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Which type of peanut butter is healthiest? Dietitians share the No. 1 trait to look for

Smooth, chunky, all-natural, low-fat. Which peanut butter is the healthiest? Dietitians share their top picks and unhealthy peanut butters to avoid.
/ Source: TODAY

Peanut butter is a delicious spread that's also good for you, since it's packed with protein, healthy fats and other nutrients.

There are plenty of different types of peanut butter to satisfy your taste and needs. You can choose from smooth, chunky, natural, organic, low-fat, no added sugar and more — then there's different brands and, of course, price points.

If you find yourself overwhelmed with the range of peanut butter options at the grocery store, you're not alone. Perhaps you're looking for a peanut butter that not only tastes good, but is also good for you. So, which type of peanut butter is the healthiest?

Dietitians discuss what makes peanut butter healthy and share their top picks, as well as peanut butters to avoid.

What is in peanut butter?

In its purest form, peanut butter is a paste made from grinding up roasted and shelled peanuts. Peanuts are a legume naturally rich in protein, oils and fiber, as well as other micronutrients.

However, there's generally more than just ground peanuts in a jar of the store-bought stuff.

Salt, sugar, oils, preservatives and other ingredients are often added to peanut butter to enhance the flavor and texture, or to extend the shelf-life. These can all affect the nutritional content, which will vary depending on the type and brand.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one serving (2 tablespoons) of the standard, store-bought smooth peanut butter contains the following:

  • 191 calories
  • 7 grams of protein
  • 16 grams of fat
  • 7 grams of carbohydrates
  • 1.6 grams fiber
  •  3 grams sugar

One serving of peanut butter also provides 16 milligrams of calcium, 54 milligrams of magnesium, 28 micrograms folate, and 136 milligrams of sodium. Peanut butter is also a good source of vitamin E, vitamin B6 and niacin (vitamin B3).

Is peanut butter healthy overall?

Generally speaking, peanut butter is good for you when consumed in moderation and as part of a balanced, nutritious diet.

"Peanut butter is mostly known for its healthy fats and protein ... two nutrients that help keep you full," says Natalie Rizzo, registered dietitian and nutrition editor for These make peanut butter very satiating, which means it helps you feel fuller for longer.

Just one serving of peanut butter provides 7 grams of protein — which makes it a very cheap, accessible plant-based protein source, Frances Largeman-Roth, a registered dietitian nutritionist, tells

Healthy adults should consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily — for the average adult that’s about 50 grams to meet the basic nutrition needs, previously reported.

"Peanut butter is rich in unsaturated fats, which have been linked to better heart and brain health," says Rizzo.

“Peanuts and peanut butter is rich in oleic acid, a type of omega-9 fatty acid which helps lower LDL or bad cholesterol,” Largeman-Roth adds.

According to the AHA, people who regularly eat nut butters have a lower risk of heart disease or Type 2 diabetes than those who do not include them in their diet. 

Peanut butter is a plant-based food and therefore does not contain any cholesterol, the experts note. Additionally, peanut butter does not contain trans fat, per the USDA, which is the worst type of fat for you.

However, it does contain some saturated fat, which are considered “bad” fats because they may raise LDL cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease or stroke, previously reported.

The American Heart Association recommends only getting 5–6% of your calories from saturated fat — for a 2,000-calorie diet, that’s about 13 grams of saturated fat per day. Most store-bought peanut butter contains around 3 grams of saturated fat in one serving, which is well below the recommended daily limit.

If you eat half the jar, that's another story — which is why moderation is key.

How to choose the healthiest peanut butter

The healthiest peanut butters contain no or very few added ingredients, the experts note. "When choosing a peanut butter, look at the ingredients and pick one that is just peanuts and salt, or unsalted," says Rizzo.

Whether the peanut butter is chunky or smooth (which is more of a personal preference), the simpler, the better. "I recommend opting for one that say 'natural' on it, which usually means it’s just peanuts with a dash of salt," Rizzo adds.

When peanut butter does contain added salt, Largeman-Roth recommends choosing a brand with less than 100 milligrams of sodium per serving.

If you're looking for peanut butter that satisfies your sweet tooth — or, let's be real, that your kids will enjoy — choose a brand that contains less than 5 grams of added sugar per serving, says Largeman-Roth.

More processed peanut butters often have stabilizers, such as fully hydrogenated oils (often palm oil), to prevent the ingredients from separating. These are different from partially hydrogenated oils, which contain trans fats, previously reported.

Natural peanut butters do not contain these stabilizers, which is why the oil often separates and rises to the top of the jar. This is completely normal, the experts note. “Just stir before using,” says Largeman-Roth.

How to avoid unhealthy peanut butters

When it comes to unhealthy peanut butters, those full of excess additives — including excess sugar, oils and preservatives — tend to be the least healthy options. "These are unnecessary and add extra, unwanted fat and calories," says Rizzo.

Peanut butters loaded with added sugars often top the list of those worst for you. "You should probably avoid ones that have extra sugar," says Rizzo.

Examples of added sugars include brown sugar, cane sugar, raw sugar, fructose, sucrose, lactose, maltose, rice syrup, maple syrup, high fructose corn syrup, fruit nectars, honey, molasses and agave, previously reported.

Varieties like "honey roasted" peanut butter and chocolate peanut butters are often rich in added sugars and sweeteners, says Rizzo. These are best enjoyed as an occasional treat, rather than an everyday spread, Rizzo adds.

The American Heart Association recommends that women limit total added sugars to 6 teaspoons per day, while men stick with 9 teaspoons per day.

While "reduced-fat" or "low-fat" peanut butter varieties may sound healthier, they can actually be worse for you. Peanut butter is mostly unsaturated fat, which is healthy, the experts note. When this is removed, less healthy ingredients — like sugar and salt —are often added to improve the taste, per the Cleveland Clinic.

Low-fat peanut butters can contain the same amount of calories or more than the full-fat versions, but they're less satiating.

However, any kind of peanut butter can be unhealthy when consumed in excess, and most Americans are eating way too much, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

“It’s really easy to overdo it with peanut butter, and the calories and fat can add up quickly,” says Rizzo. It's important to eat peanut butter in moderation, which means sticking to the recommended serving size of 2 tablespoons per day max, she emphasizes.