Picking healthy foods at the grocery store can feel pretty confusing. There are thousands to choose from. At lunchtime, or even when looking for healthy snack ideas, it can be mind-boggling to figure out which spread is better for you—natural peanut butter or reduced-fat peanut butter (which is officially called a peanut-butter spread, since it has fewer peanuts.)
If you’re whipping up a peanut butter sandwich, is your best pick natural peanut butter or reduced-fat peanut butter spread? We put the two foods head to head to find out, which is healthier: this or that?
The Winner: Natural peanut butter. Yes, the full-fat peanut butter is actually healthier, so next time you’re wondering, just go all-natural. As Joyce Hendley originally reported for EatingWell, here’s why:
Fat and Calories: Reduced-fat peanut butter spreads do have less fat: 12 grams for each 2-tablespoon serving. Compare that to 16 grams of fat with standard natural peanut butter. But it’s a tradeoff not worth making. Why?
The fat in peanuts is the primarily the heart-healthy, monounsaturated type, and reducing this healthy fat doesn’t even save you a lot of calories. A 2-tablespoon serving is about 200 calories for the reduced-fat spread as well as the natural peanut butter.
Added Carbs, Sugar and Salt: The fat that would be in the reduced-fat peanut butter spread is replaced with ingredients like corn syrup solids, sugar and molasses (read: even more sugar), plus starchy fillers.
Those add-ins boost the spread’s sugar content to 4 grams and its total carbs to 15 grams. Compare that with natural PB, which has just 1 g sugars and 6 g carbs.
There’s also about twice as much sodium in the reduced-fat stuff: 220 mg vs. 105 mg in natural peanut butter.
Flavor: Then, there’s the matter of taste. Reduced-fat peanut spreads don’t contain as many peanuts as the natural stuff, which by law must contain at least 90 percent peanuts. The reduced-fat spreads hover around 60 percent peanuts (which is why they’re not called nut butters, but spreads). That means less peanut flavor, and more additives like hydrogenated oils, sugars (in all their guises) and salt.
Making or Buying Natural Peanut Butter: Natural peanut butters are made with just peanuts and sometimes a little salt. You can make your own healthy—and natural—peanut butter in a food processor at home. And, many stores now have a peanut butter machine already filled with peanuts you can grind yourself into peanut butter. However, even if you grind it yourself, it’s got the same nutrition as store-bought natural peanut butters since the same ingredients are going in.
So, next time you get a hankering for peanut butter, be sure to reach for a jar of the natural stuff. To buy the healthiest jar of peanut butter, see our shopping tips here.