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  • 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.

    The two brands that kept coming up in e-mails and tweets were Better’n Peanut Butter and PB2.

    Better’n Peanut Butter “boasts” an 85 percent reduction in fat grams and a 40 percent reduction in total calories. While a 2-tablespoon serving of peanut butter contains 16 grams of fat and 200 calories, their product clocks in at 2 grams of fat and 100 calories. According to the folks at Better’n Peanut Butter, “those regular high calorie, high fat peanut butters won’t cut it”.

    In reality, extremely low-fat peanut butter doesn’t cut it. One of the main nutritional highlights of peanut butter is its high oleic acid content (the same heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acid prominent in olive oil, avocados, almonds, and pecans that has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and beneficial cardiovascular effects).

    Decreasing peanut butter’s monounsaturated fat content by 85 percent makes as much sense as stripping away most of the soluble fiber from oats or  calcium from kale.

    Better’n Peanut Butter’s unnecessarily-convoluted ingredient list should be enough to make you reach for real peanut butter:

    “Peanuts (as defatted peanut flour and natural peanut butter), tapioca syrup, pure water, dehydrated cane juice, rice syrup, vegetable glycerin, soy flour, salt, tapioca starch, natural food flavors, paprika & annato, calcium carbonate, lecithin, vitamin E & C (antioxidants)”

    The folks at PB2, meanwhile, mention that “ingredients include roasted peanuts, salt, and sugar”. There are no other additives, they claim. Instead, they simply press roasted peanuts and squeeze 85% of the oil out. Again — what a shame.

    These “enhanced” and “diet-friendly” peanut butter products stem from outdated low-fat dogma and strict calorie counting taken to an extreme. Skip them; eat actual peanuts and buy real peanut butter (heck, if you have a high-powered blender like the Vitamix, grind your own).

    When in doubt, always remember my food mantra: “keep it real and keep it simple”.

    UPDATE: I was asked about “Naturally More” peanut butter in the comments section.

    Billed as “what peanut butter should be”, it advertises 50 percent more fiber, 25 percent more protein, and 20 percent fewer carbohydrates (the latter is rather silly, considering peanut butter is not even moderately high in carbohydrates).

    The ingredient list reveals:

    Roasted Peanuts, Wheat Germ, Flax Seed, Cane Sugar, Egg Whites, Honey, Flaxseed Oil

    Meh. While it is nice to see peanuts’ fat remain intact, all this tinkering and “enhancement” is unnecessary. Let peanut butter be peanut butter.

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    11 Comments

    1. megan said on March 2nd, 2012

      I purchased a vitamix in August and have been making my peanut butter since that time. It is really delicious! I enjoy adding a little honey, some ginger or whatever else strikes my fancy.

    2. Leslie said on March 2nd, 2012

      Andy, what do you think of “Naturally More” brand peanut butter. I love it! It has the following ingredients: Roasted Peanuts, Wheat Germ, Flax Seed, Cane Sugar, Egg Whites, Honey, Flaxseed Oil. According to the website it has “fewer calories and packed full of Omega-3, 25% more protein and 50% more fiber than regular brands, Naturally More is what peanut butter should be.”

    3. Andy Bellatti said on March 2nd, 2012

      Leslie,

      Meh. We should let peanut butter be peanut butter. It simply doesn’t need all this tinkering. Why add egg whites for more protein when a serving of peanut butter already contains a respectable 7 grams? Why add cane sugar?

    4. Brandon said on March 2nd, 2012

      I like this article and I fully agree. Have you tried reduced fat peanut butter? It is not worth it. What a waste of Calories, taste/texture/satisfaction wise.

    5. Debbie T said on March 2nd, 2012

      haha, you scared me. I thought you were writing about literally “better” peanut butters, like no-salt/sugar added, organic brands. I thought you’d be telling me there is some deep dark secret.

      Thankfully I misunderstood, phew, I love my peanut butter.

      but I’m glad to learn more about these PB2-type products.

    6. Kate said on March 2nd, 2012

      I literally just shouted and shook my fist at the computer: “Why is there glycerin in it!? Why is there flour in it!? Why… PAPRIKA??”

    7. Lauren Slayton said on March 3rd, 2012

      I think PB2 is the most misleading because of seemingly good ingredients. If people want to watch fat and calories have 1 tbs of pb instead of 2, how’s that for novelty?

    8. Leslie said on March 5th, 2012

      I think peanut butter in the US is different than PB in Canada. We don’t have labelling laws requiring companies to disclose percentage of peanuts (nor do we have laws requiring a certain percentage of a PB product to be peanuts in order to call itself peanut butter).

      BUT, from what I’ve seen, we really have three types of peanut butter here (smooth/chunky aside). There’s classic “peanut butter” which generally has added stuff in it (i.e., palm oil, sugar, salt, etc.). There is light peanut butter which seems to be about the same except probably replacing some of the peanut with sugar.

      And then there’s natural peanut butter which is pretty much just 100% peanuts. It’s usually pretty prominently advertised on the label (100% peanuts) and has nothing else added. It’s easy to find here. That’s all I buy, but it seems that the PB aisle in the states is full of lots of pseudo-natural imposters that still contain lots of extra stuff in ‘em.

      My only wish is that we could figure out some way to keep the natural stuff from separating. Love the flavour, hate the stirring, and especially hate that first stir, because I always get oil EVERYWHERE. It’s not so bad once you stir and refrigerate, but that first stir gets me every time!

    9. Kat said on March 11th, 2012

      Hey Andy!

      Any thoughts on the new reports on arsenic in brown rice and brown rice syrup?

      Thanks!

    10. Lisa said on March 13th, 2012

      Leslie,

      I don’t think peanut butter is too much different in the States than it is in Canada. We actually don’t have laws requiring the disclosure of the percentage of peanuts, but we do have laws that forbid products with less than 90% peanuts from labeling themselves as peanut butter, which generally only includes the “reduced fat” varieties. Peanut butters with 100% peanuts are also readily available.

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