In its most basic form, peanut butter is made from peanuts and maybe some salt — nothing more. But somehow, the peanut butter aisle has developed into a complex labyrinth of different dense peanut sauces. Some are salted, some are unsalted, some are crunchy, some are creamy and some are all weirdly separated. But which is the best?
For advice, I asked nutritionist Shanna Lee, author of The Soul Frequency: Your Healthy, Awakened and Authentic Life, to help me rank a generous spread of peanut butter brands by how healthy they are — from buttertastic to butter-find-another-option.
Before we get into the ranking, know that peanut butter is mostly healthy in normal amounts — like, not eating the whole container at once. “Peanut butter is a good source of protein and magnesium,” Lee explains. Magnesium helps maintain our energy levels. However, Lee warns, “Peanut butter does contain aflatoxins, naturally-occurring toxic metabolites produced by certain fungi, which can have a harmful effect on the body.” That said, no aflatoxin-related outbreaks have been recorded in the U.S. to date, so the occasional peanut butter sandwich should be just fine.
Now join us as we navigate the peanut butter aisle.
1) Smucker’s Organic Chunky Peanut Butter: “Quality peanut butter should contain only peanuts, with no added oil or sugar,” Lee explains. “A pinch of salt is the only acceptable addition, and those are the ingredients of this peanut butter. I’d like to point out that organic peanuts are best, as these nuts won’t have fungicide and pesticide residues.”
2) Smucker’s Natural Chunky Peanut Butter: The only difference between this peanut butter and the one listed above is it not being organic. “I’d always recommend choosing organic options if available,” Lee says. However, the jury is still out on whether organic is actually all that much healthier, so this peanut butter is a fine choice, too.
3) Peter Pan Natural Just Peanuts Crunchy Peanut Butter: Lee says this peanut butter “contains more salt than the previous two,” which is enough for it to land in third place.
4) Justin’s Classic Peanut Butter: “This has palm oil, which isn’t a necessary ingredient,” says Lee. “Palm oil contains some saturated fats, which help solidify the nut butter.” However, saturated fats may also increase your risk of heart disease, and the ways in which palm oils are sourced are terrible for the environment.
5) Skippy Natural Creamy Peanut Butter: In addition to palm oil, this peanut butter contains three grams of added sugar per two-tablespoon serving. It may not sound like a lot, but it can certainly add up.
6) Justin’s Honey Peanut Butter: This peanut butter contains added sugar and honey, which comes to four grams of sugar per serving. As Lee explains, “Honey is a better alternative to sugar, as quality honey has nutrients, whereas sugar has no nutrient content. However, they still add sugar, and it’s not needed, since it’s sweetened up by honey already.”
7) Jif Natural Creamy Peanut Butter: “Besides containing palm oil and salt, this peanut butter also has sugar, as well as molasses,” Lee says. “Even though molasses contains vitamins and minerals, the peanut butter is already very high in sugar. Therefore, it doesn’t require additional sweetening.”
8) Skippy Creamy Peanut Butter and Peter Pan Crunchy Original Peanut Butter (tied): In addition to sugar, these peanut butters contain hydrogenated vegetable oil, which is a problematic ingredient — more problematic even than palm oil. “Hydrogenated vegetable oils are widely used in the food industry to improve the taste and texture of processed foods,” Lee explains. “Still, they harbor trans fats, which may negatively affect heart health, inflammation and blood sugar control.”
10) Jif Creamy Peanut Butter: “Besides hydrogenated vegetable oils, this peanut butter also contains mono and diglycerides,” Lee points out. “These are added to improve texture, quality and shelf life. Though ‘generally recognized as safe,’ they also contain trans fats. It’s also worth mentioning that monoglycerides and diglycerides can be made from animal fats or oils — therefore, this peanut butter isn’t for people who don’t eat specific meat products for dietary, religious or ethical reasons.”
Sounds like Smucker’s will be getting me through quarantine, then… if I can ever find my way out of this damn peanut butter aisle.