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    Archive for the ‘peanuts’ 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.

    Continue Reading »

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    You Ask, I Answer: Salted Peanuts

    planters coctail peanutsWhat’s your opinion regarding salted vs non-salted peanuts? I personally prefer the non-salted type, but they’re hard to find.

    – Viola Tang
    Wheeling, IL

    When it comes to peanuts (and tree nuts, like almonds, cashews, and walnuts), salted versus unsalted is really a moot point.

    Whereas unsalted varieties offer 0 milligrams of sodium per serving (shocking, I know), salted ones only offer 115 milligrams per one-ounce serving.

    Let’s put that into perspective.  A hundred and fifteen milligrams of sodium is:

    • Slightly less than what you get in a slice of bread or a cup of cow’s milk
    • One third of the sodium content of an Au Bon Pain cinnamon scone
    • Less than half the sodium in one slice of a 12″ Domino’s cheese pizza
    • One fifth of the sodium in a Dunkin’ Donuts corn muffin.

    So, then, why do salted peanuts taste so salty?  They are an example of foods that contain surface salt, which is more noticeable to the taste buds than the salt in sweet baked goods.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Peanut Shells

    peanut shells for inbox zeroI was wondering if you knew if there is any nutritional value in the shells of peanuts, specifically sodium?

    Should we be eating peanut shells?  I can’t seem to find any concrete evidence on the web.

    – John V.
    (Location unknown)

    The only thing peanut shells offer is fiber.

    If peanut shells are salted, you are also getting sodium from them, but the average American diet is already significantly higher in sodium than it needs to be.  No one should concern themselves seeking out good sources of sodium!

    All the nutrition is inside the peanut shell.  I have never eaten peanut shells — and never intend to.  I can think of hundreds of much tastier, healthier, and easier-to-swallow sources of fiber.

    I agree with the accompanying illustration — “lose the shells”!

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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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    Numbers Game: Answer

    PecanHeart_E2A heart-healthy diet gets approximately 16 percent of its calories from monounsaturated fats and roughly 10 percent from polyunsaturated fats (including omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids).

    Although all foods contain a combination of different fats, you definitely want to give priority to those highest in monounsaturated fats:

    • Almonds
    • Avocados
    • Cashews
    • Peanuts
    • Pecans
    • Pine nuts
    • Olives/Olive oil
    • Sunflower seeds

    How, then, do you figure out what these percentages mean in terms of grams of fat?

    Let’s assume you consume, on average, 1,800 calories a day.

    Sixteen percent of 1,800 calories = 288 calories.

    Each gram of fat contains nine calories.  Therefore, to figure out how many grams of fat are in 288 calories, divide by 9.

    In this case, 288 divided by 9 = 32 grams.

    Therefore, someone who consumes 1,800 calories should aim to get 32 grams of fat from monounsaturated fats.

    Following these percentage, roughly 18 grams (10 percent) should come from polyunsaturated sources (this includes Omega-3 fats, like those found in walnuts, flaxseeds, and fatty fish), and no more than 16 grams from saturated fats.

    (Note: I abide by Mediterranean diet guidelines that recommend 30 to 35 percent of calories from fat)

    A whole small avocado,  for example, adds the following to your day:

    • 15 grams monounsaturated fat
    • 2 grams polyunsaturated fat
    • 3 grams saturated fat

    A small order of cheesecake ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery breaks down like this:

    • 2.5 grams monounsaturated fat
    • 3.9 grams polyunsaturated fat
    • 13.7 grams saturated fat

    That said, there is no need for you to do multiple-step math calculations in your head.  Simply know your different fat sources and choose the healthiest ones, keeping appropriate portions in mind, whenever possible (i.e.: guacamole, rather than nacho cheese dip, at a Mexican restaurant).

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    You Ask, I Answer: Nuts & Cholesterol

    nuts1240705690Are there any nuts that help lower cholesterol, or are they all bad?

    They are high in fat, right?

    – Greg (Last name withheld)
    Los Angeles, CA

    When it comes to lowering cholesterol with food, there are three particular nutrients to keep in mind:

    • Soluble fiber
    • Omega-3 fatty acids
    • Monounsaturated fats

    The above nutrients are ones you want to consume more of.  Ideally, you don’t want to simply add them to what you are already eating, but rather eat them in place of less-healthy foods (i.e.: refined carbohydrates, foods made with corn and cottonseed oil, etc.).

    In regards to your question: nuts are an absolutely wonderful food that I encourage everyone to have a serving of every single day.

    Almonds and Brazil nuts are the nuts with highest amounts of soluble fiber per ounce.  Walnuts, meanwhile, have more omega-3 fatty acids (in the form of Alpha-Linolenic Acid) than any other nut.  The monounsaturated fat category is dominated by peanuts.

    This is not to say other nuts are inferior; others have certain phytonutrients and compounds that have been shown to help lower cholesterol levels.

    While we’re discussing these three nutrients, check out this list of best sources (which includes some foods not mentioned above):

    • Soluble fiber: barley, figs, kidney beans, oat bran, oatmeal, pears, psyllium husk
    • Omega-3 fatty acids: chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds, halibut, sea vegetables, scallops, walnuts, wild-caught salmon
    • Monounsaturated fatty acids: almonds, avocado, macadamia nuts, peanuts olive oil

    Great news about soluble fiber — every gram of soluble fiber (when consumed in a consistent, daily basis) is linked to a 1 or 2 point reduction in total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.

    Above all, please undo the “fat is bad” mantra that has pervaded the American dietary landscape for the past two decades.  Omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats not only lower total and LDL cholesterol, they also increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Soy & Thyroid Issues

    iStock_Soy_Bean_On_PodI’ve read the soy is a goitrogen.

    Could it exacerbate hypothyroidism?

    – Corey Clark
    (location withheld)

    Certain compounds in soy can exacerbate — but not cause — thyroid issues by limiting the uptake of iodine and thereby causing goiter (an enlarged thyroid gland).

    Keep in mind, though, that these same compounds are also found in vegetables that belong to the Brassica family of plants (i.e.: broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, mustard greens, kale) as well as strawberries, pears, and peanuts.

    These foods are only a concern for people who already have underactive thyroids.

    Two tips to keep in mind:

    1. Cooking the above-mentioned vegetables lessens their inhibiting effect on thyroid function.
    2. It appears that fermentation reduces goitrogenic compounds, so tempeh (fermented soybeans) can be safely consumed in small amounts by those with underactive thyroids.
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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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    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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    Advertising Gone Nuts!

    A visit to my local CVS led to quite an interesting discovery — Planters’ new “NUTritious” line of products, advertised as “a distinctive line of snacking options that focus on specific wellness needs, all built with a better you in mind.”

    How sweet. Let’s look beyond the sensitive copy, though.

    Planters has always sold a variety of nuts — good sources of fiber, heart-healthy fats, and nutrients like vitamin E, selenium, and magnesium.

    So, nothing is broken and in need of getting fixed.

    I was very curious to see how exactly this new line would improve over products as “non junky” as peanuts or cashews.

    Let’s begin.

    First up — the Heart Healthy Mix, which “may reduce the risk of heart disease.”

    Already my “BS” meter went off. Not only can that statement be applied to any nut product, it’s also the kind of claim that is rally too vague to be of any use.

    Sure, nuts may reduce the risk of heart disease assuming that they are part of a diet low in saturated and trans fats and rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. And that you don’t smoke. And that you’re not 50 pounds overweight. I could go on…

    What is so special about this product I do not know. It is simply a medley of nuts (almonds, peanuts, pecans, walnuts, etc.) just as heart-healthy as the generic CVS brand.

    Next we have the South Beach Diet Recommended Mix, consisting of cashews, almonds, and macadamia nuts.

    What makes these three nuts more South Beach Diet “friendly” than, say, hazelnuts and walnuts? Beats me.

    The third product in the NUTrition line is the Energy Mix — “a natural source of energy.” So is Planters claiming that the other products don’t provide energy?

    This one includes a medley of nuts along with chocolate covered soynuts and honey roasted sesame sticks.

    Seeing as how all calories are a source of “natural energy” (you could make the case that a 1,200 calorie triple milkshake is “a natural source of energy,”) I have absolutely no clue what the point of this product is.

    The Digestive Health Mix (I hope you are rolling your eyes along with me by this point) “keeps everything moving” by combining “pistachios, almonds, tart cranberries, crunchy granola clusters, and sweet cherries.”

    Fair enough — but the fiber in any of the other mixes (or any serving of nuts, for that matter, no matter what the brand) also keeps things moving.

    What is completely absurd is the presence of high fructose corn syrup. How does that fall into Planters’ creating this with a better “me” in mind?

    I suppose companies will always be looking for the next great way to boost sales, but whoever thought up this new Planters line is, quite frankly, a nut!

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    Quick & Health(ier) Recipes: Vegan Peanut Butter Pie

    Standard peanut butter pie recipes call for generous amounts of cream cheese and frozen whipped topping, resulting in rather decadent nutrition values.

    You’re usually looking at 455 calories, 8 grams of saturated fat (40% of a day’s worth!) and 30 grams (almost 8 teaspoons) of added sugar per slice.

    As much as I love a decadent dessert, wouldn’t it be nice to savor a rich, silky slice of pie that doesn’t pack quite a stomach blow?

    Well, feast your eyes on the following recipe for a vegan peanut butter pie which cuts back on calories, sugar, and saturated fat — but certainly not on taste.

    Before anyone scrunches up their nose and declares it “gross,” you should know that peanut butter pie lovers are shocked when I tell them the slice of pie they are raving about doesn’t contain a single drop of cream cheese or Cool Whip!

    VEGAN PEANUT BUTTER PIE
    Yields: 1 pie (8 slices)

    INGREDIENTS

    1 16-ounce package of silken tofu
    3/4 cup smooth, natural peanut butter
    2 Tablespoons soymilk (unsweetened or plain is best)
    1/2 cup sugar
    1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

    DIRECTIONS

    Add ingredients to food processor and blend until smooth.

    Scoop onto 9″ pie shell (bonus points if it’s oat-based or 100% whole wheat!) and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

    NUTRITION INFORMATION (per slice)

    335 calories
    2.5 grams saturated fat
    12 grams sugar
    11 grams protein

    That’s 120 less calories, two thirds less saturated fat, and half the sugar of a standard recipe.

    Better yet — the peanut butter is a great source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.

    Enjoy!

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    Say What?: You Say "Wholesome," I Say "Really?"

    The Slim-Fast Foods Company describes itself as being “committed to the development of wholesome and balanced nutritional products to aid in weight management and improved health.”

    An interesting description, to say the least, given the ingredient list for their 120-calorie chocolate peanut nougat snack bar:

    Maltitol Syrup, Milk Chocolate Flavored Coating (Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Palm Kernel And Palm Oil, Cocoa (Processed With Alkali), Sugar, Roasted Peanuts (Peanuts, Peanut Oil), Sweetened Condensed Skim Milk (Skim Milk, Sugar), Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Palm Kernel And Soybean), Whey Protein Isolate, Gum Arabic, Malted Milk (Extracts Of Wheat Flour And Malt Barley, Milk, Salt, Sodium Bicarbonate), Nonfat Milk, Salt, Egg Whites, Artificial Flavor, Caramel Color, Soy Lecithin, Maltodextrin, Tbhq And Citric Acid, Vitamins And Minerals (Calcium Phosphate, Calcium Carbonate, Ferric Orthophosphate, Vitamin E Acetate, Ascorbic Acid, Vitamin E Acetate, Niacinamide, Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Pyridoxine Hydrocholoride, Riboflavin, Thiamin Mononitrate, Folic Acid, Biotin, Cholecalciferol (Vitamin D3), Cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B12).

    How a product with partially hydrogenated oils and maltitol syrup (the syrup of a sugar alcohol!) as its first ingredient can be described as ‘wholesome’ beats me.

    You might as well eat a small chocolate bar and pop a multivitamin.

    Why not have a handful (160 calories’ worth) of peanuts instead?

    It’s just as convenient and portable a snack as one of these bars, and doesn’t contribute added sugars or partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) to your day.

    Added bonus if you choose peanuts? Heart-healthy monounsaturated fats!

    By the way, the “40% less sugar” banner on the box of these bars is the result of replacing half the sugar with maltitol (the sugar alcohol most likely to cause bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Yum!)

    Craving chocolate but looking to control calories? Have a 100-calorie chocolate bar, sans sugar alcohols. Savor it, enjoy it, and go about your day.

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    You Ask, I Answer (On YouTube!): Healthy Eating Outside The Home

    How do I start onto the path of eating and living more heathfully? Hopefully, there are others who, like myself, know what they “should” be doing, but don’t know where to begin or what to pay attention to the “most.”

    For example (speaking only for myself here), here is a glimpse of all the food-related thoughts running through my mind daily:

    “Watch your calories, fat, salt, refined sugar, and flour intake…. no fast food/chips/soda/Starbucks mocha whip lattes (sob!)…. pay attention to the glycemic index/volumetrics/South Beach/Weight Watcher/Zone Plan… eat your largest meal early and your lightest meal later… get your daily serving of fruits and vegetables (ha!), fiber, and protein… don’t forget to take your vitamin/calcium suppleent… and put down that ice cream/cookies/cake!!”

    I currently work full-time and go to grad school part-time, so 3 days out of the week I leave my apartment at 8:30 am and don’t get home until after 11:00 pm.

    I work either Saturday or Sunday each week to make up my school hours.

    My eating schedule is seriously out of whack — many times I’ve eaten cold pizza at midnight.

    I struggle with the “healthful vs. convenienc” battle every day.

    And as for cooking? I use my oven as storage space for pots and pans that never get used — I just don’t have the time.

    Any advice?

    – Amie Lemire
    (Location Unknown)

    Great question, Amie.

    People tend to overcomplicate nutrition. If you focus on the basics, though, the rest of your concerns will fall into place.

    Rather than write out a lengthy response, I thought I would use this as an opportunity to debut Small Bites on YouTube!

    You can view my answer below. Be sure to bookmark the Small Bites channel on YouTube, too!

    Readers: I would like to post a YouTube clip every 7 to 10 days.

    Let me know what you would like to see on the channel. Product reviews? Questions and answers? Fad diet critiques? Let your voices be heard!


    Share

    Perfect Pickings: Nut Butters

    Wonderful as spreads on English muffins or dips for Granny Smith apples and celery, nut butters are delicious and pack a good deal of nutrition.

    All varieties — peanut, almond, cashew — provide 180 – 200 calories and 8 grams of protein per 2 tablespoon serving.

    They are also good sources of vitamin E, niacin (Vitamin B3), manganese, and phosphorus.

    Reduced fat nut butters are simply marketing gimmicks. On average, they offer a mere ten less calories than their regular counterparts.

    How so? The small amount of fat that is taken away is replaced with extra carbohydrates (usually double that of regular nut butter).

    The key to finding the healthiest, least processed nut butters is to read the label.

    Brands like Jif and Skippy lis the following ingredients:

    “Roasted Peanuts, Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Oils, Salt.”

    In essence, crushed peanuts with sugar and trans fat.

    No, thanks.

    You can do better than that by reaching for natural nut butters. Their labels tell the tale:

    “Peanuts, Salt.”

    Wow, imagine that!

    If you are buying no-salt-added varieties (which I prefer solely from taste perspective; nut butters with salt offer a very decent 140 milligrams per serving, far from a high-sodium food), the sole ingredient is peanuts.

    Natural nut butters need to be mixed when you first open them, as the oil separates from the solid nut paste.

    After mixing, store in the refrigerator to delay spoilage.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Tofu Spreads

    I haven’t been able to find any nutritional info on the tofu spreads offered at bagel stores.

    I have been using the tofu spreads as an alternative to light or fat free cream cheese, but I don’t know if I am making the best nutritional decision.

    – Jean M.
    New York, NY

    Great question! Often times, we automatically relegate something made with tofu or soy to the “healthy” category. Are we right to do so?

    Let’s consider your question by comparing two tablespoons of regular, low-fat, non-fat, and tofu cream cheese in different categories:

    CALORIES: 101 for regular, 69 for low-fat, 29 for non-fat, and 90 for tofu.

    SATURATED FAT: 6.4 grams for regular, 5.3 for low-fat, 0.4 for non-fat, and 2 for tofu.

    SODIUM: 86 milligrams for regular, 89 for low-fat, 164 for non-fat (remember, if you are completely taking out fat, you need something else for flavor’s sake!), and 115 for tofu.

    CALCIUM: Despite popular belief, cream cheese is not a good source of calcium. 23.2 milligrams for regular, 33.6 for low-fat, 55.5 for non-fat, and 60 for tofu. You should aim for 1,000 milligrams (1 gram) per day.

    As you can see, they are all pretty equal.

    Keep in mind that the average bagel contains 300 – 400 calories and approximately 650 milligrams of sodium (25% of the recommended daily limit).

    If you are looking to add some extra nutrition to it, though, I recommend a tablespoon of peanut/almond/cashew butter, which contains protein (which helps keep you full for longer, especially if your bagel is not made with whole grains and therefore lacking this nutrient), heart-healthy fats, and vitamin E in a 94 calorie package.

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