Peanut butter is a must-have food in any healthy pantry. The spread is high in protein, rich in healthy fats, and is a good source of niacin (serving up 35% DV of the vitamin that helps with energy metabolism) and a good source of magnesium (13% DV of the muscle and nerve function-regulating nutrient). Plus, the fact that it’s an affordable ingredient makes it all the more attractive.
But to get the most nutritional bang for your buck, there are some jars of peanut butter that you should avoid, and many dietitians say that the worst type of peanut butter you can buy is reduced-fat peanut butter.
Why the #1 worst peanut butter you can buy is reduced-fat.
“As a dietitian, my least favorite type of peanut butter is ‘reduced fat’ versions,” says Lauren Manaker MS, RDN, LD, founder of Nutrition Now Counseling and author of Fueling Male Fertility. “Many people assume that ‘reduced-fat’ means healthier, and this is not always the case.”
When peanut butter is stripped of its fat, manufacturers end up bulking it up with other, less healthy, ingredients. “Peanuts naturally contain fat, and along with offering some health benefits, the fat helps make the nut butter taste really good. When the fat is removed, sugar is often added to compensate for the missing satisfying taste,” says Manaker.
These sweeteners turn the spread into less of a healthy fat food and more into a carb. “Often made with corn syrup solids, sugar, and other carby ingredients, many don’t realize that one serving of this type of peanut butter is considered to be a full carbohydrate serving,” says Manaker. “Tack that onto the carbs taken in with your jelly and two slices of bread, and you can be taking in way more carbohydrates than you may realize, which could result in high blood sugar or weight gain,” along with other side effects of eating too much peanut butter.
Reduced-fat PBs aren’t the only unhealthy peanut butter. There are many flavored jars that are loaded with extra sugar, but Manaker stands by the opinion that reduced-fat is the worst option due to its health halo: “While there are brands of peanut butter that are blended with ingredients like chocolate and are not the healthiest choices, many know that these options are not a healthy sub for classic PB. Reduced-fat or low-fat versions sound healthy, which may lead to overeating,” says Manaker.
Let’s take a closer look at the nutritional information for a reduced-fat peanut butter.
JIF Reduced Fat Creamy Peanut Butter Spread is one of the worst culprits, Manaker tells us. The jar is called a “spread” rather than plain peanut butter for a reason — it’s only 60% peanuts! To be considered peanut butter, 90% of the product needs to be actual peanuts; seasoning and stabilizing ingredients can’t exceed 10 percent of the weight of the finished food, according to the FDA.
The rest of the jar is full of three types of sugar (corn syrup solids, sugar, and molasses), vegetable oils (fully hydrogenated vegetable oils, mono, and diglycerides), pea protein (to boost the protein content since a significant amount is removed as they don’t use as many protein-rich peanuts), and it’s enriched with a few micronutrients such as magnesium, folic acid, and zinc.
The reason why JIF needs to include pea protein is that peanut spread “must be nutritionally equivalent to peanut butter,” according to the USDA. Because the formulation is only 60% peanuts, that would result in a product that only has 4 grams of protein, so JIF beefs that up to the standard 7 grams using pea protein. That’s the same reason why JIF enriches their PB with micronutrients; peanut butter naturally contains magnesium, niacin, and these other vitamins and minerals, so the brand needs to add them back in due to the fact that they use fewer peanuts.
What should you buy instead?
So what should you look out for in healthy peanut butter? Manaker recommends sticking with an ingredient list that’s as simple as possible: peanuts and salt. You don’t need to seek out any fancy brands — Manaker likes Smuckers Natural Creamy Peanut Butter. (Just know that you’ll have to stir to combine at first. Stick it in the fridge once you do, and it’ll stay nice and spreadable like a no-stir version.) And we don’t want to hate on JIF too much. The popular brand makes a solid option: a No-Added-Sugar jar. It does have some palm oil to make it spreadable, but other than that, it’s just peanuts and salt—so it actually counts as peanut butter