If you're a risk-averse investor looking for stocks to buy, it's hard to go wrong with stalwarts in the healthcare industry such as Abbott Laboratories (ABT 0.86%) and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ 0.08%). These two businesses have strong track records for profitability, pay dividends, and generally aren't risky investments to be hold. While they both could make for stable long-term investments, which stock looks to be the best buy right now?

The case for Johnson & Johnson

One of the most attractive reasons to buy Johnson & Johnson right now is the company's pivot more toward growth. It's spinning off its slow-growing consumer health segment next year, and by doing so, its focus will be more on pharmaceuticals and medtech. It's already working on the new phase of its business. On Nov. 1, Johnson & Johnson announced plans to acquire Abiomed, a business that makes heart pumps and that achieved 22% sales growth in its most recent fiscal year (which ended in March) with revenue totaling more than $1 billion.

While Johnson & Johnson is losing patent protection in the U.S. on psoriasis medication Stelara in 2023, the company is confident it has a strong enough pipeline to not only offset losses from that, but to grow its pharmaceutical revenue to $60 billion by 2025. Last year, revenue from that segment totaled $52 billion.  

Unlike Abbott Laboratories, which is down close to 30% this year, Johnson & Johnson has proven to be a more stable buy thus far, rising a modest 2%. Its dividend also yields 2.5%, which is higher than Abbott's payout of 1.9%.

The case for Abbott Laboratories

Abbott's stock has been struggling this year and is near its 52-week low. For value-oriented investors, the shares could provide some good value as they trade at 22 times its earnings. That's a slightly more modest valuation than Johnson & Johnson shares, which trade at 24 times profits.

Investors are bearish on Abbott's stock as COVID-19 testing bolstered its numbers in the past, a trend that isn't likely to continue in the future, and baby formula recalls have also hindered its nutrition business. But over the long term, the business is still robust and diverse.

Unlike Johnson & Johnson, which will heavily rely on two segments in its future (pharmaceuticals and medtech), Abbott also has diagnostics and nutrition business units that can make the business more diverse and stable in the long run. While Johnson & Johnson's stock is outperforming Abbott this year, over the past five years, Abbott's shareholders have been the big winners, earning returns of 80% -- dwarfing the 24% gains for Johnson & Johnson's stock during that time.

One underrated opportunity Abbott has is in diabetes care, a component of its medical devices business that generated 31% sales growth in the U.S. in the most recent quarter (ended Sept. 30). Within that segment is the company's FreeStyle Libre 3, a continuous glucose monitoring device that features the world's smallest sensor. The entire FreeStyle Libre line of products generated $1 billion during the past quarter and its U.S. growth was an impressive 40%.

With a plethora of growth opportunities, investors should be careful not to discount the long-term potential for Abbott Laboratories.

I'd go with Abbott Laboratories stock today

Both of these healthcare businesses are likely to grow over the years but with a more modest valuation and diverse business, Abbott Laboratories is the stock I would buy right now. Johnson & Johnson is in the midst of a transition in its business and that can be a risky time to invest. Stelara is a big part of its business and brought in more than $9 billion in revenue for 2021, representing 18% of its pharmaceutical segment. While the company is planning to replace losses in revenue from Stelara over the years, that won't be an easy task.

Abbott Laboratories is the safer buy and although it's down in value this year, that just makes it a more compelling investment to load up on, especially for the long haul.