten and sugar), two of the worst foods for acne!
  5. There are much healthier alternatives like almond butter and cashew butter.
  6. That said, peanut butter is not the worst food in the world for your skin. If you haven’t cut out dairy, sugar, gluten, and vegetable oil yet, do those first.
  7. If you haven’t checked out our master guide yet, have a gander. It’s the sum total of all our acne-blitzing knowledge in one easy-to-read, downloadable e-book. Get the book now.

About Devin Mooers

Devin MooersHey! Over the past 10 years, I've developed a powerful system for clearing acne with a little-known diet- and lifestyle-based method, and I want to spread the love. That's why I started Clear Skin Forever back in 2011. I studied engineering and product design at Stanford University, and graduated in the top 5% of my class, but afterward, I decided to focus on writing about health, since I found it so fulfilling to help people clear their acne for good. Thanks for reading, and sign up for email updates to stay in the loop with clear skin tips! Also, be sure to check out our book if you haven't yet, all about how to fix acne permanently with diet and lifestyle changes. We've helped thousands of people get clear skin this way!

Sources (click to expand)

  1. Kris-etherton PM, Pearson TA, Wan Y, et al. High-monounsaturated fatty acid diets lower both plasma cholesterol and triacylglycerol concentrations. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;70(6):1009-15. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10584045 ^
  2. Lee YJ, Nam GE, Seo JA, et al. Nut consumption has favorable effects on lipid profiles of Korean women with metabolic syndrome. Nutr Res. 2014;34(9″:814-20. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25238912 ^
  3. Nutrition Facts and Analysis for Peanuts, all types, oil-roasted, with salt ^
  4. Ballantyne S. The Paleo Approach, Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body. Victory Belt Publishing; 2014. ^
  5. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Peanut oil. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peanut_oil. Accessed October 14, 2014 ^
  6. Precious Yet Perilous. Masterjohn, Chris. Available at: http://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/precious-yet-perilous/. Accessed October 14, 2014. ^
  7. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_intestinal_bacterial_overgrowth. Accessed October 14, 2014. ^
  8. Lykova EA, Bondarenko VM, Parfenov AI, Matsulevich TV. Bacterial overgrowth syndrome in the small intestine: pathogenesis, clinical significance and therapy tactics. Eksp Klin Gastroenterol. 2005;(6):51-7, 113. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17378388 ^
  9. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Peanut agglutinin. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peanut_agglutinin. Accessed October 14, 2014. ^
  10. Wang Q, Yu LG, Campbell BJ, Milton JD, Rhodes JM. Identification of intact peanut lectin in peripheral venous blood. Lancet. 1998;352(9143):1831-2. http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(05)79894-9/fulltext79894-9/fulltext) ^
  11. Mupunga I, Lebelo SL, Mngqawa P, Rheeder JP, Katerere DR. Natural occurrence of aflatoxins in peanuts and peanut butter from bulawayo, zimbabwe. J Food Prot. 2014;77(10):1814-8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25285504 ^
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{ 51 Comments }

  1. kaleigh phillips says

    Starting to use the “teccino” chicory root based coffee replacer and let go of the coffee drinking. What are your thoughts on this ? Different sources I found state it as good for the gut because the chichory fiber is a prebiotic. Any thoughts?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Kaleigh! Prebiotic fiber can provide great food for beneficial gut bacteria for sure. It’s essentially a root brew decoction, which have been used medicinally for ages. I’ve started making herbal tea in the mornings from bulk herbs (goldenrod, calendula, chamomile, pine needles, fir tips, etc.), many of which we’ve collected ourselves (but many of which we get from the co-op). I definitely feel way better when I wake up, and am not so stressed out later, since dropping coffee!

  2. Sam says

    Hi Devin,

    How low PUFA diets do you recommend? Do you think you can get all the PUFAs you need from eating beans, whole grains and whole milk? I have always felt terrible every time I have eaten seeds, fish oil and other EFA supplements.

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Sam! Yeah, definitely. Very low PUFA is good. It’s all about quality and freshness with PUFA – most fish oils, seeds, supplements, etc. are totally rancid by the time you ingest them. Yes, the Inuit traditionally eat tons of seal blubber (high in PUFA), but it’s extremely fresh and non-oxidized when ingested, and they also eat thyroid glands of seals, which provides loads of iodine and thyroid hormone to block lipid peroxidation of that PUFA.

      How do you feel with raw oysters, have you tried that? They’re a prime acne-busting food, with lots of zinc and also super-fresh DHA.

  3. Brooke Turley says

    Ok, you’re officially talking crappy science, in light of this article about marigolds and chickens. Apparently it very much does indeed improve eggs to have marigolds in the chickens’ diets.

    https://www.google.com/amp/s/scialert.net/fulltext/amp.php%3fdoi=ijps.2017.11.15

    I certainly hope that no one has gone and altered either their own diet or that of their poultry, just because of your half-baked scare tactics. Good grief. “ Fake orange” in nature, indeed.

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Brooke! Wow, color me (majorly) wrong. Thanks for pointing this out! That was really sloppy – I don’t know what I thought that marigold color would not be related to an antioxidant carotene. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. I’m sorry about this carelessness – I have removed this from the post after following up on the articles you linked! I will try to be more careful next time.

  4. Brooke Turley says

    Hi, I hate to burst your anti-marigold bubble, but the thing is, marigolds are orange themselves due to caratenoids! They’re full of nutrients, actually, and there’s no such thing as “fake orange” in nature.

    (Unless I count the time that my dad consumed massive quantities of beta-carotene in his heroic search for a natural “fake tan”. That time, “fake orange” definitely fit the bill.)

    Here’s an article that details the nutritional profile of marigolds:

    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1756464612000734

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Brooke! (Just duplicating the response here to your other comment) Wow, color me (majorly) wrong. Thanks for pointing this out! That was really sloppy – I don’t know what I thought that marigold color would not be related to an antioxidant carotene. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. I’m sorry about this carelessness – I have removed this from the post after following up on the articles you linked! I will try to be more careful next time.

  5. tom hennessy says

    Researchers in a recent study took 60 women with hyperandrogenemia which has cystic acne as a major symptom, and reduced the iron in 30 by phlebotomy, and gave the ‘standard of care’ to the other 30, found, phlebotomy to reduce iron levels was as effective as the drugs used in the ‘standard of care’.

    Effect of phlebotomy versus oral contraceptives containing cyproterone acetate on the clinical and biochemical parameters in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomized controlled trial. J Ovarian Res 12, 78 (2019).

    https://doi.org/10.1186/s13048-019-0554-9

    There seems to be more to the iron than we fully realize ..

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Tom – whoa, that’s fascinating! Great find! Amazing that phlebotomy brought on normal menstruation in 44% of subjects – I bet if they also added 3,000 IU of retinol, it would have improved results even more (vit. A boosts ceruloplasmin production to bind excess free iron).

    • Sean says

      Hey Rey, do you consume Magnesium through supplements or are you making an effort to eat Magnesium rich foods?

      (just curious)

  6. Luo says

    Stress can induce a series of negative effects on the human body. Many people are easily depressed under pressure, which has a bad influence on the treatment of acne.
    Some people overeating under pressure, too much sugar can easily induce acne.
    And stress can make people unable to sleep, and lack of sleep has too much effect on the skin.

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