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 Nutella 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 about 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.