Peanut Butter: Good or Bad?

Peanut butter can be a healthy addition to a meal or snack, but not all peanut butters are the same. Some are full of unhealthy trans fats and hydrogenated oils. Pick natural, simple mixes.

I’m a peanut butter fanatic, but I always warn my clients that all peanut butters are not the same. Peanut butter is good, but some kinds can be bad. Don't worry -- I’ll explain.

Nutrition Facts

One tablespoon of peanut butter (crunchy or smooth) has about 90 to 100 calories, 4 grams of protein and 8 grams of fat. The majority of the fat is the heart-healthy, unsaturated kind; some peanut butter brands have more saturated fat depending on the added ingredients. Peanuts, which are technically legumes and not nuts, also contain healthy doses of niacin (good for your energy levels) and antioxidants like vitamin E and resveratol (the same one you'll find in red wine). Experts say that peanuts rank right up there with fruits for their high antioxidant content.

What You DON’T Want

Sadly, most of the peanut butters at the market aren’t really peanut butters (at least according to my definition). They’re a mixture of peanuts, sugar and various oils. To keep the peanut spread thick at room temperature, manufacturers add artery-clogging saturated or trans fats. When shopping, scan the ingredients for “partially hydrogenated oil,” “hydrogenated oil” or “palm oil” -- those are ones you want to skip.

Reduced-fat peanut butter may also seem like a smarter choice, but it often contains more sugar than the full-fat kind. While the fat content is lower, the total calories aren't that much different.

What You DO Want

Real peanut butter has two ingredients -- peanuts and salt! There’s no need for sugar or extra oils. The biggest complaint I hear about natural peanut butters are about the way the (natural) oils rise to the top. To relieve this “separation anxiety,” all you need to do is mix it up VERY well when you first bring it home and then store it in the refrigerator. A good brand will never separate on you again. Out of all the peanut butters I’ve tried (and there’s been lots of them), my favorite is Trader Joe’s.

The trick to making it a healthy choice is portion control -- one tablespoon for a snack and two tablespoons for meal (like in a sandwich). You can also make your own. Some dry roasted peanuts, a sprinkle of salt and a few minutes in the food processor is all you need. If you want a hint of sweetness, add a little agave nectar or honey.

Bottom Line: Avoid all the extra sugar, fat and bad-for-you add-ins by choosing peanut butter made from just peanuts and salt. Period.

TELL US: What’s your favorite brand of peanut butter?
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