Back to school time is here, and for frazzled moms in a hurry that often means your backup lunch solution: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Easy to make and easy for kids to love, this mainstay of American school lunches can be found everywhere, but peanut butter is not necessarily as good as it’s cracked up to be. And if you asked most kids what’s in peanut butter, they’d probably say, “mushed peanuts”, but that jar of nut butter may have a few surprises in store for you, so it’s time to learn about unhealthy peanut butter.
We’re going to sort the good from the bad, so you can choose the healthiest peanut butter for your family and feel safe packing that PB&J in your child’s lunchbox
The Bad: Unhealthy Peanut Butter
First, the bad news: there’s more than just peanuts in your peanut butter. Chemicals added to unhealthy peanut butter brands include items you’d rather not see on a list like this. Here is a list of the worst offenders in popular store brands:
Sugar: When the ingredient list says “sugar”, it comes from GMO sugar beets. Cane sugar is non-GMO – so organic cane sugar is your best bet if you are using sugar at all. Skippy, Planters and Great Value peanut butter brands contain sugar from sugar beets.
Corn Syrup Solids: Essentially, this is merely dehydrated corn syrup – just sugar from GMO corn. It’s not at all necessary in a good tasting peanut butter, especially if you are adding jelly or anything sweet. Found in Skippy Peanut Butter.
Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Cottonseed, Soybean and/or Rapeseed Oil): All three of these oils are derived from GMO crops. Rapeseed oil was formerly used for industrial purposes only. Scientists developed an edible form, better known as canola oil. As for the hydrogenated vegetable oil, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil have trans-fats, but fully hydrogenated oils are still saturated fats found in processed foods. That said, almost none of the labels I saw denoted if the hydrogenated vegetable oil was full or partial, and therefore, there’s no way to know if they contain trans fats. Unhealthy peanut butter brands containing this GMO oil include Skippy, Jif, Reese’s, Planters, Great Value Brand and Peter Pan. (Note that Peter Pan DOES lists both types, including Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil and therefore does have trans fats.)
Mono- and Di-Glycerides: According to LiveStrong, these are food additives that are used to combine fatty substances with other substances that contain water, since the two usually don’t mix well. Think about peanut butter that you don’t have to mix – additives like these are used to keep that mixture together. These additives may contain trans fats and are related to triglycerides. Found in Skippy, Jif, Reese’s.
Maltodextrin: Found in Smucker’s Reduced Fat Peanut Butter, this sweet additive can be derived from GMO corn in the U.S. (or rice or potato). It also has a high glycemic index.
Soy Protein Concentrate: First of all, with the non-organic brands, all soy is GMO. Processed soy hiding in your food is a problem, too, because soy can possibly wreak havoc with your estrogen levels. It’s a fickle ingredient and depends on all the chemicals reactions in your body at the time you process it, which can vary. It can be good or bad for you, but the GMO version is always bad. In addition, “soy protein concentrate” can mean your product contains MSG, a neurotoxin. Found in Skippy.
Soy Lecithin: Again, a GMO product. Found in Better’n Peanut Butter.
And one note about Better’n Peanut Butter. This was an unusual case – they’ve attempted to make a “healthier” peanut butter by reducing the peanuts and adding processed foods, turning into one of the worst unhealthy peanut butter offenders. It also contains a number of sweeteners (vegetable glycerin, rice syrup, dehydrated cane juice, tapioca syrup), so I’d be cautious about using this product over one that has more peanuts than anything else.
Unhealthy Peanut Butter Brands to Avoid:
- Better’n Peanut Butter – Calcium carbonate, lecithin, 3 types of sweetener (tapioca syrup, dehydrated cane juice, rice syrup).
- Great Value Brand – Hydrogenated vegetable oil (rapeseed, cottonseed, soybean), 2 types of sweetener (sugar, molasses).
- Jif – Sugar, fully hydrogenated vegetable oil (rapeseed and soybean), monodiglycerides.
- Peter Pan – Sugar, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (cottonseed and rapeseed).
- Planters – Sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oil (rapeseed, cottonseed, and soybean oil), palm oil.
- Reese’s – Hydrogenated vegetable oil (rapeseed, cottonseed and soybean), 2 types of sweetener (sugar, molasses), monoglycerides.
- Skippy – Sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oil (cottonseed, soybean and rapeseed oil).
- Smucker’s Reduced Fat Peanut Butter – Maltodextrin.
What Are the Recommended Brands of Peanut Butter?
Peanut lovers today have lots of great options that are healthier, organic and provide better choices for sweeteners and salt. Here are the cleanest brands available. Some of these companies offer options such as flavored peanut butters or other nut butters.
This brand uses raw, organic honey to sweeten, organic coconut oil, unprocessed sea salt, dry roasted peanuts and pure Madagascar vanilla to flavor their butter. Their Honey Vanilla Bourbon Peanut Butter sounds out of this world – and healthy to boot.
Just fresh roasted peanuts, nothing else! They are not organic but they do not use oils or sweetener at all. If you are looking just for a clean roasted peanut taste, this brand may work for you.
This Non-GMO Project Verified brand may be familiar for its butter substitutes. It’s available in Creamy or Crunchy Peanut Butter and boasts that its oils are expeller-pressed. For those avoiding sugar, this brand uses agave syrup in place of it. I love that this brand contains flaxseed too! Ingredients: peanuts, flaxseed, peanut oil, agave syrup, palm fruit oil and salt.
This company’s Classic Peanut Butter contains no sweeteners. Their products are not all organic at this time but they are working towards that goal. Currently, they are in the process of verifying products with the Non-GMO Project. Ingredients: dry roasted peanuts, and palm fruit oil. Justin’s also makes different flavors – 5 kinds of Almond Butter, Classic and Honey Peanut Butter, and Chocolate Hazelnut Butter. Check the ingredients of each to learn more.
This brand is not Project GMO verified but they claim to only use “100% non-GMO sourced ingredients”. I do like that these products contain flaxseed oil, an item I try to eat regularly. Ingredients: peanuts, dried cane sugar, salt, molasses and natural oils (palm fruit and flaxseed oils).
Bearing both the Non-GMO Project and USDA Organic labels, Woodstock is an excellent choice. They have lots of varieties, with or without sweeteners or sea salt. Most common ingredients: organic blanched peanuts, organic palm oil, organic sugar, and salt. Note that their Easy Spread items only contain peanuts or peanuts and salt, and only their Classic varieties contain organic palm oil. A clean choice for everyone.
I hope this list will get you thinking when you are at the supermarket or purchasing peanut butter online for your family. Check out the varieties and find a brand your child loves that is healthier for his lunchbox!