What to Look for on a Food Label for Peanut Butter
This week at Quinnipiac University my students in one of my hybrid classes completed a module on food label reading. In this assignment I have them choose one of their favorite, commonly consumed foods and report back to the class on what they learned from reading the food label.
When I asked by a show of hands in last night’s class how many students were surprised by what they learned from the assignment – 25 out 25 hands shot right up. Not surprising as reading a food label can be pretty difficult territory to navigate! In fact for some – it can be pretty foreign.
Therefore, I thought it light of National Peanut Day (which in case you did not know is TODAY in case you didn’t know!) it would be a good idea to tackle what to look for on a food label of one of my most favorite foods – good old peanut butter.
Peanut butter. To my expert knowledge is one of the best foods ever created on this amazing planet. It’s texture, salty taste, and affordability has made peanut butter a staple in most American homes.
So, what is in peanut butter? How is it made? What should we look for when buying peanut butter? Well, it sounds pretty simple in theory. Peanut butter should just contain peanuts and some butter, right? However, this is far from the case. So let’s get down to the nitty gritty and see what we should be looking for on a food label on this beloved food.
5 Important Things to Look for When Buying Peanut Butter
1. Always choose organic.
I promise – I am NOT ‘that’ dietitian. The one who preaches organics as the be-all-end-all of life. In fact, in my practice organics are only something I bring up if YOU bring them up. I have NO agenda when it comes to organics. So if I tell you to buy organic peanut butter there has to be a good reason.
You see, peanuts are one of the most heavily sprayed crops in the US. Insects and all sorts of little creatures ♥ peanuts – just like we do! So, that means the commercial peanut crops are sprayed with a heavy hand when it comes to pesticides.
Therefore, in an effort to decrease this lovely toxic load – choose a peanut butter that clearly states “Organic” on the food label. This information is found on the front of the product and often too on the back of the food label.
And remember you do not need to choose a fancy brand. In fact, most store brands of organic peanut butter are equally as delicious as the far more expensive name brand varieties.
2. No added sugars.
I know this sounds like a no brainer. But sugar should never.ever.ever. be listed as an ingredient on a food label for peanut butter. Not in any form. No cane juice, corn syrup solids, high fructose corn syrup, agave, molasses, honey, etc. Because guess what? They all mean one thing – and one thing only – sugar.
You see food companies are pretty sneaky! Many will often use sugar as a ‘filler’ or just to make an already delicious product sweeter. Don’t fall for it. You are far too crafty smartie pants!
Sugar does not belong in peanut butter. That is unless you are making a peanut butter pie. Which if you know me – understand fully that making peanut butter pies are pretty much my jam!
3. No added oils.
This one may stump you. But guess what makes most peanut butters smooth? Trans fats (a.k.a. hydrogenated oils). Hydrogenated oils are used to improve the texture of peanut butter. They prevent the oils from separating in peanuts and rising to the top.
Trans fats are an unhealthy type of fat. Trans fats tank our healthy cholesterol (HDL) which we want HIGH and increase our lousy cholesterol (LDL) which we want LOW. Some of the most popular peanut butters used to have partially hydrogenated fats in them: Skippy, Jiff as well as many standard store brands. However, given the dangerous nature of trans fats (And the FDA cracking down on using them!) many companies are switching to fully hydrogenated fats. These fats still impart the same qualities with less of an impact on our health. However, truth be told – fully hydrogenated fats while not as risky from a heart health standpoint should be avoided in my book!
When reading a food label to determine whether or not a peanut butter contains trans fats look to the ingredient list for the words: partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. They are generally listed as the second or third ingredient on the food label.
As you can see in the label above – the products contains all sorts of garbage including sugar, salt and corn syrup. Awesome, right? But no trans fats. As if label reading could not get any more complicated. Geez! Nonetheless, trans fat or not – this peanut butter is no bueno 🙁
4. Two Ingredients OR LESS.
Generally when it comes to most foods – the fewer number of ingredients, the better! In all honesty high quality peanut butters should only contain ONE ingredient — peanuts. Bingo!
A little salt can be okay, too. Some grocery stores have grinders that turn peanuts into peanut butter for you. Heck even our local Shop Rite has this – boom! This allows you to purchase however much you like instead of having to buy an 16-ounce jar and you can guarantee only one ingredient.
5. Peanuts as the MAIN ingredient.
Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. This means the ingredient listed first on the food label occurs in the highest quantity in the product. When viewing the list, peanuts should always be the first ingredient.
Remember my friends peanut butter should JUST be smashed peanuts, period. Brand names shouldn’t matter as long as you follow my suggestions listed above.
My advice is always to make sure the food label hits these 5 criteria and is the least expensive among the choices. No need to get fancy or shell out a lot of money unless you choose to. With that being said – there should be no need to spend more than $6.00 on a jar of high quality peanut butter – after all it is just nuts.
Got tips? Do YOU have criteria that you like to follow when choosing a peanut butter? Is there a brand that you love? Share in the comments below. Our peanut butter loving community would love to be in the know.
Hugs & High Fives,