How to Choose the Healthiest Peanut Butter

Radishes with Peanut Butter

While calorie counters may gravitate towards reduced fat peanut butters, there is no reason to fear the heart-healthy unsaturated fats in peanuts. Peanuts and peanut butter are associated with weight control and longevity, making this inexpensive plant protein a nutritious pantry staple.

That being said, many “no stir” peanut butters on the market (including reduced fat varieties) are riddled with unnecessary sugars and oils (often rainforest-disrupting palm oil). It is totally natural for the oils in peanut butter to separate, so if you have to stir it, thats a good sign!

My shopping tip is to look for nut butters with only peanuts and salt (if desired) on the ingredients, but that’s it! No sugars, no oils, no problem. They’re simply unnecessary. (This advice applies to other nut butters as well, like almond butter or cashew butter.)

Natural PB, Rice Cake, and Cherries

Often, these nutritious nut butters are labeled as “natural,” but be careful — there aren’t really any standards for natural foods. For example, JIF and Skippy both have “natural” lines of peanut butter, yet all of  those products still contain added sugars and oils. In fact, even Whole Foods Market carries some nut butters with these superfluous additives. It pays to read the ingredient listing!

To save you some time in the nut butter aisle, I’ve compiled a list of several of the most popular varieties of “peanut-only” peanut butter (without the hidden sugars and oils). Look for any of these at your local grocer, and rest assured that you aren’t getting any unnecessary sweeteners or stabilizers. Smooth or chunky, organic or conventional, plain or salted, and even with flaxseed, you’re sure to find a peanut butter that meets your needs!

How to Choose the Healthiest Peanut Butter

– Kelly

 

First hurdle: Trans fats. Next project: Palm oil

Trans fats have been long demonized, and have already been largely removed from food products. Nevertheless, there are still a few products, such as Bisquick, that will need to reformulate after the FDA’s recent decision to pull trans fats from the GRAS (generally regarded as safe) list.

c_c_Caramel delites_3qrtr

Some Girl Scout Cookies, including Caramel deLites, contain both partially hydrogenated oils (aka trans fats) AND palm oil

Currently, products can claim to have “0g trans fats” as long as there is less than 0.5g trans fats per serving. To determine if a product is trans fat free, you need to check the ingredient list for “partially hydrogenated oils”.

One ingredient that food manufacturers are replacing trans fats with is palm oil. This is problematic for two reasons. 1) While not as dangerous as trans fat, palm oil is largely saturated fat, the type of fat that is believed to raise LDL cholesterol and increase risk of heart disease. 2) Mining of palm oil causes massive rainforest destruction, and is the reason that orangutans may become extinct in our lifetime.

Interested in learning more?

  • To read more about the ban on trans fats, see this article
  • To see a list of products that still contain trans fats, see this list
  • To learn more about how palm oil is affecting wildlife, see here

orangutan

Rainforest destruction for palm oil plantations is causing orangutans to become extinct

Moral of the story: If you don’t have to stir your peanut butter, something’s not right. Avoid foods with added fats (including both partially hydrogenated oils AND palm oil), and make an effort to eat home cooked meals rather than relying on processed snack foods.

– Kelly