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Sugar in Food

Sugar in Food

Here’s what you need to know about sugar in nut butters

Watch out for flavored nut butters with too much added sugar.

There’s no denying that peanut butter is popular. In fact, an estimated 290 million Americans reported eating peanut butter last year. But the familiar comfort food has gone gourmet. Move over creamy and chunky. Here come chocolate, cookie, salted caramel, and other dessert flavors. That means some peanut and other nut butters and spreads are now loaded with sugar.

Here’s what you should know before you buy your next jar:

Most brands add just a little sugar to their regular nut butters.

Buying plain old peanut butter or almond butter? Big brands like Jif, Skippy, and Peter Pan generally add a trivial 1 or 2 grams of sugar to the 1 or 2 grams that occur naturally in the peanuts or almonds. That’s no big deal.

But these days, “specialty” butters like MaraNatha Caramel Almond Spread can hit 11 grams of sugar per serving—roughly 10 of them added. That’s about 2 ½ teaspoons out of the six-teaspoon daily added sugar limit for women or the nine-teaspoon max for men.


Chocolate and hazelnut spreads like NutNutella Justinsella sound healthy, but they’re not.

“Hazelnut spread with cocoa,” says the Nutella jar. Hazelnut? Nutella has more added sugar (five teaspoons) and palm oil than nuts. What’s more, peanut butter’s saturated fat (2 to 3 grams in two tablespoons) is balanced by its cholesterol-lowering unsaturated fat (12 to 14 grams). Nutella’s sat fat (4 grams) isn’t.

And Jif’s chocolate hazelnut spreads—which come in flavors like Chocolate Cheesecake and Cookies ‘n Cream—are Nutella wannabes with just as much sugar. Ditto for Trader Joe’s Cocoa Almond Spread and Natural Nectar Almond Cocoa Choco Dream. They swap almonds for hazelnuts, but they’re still mostly sugar and (palm and/or canola) oil, not nuts.

In contrast, you get more nuts than sugar and oil in Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Butter Blend and Peanut Butter & Co. Dark Chocolate Dreams. But you still get about 1½ teaspoons of added sugar.


Don’t be fooled by trendy cookie butter spreads.  

“This rich, deeply flavorful Speculoos Spread is a delicious way to enhance toast, bagels, waffles, crepes, croissants, cakes & fruit,” says Natural Nectar’s Speculoos. Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter was a runner-up for favorite overall product in its 2016 8th Annual Customer Choice Awards. Lotus Biscoff’s website calls its cookie butters “an alternative to nut butters.”

Really? Speculoos is mostly white flour, sugar, and oil. (Talk Whole Foods 1about cheap ingredients. Someone’s cashing in.) Cookie butter’s calories (about 200 in two tablespoons) and saturated fat (2 to 3 grams) resemble peanut butter’s, but it has virtually none of peanut butter’s protein, fiber, vitamin E, magnesium, copper, zinc, or other nutrients.

Bottom line: Steer clear of cookie butters, which can often be found masquerading as nut butters alongside the peanut butters and almond butters on supermarket shelves.


Which nut butters are best?

For a better nut butter, try one with no added sugar like Justin’s Classic Almond Butter, Adams 100% Natural Peanut Butter, or Smucker’s Natural Peanut Butter.

And to keep a lid on sodium, look for nut butters with no more than 150 milligrams in two tablespoons.

Do you have a favorite no-sugar-added or low-sugar nut butter? Leave your pick in the comments. doesn’t accept any paid advertising or corporate or government funding. Any products recommended by have been vetted by our staff of nutritionists and are not advertisements by the manufacturers.

Add Your Comments


  1. William
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    I just tried the new highly rated PB2, and it taste fantastic. I found it at Ingles(of all places).

    • Katherine
      Posted October 10, 2013 at 2:31 am | Permalink

      After checking for PB2 at Ralphs (Kroger), Sprouts, and Whole Foods Markets without success, I scored at WalMart! I am eager to taste it, after reading the positive comments about it in my Nutrition Action newsletter.

  2. Harvey
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    Just buy crushed peanuts without any additives, it’s delicious. Fairway, Whole Foods have machines on hand to grind peanuts.

  3. kate
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    Skippy and Jiff may not have excessive sugar – but do they have real peanuts? They remove the good peanut oil and substitute cottonseed oil and other emulsifiers that are terrible. They are artery clogging fake phony concoctions loaded with unnecessary bad stuff. How can you promote these products?

    Posted October 8, 2013 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Dear Nutrition Action,

    Should we be concerned about the saturation of the fats in Jif/Skippy/PP, or is that, too, minimal enough to feel okay about? Thanks, Cindy

  5. Stephen
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Better yet, have your peanut butter fresh ground from organic peanuts at your health food store without salt or sugar. And even better than that is fresh ground almond butter.

  6. Janice
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Fresh-ground peanut putter tastes the best! You get the aroma and flavor of real peanuts!

  7. Marge
    Posted October 9, 2013 at 12:14 am | Permalink

    Trader Joe unsalted crunchy ingredients: roasted peanuts. Enough said!

  8. Jeffrey
    Posted October 11, 2013 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    it would be nice to see somebody like consumers reports, etc. test the different peanut butters on the market for salt, sugar, saturated fats, replaced oils, harmful chemicals, additives, etc. it sounds like the first lier doesn’t have a chance in this business.

  9. Patrick
    Posted February 27, 2015 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    My Mom made peanut butter using peanuts with the “skins” still on and ground them in the food processor, into peanut butter. She says the skins have nutritional value. You can’t taste the difference although there are red specs in the peanut butter.

  10. gretchenc5
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Organic NuttZo Power Fuel is the way to go: Just cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and celtic sea salt (only 30mg sodium per 2 Tbsp). Non GMO, vegan, gluten free, 6 grams protein, 910 MG Omega-3, no added sugar, no palm oil. Delicious–I eat it right out of the jar. First bought at Whole Foods but much less expensive online at Thrive Market (a great source for all things healthy).

  11. GLORIA
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    I have had problems with salt and discovered CRAZY RICHARD’S peanut butter. No salt, no sugar, just peanuts…..delicious!

  12. patricias101
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Adams Natural Peanut Butter had a “no salt added” version that we use to get for a person with a salt restricted diet….along with two slices of bread which has salt it was a very good product. Now I can not find any place carrying the salt free version. I wonder if they stopped production or if no one would buy enough to warrant carrying the product. Sad!

  13. jacquiel
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    I’m a big fan of Organic Alive brand Almond Butter. The only ingredient is organic almonds, and the butter tastes as fresh and aromatic as freshly-shelled nuts. Pricey but worth it, and for a sweet treat, all you need to add is a smidge of honey or chocolate. Whole Foods carries it, along with Artisana almond butter, my #2 choice, which is also nothing but organic raw almonds.

  14. coralr3
    Posted May 24, 2017 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    I generally use Smuckers’ Natural because it is just peanuts (and maybe a little salt) and you stir the peanut oil on top into it and then keep it refrigerated. It is a little pricey but the only truly natural pb available in my small town. If I can drive to an Aldi store (45 minutes away), I have found their brand of natural also very good, with no added sugar and the oil that you stir in – and it is cheaper.

3 Trackbacks

  1. By Choco Spreads to Avoid : Nutrition Action on November 19, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    […] two tablespoons have only 2 grams of protein and 4 percent of a day’s calcium. What’s more, peanut butter’s saturated fat (2 to 3 grams in two tablespoons) is balanced by its cholesterol-lowering unsaturated […]

  2. By Fat in Food: Nut, Seed, and Soy on November 25, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    […] Sugar content of peanut butter.  See: Sugar in Peanut Butter […]

  3. […] a powdered peanut butter seems unnatural, take a look at PB2’s ingredients: roasted peanuts, sugar, and salt. The 1 gram of sugar is nothing to worry about, and PB2 is free from the added oils that […]

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