Which Peanut Butter is Best?

Peanut butter is a versatile snack that is packed with protein and heart-healthy unsaturated fats. These same unsaturated fats also help you to feel full (satiety). Peanut butter is also a good source of fiber, potassium, magnesium, and Vitamin B-6. Unfortunately, identifying the healthiest peanut butter at the grocery store is becoming more and more challenging.  As new peanut butters and peanut butter-like products are coming onto the market, deciding between regular vs “natural” peanut butter or reduced fat vs. powdered peanut butter can leave your head spinning.

Peanut Butter vs. Peanut Butter Spread (aka reduced-fat peanut butter)

Many peanut butters on the shelf at the supermarket are full of added sugar and other ingredients, such as soybean oil. According to the National Peanut Board, in order for peanut butter to be labeled as peanut butter, it has to contain at least 90% peanuts. The only other allowable ingredients are salt, sweeteners, and hydrogenated vegetable oils.

Products that include anything else, like palm oil, flavors, or other ingredients, must be labeled as peanut butter spreads. They may still contain at least 90 percent peanuts and have a similar nutritional profile, but they are outside the standard definition of “peanut butter.” These are typically what your reduced-fat peanut butters are called.

“Natural” Peanut Butter

There is no standard, FDA regulated, definition for “natural” peanut butter. A loose definition of a peanut butter labeled “natural” has only peanuts and salt listed in the ingredients. It does not usually contain added sugar or hydrogenated oils. Without the added oils, these types of peanut butters are not well homogenized which leads to the oils separating out from the mixture and rising to the top of the jar. This can be remedied by simply stirring. As always, double check the label before assuming that a “natural” peanut butter fits these criteria.

Powdered Peanut Butter

As powdered peanut butter grows in popularity, it’s important to know what makes powdered peanut butter different from standard peanut butter. Powdered peanut butters are made by extracting most of the fat and dehydrating what’s left of the peanut, which forms a powder. The resulting product has 85% less fat calories. To make up for the flavoring that is lost with the fat, often sugar and salt are added.

While this can be a great product for those looking for peanut butter taste, without all the fat and calories, you would probably be better off just having a tablespoon of regular peanut butter. The unsaturated fats found in regular PB are far more filling than the powdered form. Additionally, replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats in your diet is more likely to lead to weight loss than a diet higher in sugar. 

What to look for

Thankfully, you don’t have to grind up your own peanuts in order to get a healthy, no additives, creamy peanut butter. Many supermarkets as well as health food stores offer nut butters that are simple, delicious, and without all the unnecessary additives. Look for peanut butter (or any nut butter) that only contains peanuts and salt. This ensures you are getting all the protein and healthy fats, without the added sugar or hydrogenated oils. Additionally, many stores allow you to make your own nut butter. Essentially, you can crush your own peanuts. 

Fat is Not the Enemy

Although the “fat-free craze” of the past has long since been discouraged by health professionals as a viable part of a balanced diet, the amount of products boasting “low-fat” this, and “reduced fat” that, are more abundant than ever. But, fat isn’t the enemy; and, most importantly, all fat isn’t created equal. Some healthy fat is actually a good thing. The key to navigating the revamped “fat craze” can be found in understanding how reduced-fat foods are made and how to recognize healthy fats when you see them.

Fat Free Isn’t Always a Good Thing

What happens when all or some of the fat content is removed from a food? Usually, it doesn’t taste as good because the flavor and texture are now drastically different. To make up for this, manufacturers add sugar, salt, and/or thickeners to replace the missing fat. Now, the food has nearly the same amount of calories, a little less fat, but with more sugar, salt, and other, well, crap. If that doesn’t sound like a healthy swap, it’s because it’s not. Take into consideration a comparison between regular and reduced fat peanut butter.

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Peanut Butter

Compared to the regular peanut butter, the reduced fat peanut butter has 60% more salt and 30% more sugar in addition to a plethora of added fillers and thickeners. Even though the regular peanut butter has more fat, it is healthy fat. Regular peanut butter is the clear nutritional winner.

Think ‘Type’ of Fat, not ‘Amount’ of Fat

The good news is, healthy (unsaturated) fats like those found in olive oil, peanut butter, and avocado can and should be a part of a healthy diet. Unsaturated fats have been shown to decrease risk for cardiovascular disease as well as increase satiety (the feeling of being satisfied). Just one look at the list below of foods containing healthy fats and it’s easy to see how delicious and nutritious healthy fat can be. Remember, everything in moderation!

What to Look For

Heart healthy fats such as unsaturated, monounsaturated, and/or polyunsaturated fats might not be listed on the nutrition label. One way to determine the amount of unsaturated fat is to subtract the amount of saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol from the total amount of fat. Try to select foods with more unsaturated fat than saturated and trans fat. Keep in mind that plant based foods are higher in these healthy fats than foods originating from animal sources.

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