The Truth About Peanut Butter

Trinh Le, MPH, RD
by Trinh Le, MPH, RD
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The Truth About Peanut Butter

Oh, the peanut butter aisle! One wonders how such a simple, delicious creation could be so complex. Really though, it’s not supposed to be. Peanut butter should simply be nuts pulverized into a delicious mash—that’s it! So, to keep you from going nuts at the grocery store, here are some helpful suggestions.

1. Pick a “peanut butter” not a “peanut butter spreadStandard peanut butter is defined as being 90% peanuts with only 10% allowed for seasoning and stabilizing oils [1]. Peanut butter “spread” does not meet this qualification. Manufacturers have more leeway to add unnecessary ingredients. (Remember: less is more.)

2. Look for less than 3 grams of sugar per serving In general, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter should contain about 200 calories, 15 grams of fat, 8 grams of carbohydrate (1 to 2 grams of sugar), and 7 grams of protein. Anything with more than 3 grams of sugar per 2 tablespoons is a tip off that your peanut butter has added sugar. You don’t need it—that’s jelly’s job!

3. Be wary of “natural” peanut butter There is no specific regulation around the term “natural” [2]. In fact, any food can carry this label as long as it doesn’t contain artificial flavors or synthetic substances. Generally, “natural” peanut butter means it is made with only 2 ingredients: peanuts and salt. But, when it comes to “natural” peanut butter, you have to watch out for the ingredients. Manufacturers can add sweeteners and partially hydrogenated oils and still call it “natural.”

4. Read the ingredients list! Surprisingly, the ingredients list on some jars don’t start with peanuts. Be sure the one you pick up lists peanuts and salt as the first two, and avoid these sneaky ingredients:

  • Partially and/or fully hydrogenated oils This is code for unhealthy trans fats
  • Palm oil It’s high in unnecessary saturated fat
  • Sweeteners Things like cane sugar-cane syrup, sugar, honey, and molasses can make their way into peanut butters, adding add unneeded sugar and calories

5. Watch out for buzz words If your goal is to choose the healthiest peanut butter possible, you’ll want to avoid labels with these confusing buzz words.

  • Reduced fat Usually, reduced and low fat peanut butters contain more salt and sugar to compensate for the flavor
  • Whipped This typically means a lot of air was added to your peanut butter, making  any given tablespoon lower in calories. (And, if you end up spreading on more than 1 serving, you’ll be eating the calories you think you’re saving.)
  • Honey roasted Adds extra calories and sugar you don’t really need
  • No stir Peanut butters that claim to be “no stir” and “natural” likely contain partially or fully hydrogenated fats or palm oils
  • Old fashioned This a term often used to imply “natural,” but it doesn’t always mean what’s inside is simply peanuts and salt.

What’s your favorite brand of peanut butter? Share in the comments below!




About the Author

Trinh Le, MPH, RD
Trinh Le, MPH, RD
Trinh is a registered dietitian by day, blogger at Fearless Food RD by night. She loves helping folks develop a better relationship with food, which includes lots of cooking, eating and learning about nutrition. When she’s not snapping mouthwatering shots of (mostly) healthy food, you can find Trinh HIIT-ing it at her local gym. For more, connect with her on FacebookInstagram and Pinterest.


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