Next time you’re at the store choosing a peanut butter, please grab a natural, organic jar. Your PB should have only one or two ingredients, either peanuts alone or peanuts and salt.
Remember those peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from your childhood? The ones with the creamy Skippy on Wonder Bread with the Smucker’s jelly that tasted more like fruit punch than fruit? Cool, that means you were the kid that I envied. I was the boy staring with stars in his eyes, pining to be you. My dad made his own peanut butter at home and it didn’t spread at all. I had unevenly distributed, semi-chopped peanuts on whole wheat bread. The flavor rivaled that of the cardboard I was learning to breakdance on. You’d think I would get a breather on the jelly, but nay. The concoction I ingested was a sugar free jelly made by a neighbor, before it was understood how to do so properly.
It turns out that my dad was onto something with his PB. I always knew he was before his time.
As we’ve talked about ad nauseam, fat doesn’t make you fat, sugar makes you fat. People are told that the natural sweetness of peanuts isn’t enough, and brands like Skippy, Jif and Peter Pan fill their jars with a boatload of added sugar. From Yo Peanut:
A recent USDA report showed that Americans consume about 1/4 of all their calories from added sugars, and it’s no wonder. Like most popular processed products, regular peanut butter is almost guaranteed to include extra sugar: most of that unrestricted percentage of ingredients is typically sweeteners. They aren’t always labeled as sugar, either– be on the lookout for high fructose corn syrup or even molasses. Peanut butters labeled as “low-fat” are particularly likely to have extra sweeteners. Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with real sugar, but eating too much of it may lead to weight gain and health problems like type II diabetes, and the fact that the market is saturated with products full of added sugar makes it harder to maintain your health.
I have some good news for you (with a caveat). Most major brands now have “natural” versions of their product. When advising loved ones who are picky about consistency, I always say that these are a better choice than the really nasty stuff. But beware – while these versions are better, they still aren’t ideal. For example, Jif’s healthier option lists peanuts, sugar, palm oil, salt, and molasses on its label.
Peanuts and salt are cool but the rest of the ingredients are unnecessary. While palm oil may have a neutral impact on us nutritionally, the same can’t be said about it’s net effect on the environment. From Say No to Palm Oil:
The (palm oil) industry is linked to major issues such as deforestation, habitat degradation, climate change, animal cruelty and indigenous rights abuses in the countries where it is produced, as the land and forests must be cleared for the development of the oil palm plantations. According to the World Wildlife Fund, an area the equivalent size of 300 football fields of rainforest is cleared each hour to make way for palm oil production. This large-scale deforestation is pushing many species to extinction, and findings show that if nothing changes species like the orangutan could become extinct in the wild within the next 5-10 years, and Sumatran tigers less than 3 years.
Peanuts make delicious butter on their own. When ground appropriately, the result is a deliciously creamy spread. Plus, they are absolutely packed with health benefits. From whfoods.com:
In addition to their monounsaturated fat content, peanuts feature an array of other nutrients that, in numerous studies, have been shown to promote heart health. Peanuts are good sources of vitamin E, niacin, folate, protein and manganese. In addition, peanuts provide resveratrol, the phenolic antioxidant also found in red grapes and red wine that is thought to be responsible for the French paradox: the fact that in France, people consume a diet that is not low in fat, but have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared to the U.S. With all of the important nutrients provided by nuts like peanuts, it is no wonder that numerous research studies, including the Nurses’ Health Study that involved over 86,000 women, have found that frequent nut consumption is related to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
So there you have it. Fully natural peanut butter > the processed stuff.
Dad, if you’re reading this, thank you. Despite my childhood embarrassment, you were right.