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.