A “reduced-anything” label at the grocery store seems like a #healthwin. There’s reduced-sodium soy sauce, reduced-sugar dried cranberries, and so on. But here’s a key lesson from Nutrition 101: Just because there’s a “reduced” version of your favorite food doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a better bet for your health.
Look at reduced-fat peanut butter. Jif’s reduced-fat spread came to store shelves in 1994, responding to the low-fat craze of the 90s. Natural peanut butter (containing just peanuts and salt) contains 17 grams of fat per each two tablespoon serving. Reduced-fat peanut butter has around 12 grams of fat per serving.
This leads to an important question: Should you fear the fat in peanut butter to begin with?
“As a nutritionist, I would much rather you top a slice of toast with regular peanut butter than with butter or cream cheese,” says Sharon Richter, RD, a nutritionist in New York City. While all three of these spreads are considered “fatty,” peanut butter crushes its creamy competition because it contains more fiber, protein, and vitamins and minerals (like vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin B6).
But the real difference between peanut butter and those dairy spreads? PB contains a different kind of fat.
The fat found in peanut butter is primarily monounsaturated fat—a “the good fat.” (Find more info about good fats versus bad fats here.) There’s no need to cut out the fat in peanut butter because it’s the heart-healthy fat experts recommend you get more of. Monounsaturated fats found in nuts (as well as olive oil and avocados) may improve blood cholesterol levels and decrease your risk of heart disease, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Here are other sources of healthy fats to add to your diet.
What’s more, reduced fat PB isn’t just missing that heart-healthy fat. It may actually contain other ingredients you’re better off avoiding. “When manufacturers remove the fat from the peanut butter, they’re really replacing [with] other ingredients to maintain the taste,” explains Richter. (We all know fat can make things taste good; if the fat gets taken out, so does some of the crave-worthy flavor.)
“Reduced-fat peanut butter also has a ton of additives if you read the ingredients list closely,” says Richter. For example, most reduced-fat peanut butters are higher in sugar than their full-fat counterparts, and some even contain hydrogenated oils (read: trans fats). That means in addition to losing the good-for-you fats, you’re also taking in unnecessary sugar when eating reduced-fat peanut butter.
Instead of buying a reduced-fat version, Richter recommends choosing regular peanut butter and sticking to the recommended serving size, which is two tablespoons. “Because it’s so easy to spoon out way too much, use a measuring spoon,” says Richter.
Pro tip: Want pillowy, voluminous peanut butter without going over the recommended serving size? You can blend peanut butter with a little bit of almond milk (or whatever milk you prefer) in a food processor. Keep adding milk, a tablespoon at a time, until you get the consistency you prefer. The result? A whipped and fluffy nut butter that’s easier to spread and feels more indulgent than it actually is.