Natural Jif: What’s The Dif?

This is a guest post by Lisa Cain, PhD, a.k.a Snack-Girl

Recently, one of Snack Girl’s readers asked me to define the difference between Regular Jif and “Natural” Jif.So, I went to the store and purchased them to evaluate.  Here are the ingredients in regular Jif:

Here is Natural Jif:

I looked and couldn’t understand what the difference was because the nutritional facts are exactly the same.  Then, I phoned Jif (note the phone number for questions).

It seems that the major difference is that Natural Jif includes palm oil as an ingredient while Regular Jif has hydrogenated vegetable oils (rapeseed and soybean).  Why does this make Natural Jif natural?

The Jif representative informed me that palm oil hasn’t gone through the processing of “hydrogenation”.

I’m a bit of a geek, so I actually have taken a year of organic chemistry in 1993 (I am also old).  Hydrogenation is simply adding hydrogens to a compound.  So the rapeseed and soybean oils have added hydrogens which helps them to be solid at room temperature.  Why would you do this?

The Regular Jif that I purchased will last until June of 2012.  Basically, it helps the peanut butter to be shelf stable.

Okay, I bet your eyes are glazing over right about now, but I am not done.  Palm oil is a highly saturated vegetable fat.  What “saturated” means is that every carbon is bound to as many hydrogens as possible.  Basically, palm oil already has a bunch of hydrogens added to its carbons.  So, it didn’t need to be artificially hydrogenated because it is NATURALLY hydrogenated.

The Natural Jif that I purchased will last until June of 2011 (one year less that Regular Jif).

Okay, so I am a big advocate of healthy peanut butter see: How To Choose Healthy Peanut Butter. My definition is that the ingredients list should have one ingredient: peanuts.

Does it matter which one you choose (especially if you are a choosy mother)?

With natural peanut butter you get per serving:

*1 gram more fiber
*2 grams more protein
*1 gram less sugar

compared to Jif (Natural or Regular).  These differences can add up if you eat a lot of peanut butter.

My suggestion is to question the term “natural” on the front of the package.  This term is not regulated by the FDA and two products that say “natural” can be two VERY different things.

Clearly, Smuckers (which owns Jif), is trying to compete with the REAL natural peanut butters of the world.

Lisa Cain, Ph.D. writes about healthy snacks on She is a published author, mother of two, and avid snacker.

  • claxton6

    What about the mono- and diglycerides? I ask that not knowing anything about them other than what wikipedia says (used to blend stuff like oil and water that doesn’t normally blend well).

  • nutritioulicious

    Great post! I am always skeptical of brand that come out with “natural” peanut butter b/c they often are not in fact natural. What’s surprising for me to learn here is that JIF is under Smuckers and Smuckers does have a truly natural peanut butter. Very interesting!

  • Michele Hays

    Palm oil is used in SE Asian cooking – go find a jar at your local Asian market; it looks like candle wax. It is incredibly common but is one of the worst possible fats out there as far as saturated fat is concerned. Other “natural” saturated include coconut oil, and of course butter, tallow and lard.

  • Dr. Susan Rubin

    I’m not as afraid of saturated fats as most of the health experts who are commenting here. In my opinion, saturated fats are not the big issue with Palm oil. The real issue with palm oil is the fact that most palm oil is not raised sustainably. That means rainforests are being plundered at an alarming rate so that Jif and other big food corps can use palm oil in their products in place of hydrogenated oils.

    Destroying rainforests have a huge impact on CO2 levels and climate change. And that, my friends, is the biggest issue that we need to be concerned about.

    I urge all of you to climb on down the rabbit hole and learn about the true environmental impact of the food you’re eating or recommending.
    Personal health and planetary health are directly connected.

  • Nour El-Zibdeh, RD

    Great post! Also surprised that Jif is owned by Smuckers because I’ve seem the Smuckers natural peanut butter and it’s not bad.

    I’m a mom of a toddler and registered dietitian, and my son eats a peanut butter sandwich at least 5 days a week and it matters what’s in it. “Natural” peanut butter for me is just peanuts. No other oils. No sugar. No salt. That kind of peanut butter needs to be in your fridge after you open it.

  • Ed Bruske

    Hydrogenated oils are trans fats. Nodbody, especially kids, should be eating trans fats. Palm oil is healthy. For humans, anyway. But as noted above, jungles are being destroyed to make palm oil plantations, which is driving orangutans to extinction. You can buy peanut butter with just peanuts in it and skip the other ingredients.

    • Audrey

      Hydrogenated oils are saturated fat, not transfat. Partially hydrogenated oils are transfat.

  • Chuck

    This product contains “Fully Hydrogenated oil”, yet we always here about the trans fat that come from “partially hydrogenated oils. I am assuming they are both bad trans fats, but is one better or worse?

  • WilliamB

    @Chuck: as I understand it, partially hydrogenated oils are trans fats, which are extraordinarily bad for our heath. Fully hydrogenated oils are saturated fats, which are bad for our health, although reasonable people disagree as to how bad.

    Anyone with the appropriate scientific background feel free to chime in here. And please tell us about the mono- and diglycerides as well

  • Joanna @

    According to the Harvard nutrition site linked below, fully hydrogenated oils are NOT trans fats.

  • Joanna @

    I am amazed that this article takes the time to discuss the chemistry of hydrogenation, but does not mention the link between trans fats and increased risk of coronary heart disease and myocardial infarction. I am guessing the author is assuming that readers are already aware of this? Anyway, a partially hydrogenated oil is indeed a trans fat. Most conventional peanut butters contain partially hydrogenated oils (actually, everyone that I have encountered has). This is an interesting exploration on the labeling term “natural”, however. I am guessing they are trying to attract consumers who prefer organic foods to buy inorganic products?

  • Jason

    I have some real natural and organic peanut butter that is made with peanuts and a trivial amount of salt. That’s all. The best buy date is December 2010 and that’s fine with me.

    Why do we need something that lasts through the middle of next year? It certainly isn’t fresh at that point.

    And why do we need to add palm oil at all? Isn’t there enough oil in the peanuts already? Clearly it’s not necessary as there are perfectly good (and delicious) nut butters out there without it.

  • Amorette

    The major difference is between the soybean and rapeseed (canola) oil in the original and palm oil in the “natural” version. If you look at the overall chemical make-up of the oils, soybean and rapeseed, are some of the best you can consume. Rapeseed, which is refered to as canola due to its unsightly name, has a large amount of the “good” fats, (unsaturated) our bodies need. Palm oil has very little of these “good” unsaturated fats and lots of the saturated fats.

    The mono- and diglcyerides mentioned are emulsifiers, which are artificially added to protect the shelf life. (this is probably why they don’t consider the original version “natural”) Also, canola and soybean oils are also prone to rancidity as with many unsaturated fats, which is another reason they add emulsifiers.

    Basically Jif adds emulisifiers to the the original, which is made with decent oils, then making a “natural” version with oils loaded with saturated fats, which is marketed to nutritionally savvy consumers, which is in fact, worse for you in terms of saturated fats, than the original.

  • Brooke

    You’re not quite on the mark Amorette – the oils in the original are fully-hydrogenated, thus they are no longer unsaturated, rather they become saturated fat, just as the palm oil is. Nutritionally, they are equivalent – this is even reflected on the label.

    One more note on the mono- and diglycerides – that’s what keeps the peanut butter from seperating, thus the note that says “seperation is natural” in the “natural” kind of peanut butter.

  • Amy in StL

    Separated peanut butter is gross. It makes me gag to have to stir peanut butter. The poor kids in school always had to stir the peanut butter when we wanted a snack and I can’t help but associate oily peanut butter jars with dirt poor kids. Ew.

  • http://fuducate Glen Shue

    @Ed Bruske
    If you get true simple peanut butter it is simply ground peanuts. But, you will have to stir it up nearly every time you use it because the oil floats. I had to do this when I was a kid 70 years ago. The addition of hydrogenated or saturated oils is to make an oil mixture that will not be liquid at room temperature and therefore not float and a little bit of sugar or molasses and salt helps the flavor. If an oil is fully hydrogenated it should be the same as a natural high melting point oil/fat BUT it may still have traces of trans fatty acids in it (maybe not enough to matter but present). Normal unsaturations are ‘cis’ which means two neighboring carbon atoms are joined in a boat shapes forming a long sig-sag chain. ‘Trans’ unsaturations are in something of an opened out Z which produces a bent chain which our metabolism can’t handle so those acids end up causing troubles in our normal fat storage and metabolism.