While it’s true peanuts themselves are nutritious, not all peanut butter brands use optimal ingredients. So we asked a few dietitians to give us some advice on what to look for — and what to avoid — when choosing a healthy peanut butter. Here are their tips.
It should have two ingredients or fewer. Alyssa Taxin, RDN, a clinical dietitian in Jersey City, New Jersey, says a healthy peanut butter consists mostly of one key ingredient: peanuts! But if there’s any additive, it ought to be a low dose of salt (more on that next).
Opt for sodium-free or low-sodium varieties. While many peanut butter producers add salt to their spreads, excessive sodium can be an issue for heart health. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends Americans with healthy blood pressure take in no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day, which is the amount in 1 teaspoon of salt. The organization advises those with high blood pressure to limit their intake even further, to 1,500 mg per day. If sodium-free PBs aren’t to your taste, choose the one with the lowest sodium. The typical range is 100 to 125 mg per 2 tablespoons (tbsp) — Hultin suggests looking for the lower end of this range when reading labels.
Make sure there are no hydrogenated oils. “[No hydrogenated oils] means [the] peanut butter will separate,” Taxin explains, but that’s okay. You’ll see a healthy layer of peanut oil on top — the more separation, the better. Many companies once relied on partially hydrogenated oils to prevent that separation. But partially hydrogenated oils — made of unhealthy trans fat — are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, notes the AHA. Because of these health risks, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of partially hydrogenated oils in food in 2018.
Now some companies add neutral-flavored palm oil to their product to prevent that separation from happening, but Hultin says this is unnecessary, because peanuts have a lot of their own oil already. All you have to do is stir the peanut butter a bit before using. “It’s a little extra work, but there really is no need for anything aside from peanuts to be added to peanut butter,” Hultin notes. Not to mention, you may opt to avoid palm oil in general because of its environmental impact. According to the environmental news agency Eco Watch, palm oil plantations have led to the destruction of rainforests, which has threatened many animal species.
Watch for added sugar. Taxin suggests checking the ingredients list for added sugars, like molasses, which may contribute to weight gain. As with salt, you’ll want to limit these. In 2016, the FDA updated the nutrition facts label on packaged foods to make added sugars easier to spot. The 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that added sugars constitute no more than 10 percent of your daily calories.
All this is to say that the healthiest peanut butters generally stick to peanuts as the sole ingredient, says Hultin. But if a plain peanut spread doesn’t satisfy you, Hultin suggests adding a hint of honey or maple syrup. That said, her biggest piece of advice is to give your taste buds time to adjust to the flavor of unsweetened peanut butter.
With these tips in mind, peanut butter can become a healthy part of your weekly — even daily — diet. (Yes, you can have peanut butter every day!) But before you rush to the grocery store and start checking out the labels, cruise our list of healthier options. We’ve already handpicked several registered-dietitian-approved peanut butters for you.