In short, for the most part, the answer is yes. At Nutracity’s online vegan nutrition store we only stock vegan peanut butters in our vegan products UK range. Peanut butter is a very popular ingredient due to its very good nutrient profile (good amount of protein to carbohydrates), luscious texture and a rich taste. Not only is it a delicious spread for that nice early morning toast, but it is also works as a brilliant addition in smoothies, desserts, dips and milkshakes etc.
With so many different variations and brands of peanut butter it can lead to uncertainty as to whether these can be included in your vegan diet. Most of the peanut butters are made just using a few easy ingredients such as oil, salt and of course, peanuts. As mentioned on healthline.com some types of peanut butters also contain other additives and ingredients like molasses, sugar, or agave syrup, these are all considered vegan. Therefore, most types of peanut butter are free of animal products and can be enjoyed as part of a vegan diet.1
However there are some exceptions. The first is that some peanut butters contain honey. Honey is considered in most vegan diets, an animal product as it is produced by bees, similarly in the same way eggs and dairy are considered animal products because they are produced by animals and therefore are not allowed on a strict vegan diet. Certain peanut butters are also supplemented with omega 3 and other similar fatty acids which are sourced from fish.
Again, in a similar way to eggs and honey this is also considered not allowed on a strict vegan diet. Other brands may also use refined cane sugar which is sometimes bleached and filtered using bone char, though the final product does not contain any animal products the fact that it has been processed using parts of an animal may make some vegans feel uncomfortable. There may also be some vegans that do not accept products that are produced in facilities that also deal with animal products as there could be cross-contamination. Whilst this may only lead to trace amounts, some vegans may still feel uncomfortable with this, it is all up to the individual.
That being said, the simplest way to check if your peanut butter is vegan friendly is to check the ingredient label. Look out for the red flag ingredients mentioned earlier such as honey, fish oils or vitamins from fish oils as well as gelatine. These could have all been from animal products. Certain products will be certified vegan on their label which guarantees that the product does not contain any animal products, they have not been tested on animals and they have not been processed or filtered using bone char.
If any vegans are concerned about cross-contamination, they should be relieved to know that companies are required to provide documentation to verify that any machinery shared with animal products are thoroughly cleaned. If there is still some doubt, the manufacturer or company can be directly contacted for any concerns to be addressed.
Across the vast range of different peanut butter brands there are different additional oils used. Many manufacturers will claim that it is to improve the consistency of the product or the shelf-life, however it is more likely to be used in order to make the product more bulky thereby making it cheaper to produce. Whilst it may seem most logical to use peanut oil in peanut butter some brands use sunflower oil/rapeseed oil. Whilst this may not be a problem for vegans in terms of being within the restrictions of the diet, a lot of vegans choose to be vegan for health benefits, so adding pure fat in the form of these oils may be counter-productive to maintaining a good diet.2
A lot of peanut butter companies use palm oil. There is a difference of opinion among vegans as to whether palm oil is considered vegan, however, even those that consider palm oil to be vegan, few would consider palm oil ethical and many would consider it as an unhealthy product. A lot of environmentalists would argue that the farming of oil palm trees is harmful for the environment and bad for the planet.
According to a report by BBC news3, the production of palm oil is said to be responsible for roughly 8% of the world’s deforestation between 1990 and 2008. These forests are burned in order to clear areas so manufacturers and companies can grow oil palms. The burning of these forests destroys the habitats of wildlife and plants therefore leading to reduced biodiversity. This can be especially harmful for forest species such as orangutans, rhinos, elephants and tigers.
A report for the Bank of England, which considered using palm oil in the production of the new £20 note, explained: "Forest fires, started to clear land for oil palm, release high levels of carbon dioxide and black carbon (soot) into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change." Burning forests can also lead to extreme air pollution levels such as what happened in Singapore in June 2013 when a thick haze covered the city and children were told to stay inside to protect themselves from the polluted air.
Palm oil is also high in saturated fat, which is not good for a healthy diet as it can lead to increased blood cholesterol that then may lead to heart issues in the long term.
With all this mind, this is why at Nutracity we are very careful as to what type of products we stock in our online nutrition store. At the moment we only stock the Meridian Peanut Butter, which uses no palm oil, therefore supporting the environment and supporting our health at the same time. If we take a look at the ingredients we can see that it is made from 100% nuts and nothing else and is suitable for vegetarians and vegans. We also stock the organic variation of this product in our vegan products UK line.