Nov 1, 2009

Peanut Butter Primer

No, I'm not suggesting you smear your walls with peanut butter to prep them for a new paint job.  I just thought that before I post my natural PB taste test results, I'd don my dietitian's cap and fill you in on what a nutritional powerhouse peanuts are and why switching from regular to natural PB may be a really smart and healthful move for you and your family.

Peanuts are actually not nuts at all.  They are from the legume (or bean) family and are a great source of high quality protein and fiber, just like other legumes.  They are also a good source of several vitamins and minerals.  Just to name a few: the antioxidant vitamin E, folate and other B vitamins, magnesium, copper, zinc, potassium, and phosphorus.  They are also a good source of phytochemicals which are naturally occurring plant chemicals that help our bodies prevent chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer.

What turns some people off of eating peanuts or peanut butter is the high fat content, but the fat in peanuts is mostly monounstaturated, which means it helps lower our cholesterol levels.  In fact, studies show that people who eat peanuts and other sources of monounsaturated fats on a daily basis have lower levels of heart disease.  What makes most peanut butters unhealthy is not what's in the peanuts, it's what PB manufacturers add to the peanut butter.

My definition of "natural" is a little different from food manufacturers'.  I consider PB that contains no added fats (hydrogenated oils or palm oil) and no added sweeteners (corn syrup, sugar, molasses, etc) to be truly natural.  Really, there should only be 2 ingredients in peanut butter: peanuts and salt.  Now, I know too much salt is not good for us either, but have you tasted salt free PB?  Unless you've got severe high blood pressure, cutting out the salt in PB really isn't necessary.

There are some so-called "natural" peanut butters on the market now that have added fats and sugars, but because the ingredients themselves are not processed, they are allowed to use the "natural" label.  Don't be fooled by these imposters.  All they have done is substituted palm oil for hydrogenated oils and sugar or molasses for high fructose corn syrup.  Palm and other tropical oils are mostly saturated fat and are no better for us than trans fats.  Added sugar is added sugar, no matter what form it takes.  Our kids' diets are already so full of added sugars and unhealthy fats in the form of snack foods and lunch box staples, they really don't need it on their sandwiches too.

Although I'm a dietitian, I'm definitely not a health fanatic.  When things get busy, I give my kids chicken nuggets and mac and cheese from a box just like any other mom.  But I'm a staunch believer in moderation.  Whether or not you should switch to natural PB really depends on your family's overall diet and how much peanut butter you eat on a regular basis.  If you're kids are like mine and eat PB several times a week, think about what other processed foods they eat and how much added sugars and unhealthy fats they're consuming regularly.  Start looking at ingredient lists on food labels, and then decide if it's worth the added expense and extra stirring.  As parents, we stress about making sure our kids are buckled into their car seats  and we teach them about ways to protect the environment, but often overlook the little things, that over time, can have a big impact on our kids' health.  And health is something that if lost, is almost impossible to get back.

We switched to natural PB several months ago and didn't tell the kids.  They've never said a word about it and honestly, I can't even stomach regular PB anymore.  It tastes so un-natural to me.  I like my peanut butter to actually taste like peanuts.

I apologize if I've sounded at all soap-boxy (if that's even a word).  My job is simply to educate and you take care of the rest.  Natural peanut butter taste test coming within the next day or so.  Take care of yourselves!  lotsalove!


Emily said...

Yes! I'm a BIG believer in using natural PB (my kids eat it almost everyday and sometimes for dinner :) So, I found some good stuff at WallyWorld that we like. The brand is Adams and it's really affordable ($2.44~ish for a 16oz. jar). It comes in different sizes and you can get creamy or crunchy. We've been eating natural for years and never any complaints. I also don't like the taste of regular PB sugary (that's what jelly is for, but don't get me started on the storebought stuff :) Can I link up to this post?

Angie C said...

Of course. Link away. I discovered that Adam's, Laura Scutters and Smuckers natural peanut butters are all distributed by Smuckers so you'll typically only find one of those three brands at any given store. All the stores around here only carry Laura Scutters. What the heck is WallyWorld?

Jen Fields said...

I switch a long time ago to organic natural peanut butter. I found that if you empty the jar into a mixing bowl and then mix the oil in with an electric hand mixer it goes much quicker than trying to mix it in the jar. Then you just empty the contents back into the jar. My husband wasn't crazy about the change at first but he just told me yesterday he is sold on the "new" peanut butter now. I prefer it much more now too.

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