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Archive for the ‘peanut butter’ Category

The Fallacy of “Better” Peanut Butter

Much has been written about unnecessary additives (i.e.: modified cornstarch, partially hydrogenated oils, and high fructose corn syrup) in many commercial peanut butters.

People are often surprised to learn that only 60 percent of reduced-fat Jif peanut butter is peanuts; the other forty percent includes corn syrup solids, soy protein, and hydrogenated oils. “Natural” Jif, meanwhile, is 90 percent peanuts; the remaining ten percent composed of palm oil, sugar, and molasses.

The best thing you can do from a health standpoint is eat real peanut butter; that is to say, 100% ground-up peanuts (varieties that only contain peanuts and salt are fine too; some quick math reveals they contain roughly 99.5% peanuts and 0.5% salt).

Over the past few weeks, I have been asked via e-mail and Twitter about niche peanut butter brands that claim to be “better” and “healthier” versions. Despite their self-described hoopla of nutritional superiority, they manage to remove one of peanut butter’s most healthful components.

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You Ask, I Answer: Sugar in Peanut Butter

smuckers_natural_pbI have noticed in perusing the plain old peanut butter jar labels that many have sugar (in the form of dextrose, I think), or oils like cottonseed oil. What’s up with that?

It took a lot of label reading to find peanuts that had simply peanuts and salt listed as ingredients.

– Susan (last name unknown)
(Location Unknown)

You can chalk that up to a term food companies love — “shelf stability”.

If you can create a product that can sit on store and pantry shelves for months, you have an advantage in the market.

Consumers love shelf stability because they don’t have to worry about a food product spoiling, and can also be transported at room temperature with minimal issues.

Another important reason?  Texture.

The oils added to peanut butter are partially — or, more recently, fully — hydrogenated, creating that familiarly uniform and spreadable texture.

I always recommend “natural” nut butters, which simply contain the ground up nut and, in some cases, a pinch of salt.

Since the naturally-occurring oil in these varieties separates, you need to stir the contents of the jar first, and then refrigerate for optimal storage and freshness.

Although conventional peanut butter brands often get slammed for containing added sugar, their sugar content isn’t that high.  A standard two-tablespoon serving only offers 2 grams (a half teaspoon) of added sugar.

I’m more concerned about the partially hydrogenated oils, especially since the oils used are ones with awful omega 6 to omega 3 ratios.

Here in New York City, even conventional supermarkets carry one or two “natural” brands, mainly Smuckers and the generic White Rose label.

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You Ask, I Answer: Peanuts vs. Tree Nuts

peanuts-peeledA peanut butter sandwich is as American as apple pie.

What are your thoughts on peanut butter, though?

I’ve been hearing that peanuts, which I know are actually legumes, aren’t as healthy as tree nuts.

Should I be making my sandwiches with almond butter instead?

– Fred (Last name withheld)
Brooklyn, NY

I don’t have any issues with peanuts or peanut butter.

When it comes to nuts (and, yes, for the sake of this post we’ll treat peanuts as such), my recommendation is to always have one serving of some nut every day.

One serving is made up of 13 walnuts halves.  In the case of almonds, that’s 23 individual pieces.  If you’re talking pistachios, you’re looking at 49 kernels!

The issue with nuts is that you could label any one as “better” or “worse” than the next, depending on what criteria you use.

Consider these lists I compiled:

FIBER CONTENT (per ounce)

  • Almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios: 3 grams
  • Brazil nuts, walnuts, peanuts: 2 grams
  • Cashews: 1 gram

PROTEIN CONTENT (per ounce)

  • Peanuts: 7 grams
  • Almonds, pistachios: 6 grams
  • Cashews: 5 grams
  • Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts: 4 grams
  • Pecans: 3 grams

MONOUNSATURATED (heart-healthy!) FAT (per ounce)

  • Hazelnuts: 12.9 grams
  • Pecans: 11.5 grams
  • Almonds: 8.7 grams
  • Brazil nuts, peanuts: 6.9 grams
  • Cashews: 6.7 grams
  • Pistachios: 6.6 grams

OMEGA 3: OMEGA 6 RATIO (per ounce)

  • Walnuts: 1:4
  • Pecans: 1:20
  • Pistachios: 1:51
  • Hazelnuts: 1:89
  • Cashews: 1:125
  • Brazil nuts: 1:1,139
  • Almonds: 1:2,181
  • Peanuts: 1:5,491

All of them, meanwhile, are good sources of vitamin E, magnesium, and manganese.  Calorie amounts range from 155 (cashews) to 195 (pecans).

I always recommend varying your nut intake since each variety contains unique phytonutrients and antioxidants that have been linked to an array of health benefits.

Peanuts, for example, are a wonderful source of resveratrol (the same antioxidant in red wine and grape skins), while pecans contain high amounts of beta-sisterol, a cholesterol-lowering phytonutrient.

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Quick & Healthy Recipe: Spicy & Decadent Satay Marinade

peanut-sauce-lrgThis delicious Thai-inspired marinade is extremely easy to make and imparts wonderful flavors.

Although traditionally paired with chicken, I have only had this marinade with tofu and tempeh, where it works wonderfully!

Don’t let the long ingredient list dissuade you — preparation is super quick.

YIELDS: 1 cup (4 servings)

INGREDIENTS:

2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons nut butter (peanut, almond, or cashew; natural and unsalted recommended)
2 Tablespoons canned coconut milk
2 medium garlic cloves
1 Tablespoon dried ginger
2 Tablespoons cilantro, chopped
2 teaspoons Thai chili peppers, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup basil leaves
2 teaspoons chili powder OR cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons honey or agave nectar
2 Tablespoons lime juice
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil
5 teaspoons water

INSTRUCTIONS:

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until evenly combined.

To get optimal flavors, marinade food for at least 4 hours, covered, in refrigerator.

NUTRITION INFORMATION (per serving):

198 calories
5 grams saturated fat (see note, below)
300 milligrams sodium
2 grams added sugar

Excellent Source of: Manganese, monounsaturated fat, niacin

Good Source of: Magnesium, vitamin B6, vitamin E

NOTE: The saturated fats in this recipe come exclusively from the nut butter and coconut milk. Coconuts’ saturated fat is less atherogenic than that of full-fat dairy. Additionally, if using peanut or almond butter, their saturated fats are packaged along with extremely heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.

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You Ask, I Answer: Choline

1B7796CD98BAE223AFF6643CFAF1A7What is choline?  Why is it good for us and which foods contain it?

– @Monica_San Diego, @noelty5
Via Twitter

I received these tweets soon after I tweeted that 90 percent of adults in the United States do not get sufficient amounts of choline in their diets.

Choline is an essential nutrient (‘essential’ meaning we must get it from food) that is often referred to as a “vitamin-like organic substance” that has a lot in common with the B vitamins (it is not, however, an out-and-out B vitamin).

Choline has a number of important functions, including:

  • Proper functioning of neurotransmitters
  • Overall liver and gallbladder health
  • Fetal neural and spinal development
  • Cell permeability (allowing cells to absorb fats adequately and excrete necessary metabolites)
  • Phospholipid synthesis (necessary for cellular structure)
  • Cardiovascular health (choline helps lower homocysteine levels; high homocysteine levels are a significant risk factor for heart disease)

As far as food sources go, these are your best bets:

  • Beef
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Egg yolk
  • Lentils
  • Salmon
  • Shrimp
  • Soy beans
  • Peanuts
  • Wheat germ
  • Salmon

Men should aim for 550 milligrams a day. Women, meanwhile, need to shoot for 425.

Multiple research studies have concluded that consistent, long-term deficiencies increase one’s risk of developing fatty liver, liver cancer, and heart disease.

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“But That Lady on TV Said It!”

3716_GoodMorningAmerica_logoLast weekend, Good Morning America did a segment titled “What To Eat When.” For it, they booked Kimberly Snyder, a self-proclaimed nutrition expert who, in this particular instance, spouted off a variety of inaccurate facts and misleading information.

Even more disturbingly, several magazines have recently turned to Miss Snyder for nutrition tips.  SOS!!

Watch the video (linked above) first, and then read my detailed response below.

Protein bars are unhealthy because they contain soy protein isolate, a heavily processed ingredient than can impair thyroid function.

Yes, soy protein isolate is processed, but the main reason to limit protein bar consumption is because they are high in added sugars, generally low in fiber, and do not offer the same amount of nutrition real foods do.  While soy can exacerbate already-existing thyroid problems, it does not cause them.

100% fruit snacks are not the best choice for children because they are too dense.

I agree that 100% fruit snacks are not as healthy as they sound (they are basically pure sugar), but what on Earth does her critique of “it’s too much density” mean?  The problem isn’t that fruit snacks are calorically dense, it’s that they offer very little nutrition.

“Peanut butter has a lot of sugar.”

WRONG. You can find plenty of peanut butter brands that do not add sugar.  Additionally, even the ones that do add sugar do not add a lot (two grams, or half a teaspoon, per serving is the average).

Almonds are better than peanuts because they have vitamin E and protein.

Absolutely misleading.  Peanuts have just as much protein and vitamin E.  Besides, both almonds and peanuts contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and plenty of mineral and phytonutrients.

Artificial sweeteners score high on the glycemic index.

Wow.  Absolutely incorrect.

Besides, if this ‘expert’ is so worried about the glycemic index of foods, why does she then recommend watermelon, which has a very high glycemic index?

“An acidic body tends to hold on to more weight.”

Oh, no — not that school of thought!

No fruit after dinner — it sits in your stomach on top of what you ate and bloats you.

Pardon me while I repeatedly smack my head on my desk.  This is absolutely false.  The human digestive system can handle a piece of fruit at any time of day.

Good Morning America producers, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do!

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Quick & Healthy Recipes: Spicy Peanut-Cilantro Dressing

peanutsI have always been a fan of peanut dressing at Thai restaurants, so I decided to try making my own.

The end product is delicious and, I suspect, healthier than what most restaurants serve.  It also doesn’t hurt that peanuts are a great source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats!

This dressing goes wonderfully over a side salad of spinach leaves, chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, shredded carrots, and soybean sprouts.

YIELDS: 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

4 Tablespoons natural peanut butter
2 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon poblano pepper, chopped (with seeds if you want an extra kick)
1 Tablespoon tamari
1.5 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon agave nectar
1.5 teaspoons ginger (powder)
1 tablespoon cilantro, chiffonade
1.5 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice
1/4 cup water

INSTRUCTIONS:

Combine all ingredients in food processor.  Process until mixture is smooth and uniform.

For best taste, refrigerate for 3 or 4 hours prior to serving.

NUTRITION INFORMATION (per serving)

105 calories
1.2 grams saturated fat
3.9 grams monounsaturated fat
250 milligrams sodium
3 grams added sugar
1.5 grams fiber
4 grams protein

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Pistachio SOS

This handy website — courtesy of the Food & Drug Administration and California pistachio growers — provides a list of pistachio products and brands that are safe to consume in light of last week’s recall.

I briefly corresponded with Marion Nestle late last week about the peanut butter recall, and specifically asked her when she thought it would become a thing of the past.

Citing the ingredient’s long shelf life (certainly much longer than, say, beef), she predicted several more months of careful treading until supermarket shelves are in the clear.

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You Ask, I Answer: Salmonella in Peanut Butter

Okay, [I always thought] salmonella is usually [related to eating] eggs or meat.

Peanut butter is primarily three things: peanuts, oil, salt.

Sometimes [they add] sugar or another sweetener.

How, then, does salmonella end up in peanut butter?

– Corey Clark
(Location withheld)

The ingredient list can even be shorter! Remember, many brands of peanut butter consist of nothing but peanuts.

Your question — which is excellent, by the way — is one that many food safety experts are asking themselves (while vividly remembering the eerily similar E.Coli-infested spinach outbreak of 2007.)

Part of the issue here is that the United States does not have one central agency overseeing issues of food safety.

Consequently, sources of contamination are hard to track and contain.

Additionally, most of the focus on food safety (from random inspections to consistent monitoring) is relegated to meat processing plants, as they are considered “high risk” operations.

In short, the vague answer to your question is: “unsanitary plant conditions.”

This could mean anything from animal feces somehow ending up in the peanut butter (think a bird or two somehow getting inside the facility) or dirty equipment being used in the processing of peanut butter.

What is practically a given is that the contamination had to have occurred after the roasting and grinding process (both of these use extremely high temperatures that kill all strands of the salmonella virus.)

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You Ask, I Answer: Serving Sizes

I looked at the nutrition label for Jif To Go and now I am extremely confused.

The label lists two serving sizes.

One is for the whole cup, [which contains] 390 calories.

The [other serving size is for] “1/2 cup (32g)” which has 190 calories.

Okay, fine. But then I look at the regular standard jar of Jif peanut butter, and its label says:”2 Tablespoons(32g)=190 calories.”

[What I can't understand] is how, according to these two labels, a half cup of peanut butter weighs as much as two tablespoons?

– Corey Clark
(location withheld)


Ah, good ol’ serving size puzzles.

Let’s work this one out.

The “1 cup” mentioned on the Jif-to-Go food label is not a literal 1 cup measurement, but rather refers to container (AKA “cup”) of Jif-to-Go, which contains four tablespoons of peanut butter.

In other words, one Jif to Go cup (notice my wording — it is very different from saying “a cup of Jif To Go”) contains a quarter cup of peanut butter.

Therefore, half a container of Jif To Go offers the standard two-tablespoon serving you see on peanut butter jars.

Dizzy yet?

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Sneak Peek

The folks at Smart Balance sent me samples of their new shelf-stable peanut butter product due on supermarket shelves this April.

The selling points are:

* The inclusion of flax oil, bringing the ALA Omega-3 fatty acid total of a single two-tablespoon serving to 1,000 milligrams (63% of the Daily Value)

* The absence of partially hydrogenated oils (hence no trans fats)

* The use of agave nectar as a sweetener, rather than table sugar (sucrose)

Mind you, the first two selling points can already be found in the company’s Omega Peanut Butter (pictured at left).

Both the smooth and crunchy varieties of this new variety passed my taste test (as well as that of fellow tasters I asked to sample the product), but let’s talk nutrition.

Although the inclusion of agave nectar is touted as a healthier choice since its sweeter-than- sugar status means you need to use less of it to sweeten, it isn’t a big enough difference in this case.

Smart Balance is being truthful when they advertise this peanut butter as containing “33% less sugar than leading brands,” but you are talking about 2 grams per serving as opposed to 3 grams per serving (which translates to just four fewer calories.)

What absolutely confuses me, though, is the fact that the company’s Omega Peanut Butter — already in stores — only contains one gram of sugar (in the form of molasses) per serving.

They could technically advertise this product as having “100% more sugar” than the one they have already launched!

I am also disappointed by the use of the term “naturally sweetened” in the packaging.

Remember, there is no concrete legal definition of the term “natural” for food advertising.

It is a word that means absolutely nothing; it is simply used to conjure up ideas of healthy, “back to basics” eating.

After all, poisonous mushrooms are natural, but that doesn’t mean they are good for us.

I don’t think this is “unhealthy” peanut butter by any means, but its sole unique selling point — the use of agave nectar — just isn’t that big of a deal.

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You Ask, I Answer: Aflatoxins

I’m concerned about aflatoxin risk associated with consuming nut butters.

Is there legitimate cause for concern?

Are aflatoxins only present in peanut butter, but not almond, cashew or other nut butters?

– Tom T.
Boston, MA

For those of you not familiar with aflatoxins, allow me to introduce you. You might not want to shake hands, though.

Aflatoxins are highly poisonous varieties of mycotoxins. In biochemical jargon, we are talking about the metabolic byproduct of a particular fungus.

It just so happens that this fungus has a tendency to grow on certain crops — especially corn and peanuts.

Like any good fungus, it thrives in damp, warm environments.

Hence, if such conditions present themselves at any point of the transit or storage of these crops you can bet there will be fungal growth — and high aflatoxin levels.

Yeah, not so ideal.

Apart from providing a funky flavor, aflatoxins can cause a variety of liver disorders, as well as significantly increase liver cancer risk when consumed in high amounts..

No need to start peanut panic just yet, though.

Most countries, particularly the “developed” nations (I put that in quotations because I find that term to be so outdated and elitist) have set limits on just how many parts per billion of aflatoxins can be permitted in crops entering their food supply.

So, if a particular peanut crop registers as too high, it will certainly not end up in your peanut butter.

In the United States, the National Peanut Administrative Committee has taken this issue very seriously. There is no worse PR for a food than intoxication risks.

To answer your second question: yes, peanut butter is the only nut butter to contain aflatoxins, but not the only nut. Walnuts and pecans also register teeny, tiny, insignificant amounts (the commercial walnut and pecan butters I’ve seen are mixed with some cashew butter).

PS: I know a peanut is technically a legume and not a nut. For simplicity purposes, though, it’s a nut. Capiche?

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You Ask, I Answer: Nut Butters

I am allergic to peanuts, so peanut butter is out of the question for me.

Of all the other nut butters, which is the most nutritious?

– Danielle Spolner
San Francisco, CA

All nut butters share similar nutritional profiles.

Peanut, almond, cashew, sunflower seed, and soynut butters all offer protein, healthy fats, and between 175 and 200 calories in a 2 tablespoon serving.

One big plus about almond, cashew, and sunflower seed butters is that they are only available in natural form (meaning they exclusively made of crushed nuts and, in some cases, salt), whereas some brands of peanut and soy butters add partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) and sugar.

That said, there are a few differences worth pointing out.

Almond butter is the most caloric, but it also offers the highest amount of monounsaturated (heart healthy) fat, vitamin E, and manganese. Of all the nut butters, it has the lowest protein content (4 grams per serving.)

Cashew butter offers the same amount of calories as peanut butter but offers the least amount of vitamin E per serving (2 percent of the Daily Value.)

Sunflowerseed butter is very similar to peanut butter, but offers half the monounsaturated fats.

Soy butter is the highest in protein and lowest in calories. It also, however, provides the lowest value of monounsaturated fats.

Since the differences are quite minimal, I suggest you simply pick the one you enjoy most.

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