Peanut Butter: Know Your Label Lingo
The classic PB&J, the peanut-butter cookie, and just plain heaping spoonsful—there are a million ways to eat peanut butter. And then some. According to the National Peanut Board, Americans consume on average more than 1.5 billion pounds of peanut butter and peanut products each year. Look at it this way: The amount of peanut butter eaten in a year could wrap the earth in a ribbon of 18-ounce peanut butter jars one and one-third times.
So if you’re going to eat all that peanut butter, make sure you know what you’re buying. Peanut butter is definitely not a one-spread-fits-all kind of food: beyond just creamy and crunchy there are traditional, reduced-fat, and natural types, others are organic and even low-glycemic. Here’s the label lingo you need to know:
What’s in “Regular” or Traditional Peanut Butter? At its most elemental, peanut butter is little more than peanuts and salt, since peanuts contain their own oils (see Natural, below). But in most brand-name traditional peanut butters you’ll find not only peanuts and salt but sweeteners (from plain sugar to the polysaccharide maltodextrin to molasses) as well as hydrogenated vegetable oils (such as rapeseed, cottonseed, and soybean oils). Hydrogenated oils are sources of trans-fatty acids, but the levels in peanut butter are considered low enough that they still rate a 0 on the trans fat count. However, if you’re watching your sugar intake, read that label! There may be about 3 grams of sugars per two-tablespoon serving.
Reduced Fat: These peanut butters have about one-quarter fewer grams of fat per serving. While regular peanut butter has 16 grams per two-tablespoon serving, reduced-fat peanut butters (such as Skippy brand) have 12 grams, and a gram or two less saturated fat, as well as 10 fewer calories. The surprising thing is that the reduced-fat types in a few brand names we checked have a gram more of sugars, 20 grams more of sodium, and often several additional grams of carbohydrates than the regular peanut butter. This doesn’t seem to justify paying more for a minuscule reduction in fat.
Natural: You may be tempted to buy Natural peanut butter—it sounds so much healthier for you. And in most cases the peanut butters are made without preservatives. But look at the ingredients label. While some Natural brands (such as Smuckers) contain only peanuts and salt, others (Peter Pan) also contain palm oil. The reason is that the added oil creates a creamier and easier to spread peanut butter. The beef with natural peanut butters used to be that the peanuts and natural oils separated in the jar and they needed to be stirred before using (you’ll now see “no stir” on many labels). But if you want purely peanuts and salt, check the ingredients label.
No Salt Added: Watching your sodium intake? These are the peanut butters for you. They contain 0 grams of sodium. You might consider the flavor a little bland, though.
Organic: As with all products that are USDA Organic-Certified, the ingredients are produced without chemicals and preservatives. But again, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t organic ingredients in these peanut butters that you’d rather avoid (sugar and palm oil, to name a couple). Some organic peanut butters are strictly peanuts and salt, while others, such as Marantha No-Stir Organic brand, contain organic palm oil, organic unrefined cane sugar, and sea salt.
Low-Glycemic Peanut Butter: There is no added sugar in these peanut butters. So while a traditional peanut butter has 3 to 4 grams of sugar per serving, the low-glycemic brands (such as Fifty50) have 1 gram. However, many of the natural-style peanut butters have no added sugars either. Before you pay extra for a specially labeled “low glycemic” jar, check the sugar content of the less expensive natural peanut butters.