Ahh…there was nothing quite like the taste of a PB&J after a long day of swimming or chomping into the yumminess during my school lunch breaks…I have fond memories enjoying peanut butter growing up. Back in those days, there were fewer brands to choose from. However, today there so many!
On a recent trip to the grocery store, I paused as I came to the peanut butter section. It both amazed and overwhelmed me looking at all the options. How do you know which brand is providing the best quality? Some brands claim to be made with ‘Real Roasted Peanut taste’ or ‘Natural’ or made with ‘No additives, Sweeteners or Hydrogenated Oils’. What does all that really mean? Is it as simple as trusting the claims shown on the front packaging? Uh…unfortunately, no.
My goal as a health coach is to guide you in your anti-inflammatory lifestyle, providing clarity amidst the confusion. On the surface, this post appears to be about peanut butter. In reality, its largely about the conversation of reading labels and recognizing pro-inflammatory ingredients that aren’t serving your body well. That said, we start somewhere and today we’re starting with peanut butter! I put together a little comparison of two well-known brands (one of which claims to be ‘Natural’) and a ‘cleaner’ store brand. In keeping the playing field even, I made sure to stay within the same price-point, showing that you don’t have to spend a lot to make healthy changes to your diet. Prices range from $2.22 – $2.98.
Curious to know which peanut butter would I ultimately grab if looking for the least inflammatory option, for under $3.00? Read on to learn my thoughts on the ingredients and marketing strategies! And don’t forget to grab the FREE Inflammatory Ingredients Guide down at the bottom of the post! It’s the perfect quick reference shopping guide as you begin to kick inflammatory ingredients to the curb.
Before we dive into the comparison, let’s consider what causes us to typically reach for one brand over another. Bottom line, it’s a strong marketing strategy. Marketing teams work hard to make their brand stand out, to be the most visually appealing, make the biggest claims for health, etc. Food manufacturers, on the other hand, are in the business of selling products. Their concern isn’t necessarily about using the healthiest ingredients, it’s more about getting the biggest bang for their buck. They’ll hire marketers and graphic designers to highlight whatever increases their product sales the most. So more often than not, you’re drawn to whichever brand did their homework the best. It might look good and say the right things on the front of it’s packaging, but is it really made with quality ingredients? I know how overwhelming it can be to stand in front of shelves lined with the same type of product,
but, the one and only way you’re truly going to get the best quality product is by reading the ingredients list!
Now on to my peanut butter spread comparison!
Jif Reduced Fat Peanut Butter
Right off the bat, FOUR ingredients jump out to me: corn syrup solids, sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oils and mono and diglycerides (a.k.a. fillers). So let’s break these down.
Corn syrup solids, a.k.a. dried corn syrup, a.k.a. SUGAR: there’s no two ways about it, sugar is sugar. It doesn’t matter what fancy name you give it, they all lead to the same damaging effect in your body. Studies show too much sugar over time can lead to increased inflammatory markers. When it’s listed as the second ingredient for a food product, unfortunately, you’re getting a lot of it per serving.
Sugar: wait, we just talked about sugar above and here it is again listed as the third ingredient. Eating an excess of sugars in beverages and foods can have a negative impact on your overall health. It can drive up inflammation, lead to weight gain, blood sugar fluctuations, increase the risk of heart disease among many other things.
When you have chronic inflammation, it will only add fuel to the fire that’s already burning.
Fully hydrogenated vegetable oils: Any time you see this ingredient on the list, you should pause and reconsider the purchase. Although it’s considered to be a “better alternative” to partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (PHOs…which are basically trans fat and as of June of 2018 are no longer allowed in our food), they may prove to be just as unhealthy. There is another oil modification process that’s being used called interesterification. It’s a process that provides the same functional properties manufacturers are looking for regarding texture, spreadability, extended shelf-life, etc. But the problem is, long-term health ramifications are not well known. Early studies are showing that they may be as unhealthy as trans fats.
Bottom line, if you can find a peanut butter free from any type of hydrogenated vegetable oil, I’d go for that.
Mono and Diglycerides: These ingredients are additives that act as emulsifiers. They help blend the water and oil together, improving the texture and stability of the product, along with extending shelf-life. Here’s the deal, mono and diglycerides contain small amounts of trans fat. Wait, what?!?!? Didn’t I just say trans-fats are banned from our products? While that’s true, there’s this one little loop-hole that manufacturers can skate through. As long as the trans-fats are less than .5 grams per serving, manufacturers are in the clear and don’t have to note it on the label. The only way you’ll know which products are in alignment with your health goals is to read the ingredients.
Central Market Peanut Butter
Ahhh…looking at this ingredient list just makes me smile. 🙂 Peanut Butter with one simple ingredient….dry roasted peanuts. How good is that?? A brand with simple ingredients and a label that delivers on the claims it makes! No added sugar, no added preservatives, no added fillers…just wholesome peanut butter. Open the jar, give it a stir and enjoy without worrying if it will drive up your inflammation markers – unless you’re allergic to peanuts, then just focus on the label reading strategies here! ;).
Skippy Natural Peanut Butter
First, what I like about this list: it’s small AND I can pronounce all the ingredients!! The fewer ingredients in a product the better chance you’re getting closer to a real food item. That said, there are three ingredients that cause me to choose another option. Let’s dig into why.
Sugar: for the same reasons listed in the Jif peanut butter comparison, sugar is a pass for me here. It’s an added element you just don’t need and being the second ingredient, your per serving dose is quite high. Do we really need sugar with our peanuts??? Sugar is present in almost every processed food we eat. Make cuts where you can and you’ll start to see a huge improvement in how your body is feeling and living day-to-day!
Palm Oil: this oil is showing up more and more as a ‘better alternative oil’ in manufacturing. However, its controversial and the verdict is still out on whether it’s truly healthy or not. Its added to peanut butters as a way to keep the oil from separating and settling at the top. Hmmm…so if I just plan to stir my peanut butter before loading up the knife I could have it without the added oil?? Something to consider.
Salt: Here I’m being a little picky. While it isn’t a huge amount of salt, there are other brands that offer less. Salt is another ingredient added in abundance to a lot of processed foods. Without even knowing it you can be over-consuming it. Excessive salt in your diet can lead to issues with your heart health. You have more control when you’re salting your own food. What if you were to buy a low sodium option and add a sprinkle if you’re truly missing it? Something else to consider.
Which Peanut Butter Would I Choose as Part of My Anti-Inflammatory Diet?
So there you have it – a comparison of two brands you’ll find in most stores along with a generic store brand. Can you guess which one I’d go for? If you answered, HEB Central Market store brand, you’re correct! It’s a simple, clean and only one ingredient product and under $3.00. It makes this health coach smile!
Learning to look for pro-inflammatory ingredients gets easier the more you do it. If you found this article to be helpful and you’re to up your label-reading game, download my Inflammatory Ingredients Guide. It’ll help you navigate the grocery store as you work towards decreasing the inflammatory ingredients in your pantry.