Pick a Better Peanut Butter

Published: November 15th, 2012 |
Author: Sally Kuzemchak

What the word “natural” really means on your jar.

Remember those tricky health halos? They can really get in the way in the peanut butter aisle, and the label claim “natural” is one of the most troublesome.

Because there aren’t many regulations surrounding it, “natural” only means the product doesn’t contain anything artificial. It doesn’t mean that the peanut butter is some kind of stripped-down, back-to-basics, straight-from-the-earth version. For example, take two jars, both labeled “natural.”

  • Ingredients in Brand A: peanuts and salt
  • Ingredients in Brand B: peanuts, sugar, palm oil, and 2% or less of salt and molasses.

How can two peanut butters labeled “natural” have such different ingredients? In the case of Brand B, they’ve just swapped the usual hydrogenated oil, which is not considered natural, for palm oil, which is. So which peanut butter do you buy?

If you like the idea of going truly natural, choose a brand that contains only peanuts—and salt if you like it. Even salted peanut butter has just a tiny percentage of your daily sodium allowance. This kind of natural peanut butter has a much nuttier taste and grainier texture.

If you prefer the taste and texture of classic jarred peanut butter, you’re still better off choosing one labeled “natural.” Though you’ll be getting some extra sugar and oil, you won't get the trans fats from hydrogenated oils. Trans fats raise bad LDL cholesterol and lower good HDL cholesterol, increasing your risk for heart disease and stroke. Fortunately, just one word can reassure you that you’re using a better choice for your PB&J.

—Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD

Keywords: grocery shopping, label reading, peanut butter