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“Peanut Butter Sandwich, Please!”

Submitted By: Christine Albertelli

Edited By: Marcia Bristow MS RDN CSSD CD

If you have taken a trip down the peanut butter (PB) aisle lately, you’ve probably noticed an explosion in the number of available brands, types, and flavors. How does a PB spread differ from plain PB? What makes it all natural? Lightly salted? No Salt Added? What’s the difference!” If you have asked yourself any of these questions, you are not alone. Packages are covered with words and claims that are not as straightforward as they may seem. Here are some tips.

For a product to be defined as PB, it must contain at least 90% peanuts and the other 10% may include salt, sweeteners and hydrogenated vegetable oils.Any deviations from this are considered PB Spreads.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states ”All Natural” food does not contain added colors, artificial flavors or synthetic substances.1 However, this does not address food production, processing or manufacturing methods (for example, pesticides). There is no legal definition for the term “All Natural”, so there is no assurance that this claim is any indication of a superior product. The claim can simply mean substitution of palm oil for hydrogenated oils.2 The purpose of hydrogenated oils or any added oil is to keep the ground peanuts intact with the peanut oil, providing you with a smooth and creamy product.

Added sugar varies depending on the brand and type. Some companies add trivial amounts of sugar, while others add a whopping 9 grams per serving or more.2 That is the equivalence of 1½ sugar packets sprinkled onto 2 tablespoons of PB or 25% of added sugar daily allowance for women and 17% for men.

Many definitions are used to describe the amount of salt and this can be confusing.3 “Low Sodium” or “Lightly Salted”… the same? Not so much. “Low Sodium” means 140mg or less per serving, whereas “Lightly Salted” means 50% less sodium than normally added.  “No Salt Added” or “Unsalted” does not necessarily indicate a sodium-free food, unless it clearly states “Sodium Free”. This is because raw peanuts naturally have a small amount of sodium, approximately 3-5g per serving, without any added salt.4

Okay, take a deep breath. You do not need to be a food scientist or an expert on food labeling regulations to make it out of the PB aisle alive. Read the label and the Nutrition Facts panel to identify ingredients. For 100% PB, buy regular PB from old-fashioned brands without added sugar, salt or hydrogenated oils.


  1. “Natural” on Food Labeling. U.S Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm456090.htm. Updated December 28, 2015. Accessed February 2016.
  2. Hurley J, Liebman B. PB & Beyond: Nut (and not-nut) butters. Nutrition Action Health Letter. October 2015.
  3. Guidance for Industry: A Food Labeling Guide (9. Appendix a: Definitions of Nutrient Content Claims). U.S Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm064911.htm. Updated August 20, 2015. Accessed February 2016.
  4. Peanut Facts. The Peanut Institute Web Site. http://www.peanut-institute.org/peanut-facts/nutritional-breakdown.asp. Published 2009. Accessed April 4, 2016.

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