Back to School and Beyond: Is Natural Peanut Butter Worth the Trouble?

Peanut butter and other nut/seed butters are a great way to send your child off to school with a triple threat of fiber, protein, and fat- all things needed to keep them fuller throughout the day (see the Trifecta of Fullness).

When selecting nut and seed butters, the largest differentiator is natural vs. regular varieties. But if you’ve ever opened a jar of the natural stuff and had to endure the stirring (and stirring and stirring) to reincorporate the separated oils, you may be wondering if all that elbow grease and extra cost is worth it?!

Nutritionally, there are two common differences between natural and regular peanut butters. Natural peanut butters usually do not have added sugars while regular peanut butters do (most commonly 3-4 grams in a serving of unflavored varieties).

But the biggest reason to choose natural peanut butter has to do with the oils they contain. Regular peanut butters contain trans fats that keep them smooth and spreadable. Trans fats are way bad for you and your kiddos and should be avoided. Not sure? Look for “hydrogenated oils” on the ingredients listings.

What about the “no stir” natural peanut butters from brands like Skippy or Jif? Well, notice on the jars of these products that the label says “Peanut Butter Spread,” not simply “Peanut Butter.” To be called a peanut butter, the recipe must contain 90% peanuts. Palm oil is added to these spreadable varieties to keep the peanut oils from separating. So while we don’t know exactly what percentage of the recipe in these “spreads” is peanuts, we do know it has to be less than 90% or it would be called a “peanut butter.”

Not comfortable with the grey area? Stick with natural peanut butters. Ingredients should be just peanuts and maybe salt.

Side Note- If the stirring of truly natural peanut butters is going to put you over the edge, these peanut butter spreads are a better alternative than regular peanut butter. Palm oil contains unsaturated fats (better for you) and are not hydrogenated so there’s no trans fat to be concerned with.

But beware- the taste/texture can appear a bit oily to some.

So if you want to stick with the natural stuff, how do you deal with maintaining consistency? To stir in the oil, use a long knife that will allow you to stir without spilling everywhere. Still spilling? Empty the jar into a pitcher, stir, and pour back into the jar.

Refrigeration will keep the oils from separating but towards the bottom of the jar, the contents can get a little clumpy (see picture on the left). I’ve shredded more than a couple slices of bread trying to spread this stuff. Simply pop the jar into the microwave for about 15 seconds (more or less depending on the amount of peanut butter in the jar and the strength of your microwave) and you’ll have a wonderfully spreadable product (picture on the right).