How to Choose the Healthiest Peanut Butter at the Grocery Store
When it comes to getting nutritional bang for your buck, there's no denying the appeal of good old peanut butter. Sure, you likely loved it as a kid at snack time (or smeared onto a sandwich with jelly for lunch) but the quintessential nut butter is actually a great choice as an adult, too, providing a major punch of protein, healthy unsaturated fats, and fiber. "It also is rich in important micronutrients, like Vitamin E, B3 (Niacin), B6, magnesium, copper, and manganese," says Marisa Silver, RDN.
But not all peanut butter is created equal—in fact, plenty of the jars you'll find on grocery store shelves contain added sugar, vegetable oils, and trans fats used to alter to the taste and texture, making them more processed and less of a healthy snack option.
So how do you distinguish one from the other?
According to Silver, the best method is to look at the ingredient list. If you see hydrogenated oils or palm oils, it means your peanut butter also contains unhealthy trans fats and saturated fats. In fact, the jar should only have one ingredient: roasted peanuts. (The only exception to this is a small amount of salt). Also, be wary of terms like "natural," which tends to be a marketing gimmick, as well as "reduced-fat" or "fat-free" nut butters. "Plenty of low-fat peanut butters are filled with added sugars, so be mindful of this when choosing," explains Silver.
The best healthy peanut butters
Our all-time favorite is Santa Cruz Organic Dark Roasted Creamy Peanut Butter, which gets its flavor from roasted peanuts, a touch of salt, and nothing else. Silver also recommends Trader Joe's Organic Valencia Peanut Butter, Smucker's Natural Chunky Peanut Butter (both are made from peanuts and small amount of sea salt), and Krema Peanut Butter (which only contains peanuts).
If you are allergic to peanuts or want to diversify your nutrition, Silver recommends exploring the wide variety of nut and seed butters available beyond peanut butter. You can find butters made of virtually any seed or nut at the grocery store, including sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, cashews, walnuts, almonds, and chia seeds. "Mix up your butters to get a wide variety of healthy essential fatty acids, antioxidants, fiber, protein, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, and other nutrients," she says. "My favorite options include Sunbutter No Sugar Added Sunflower Butter and a brand new nutritious blended seed butter, Seedly Organic Heirloom Seed Butter."
The bottom line
Check the label, look for "roasted peanuts" as the first and only ingredient, and you're bound to find an option that meets your dietary needs and satisfy your taste buds. Of course, you can always make it yourself, which guarantees you know exactly what's inside.