Clients, family members, and friends often ask me whether peanut butter can really be a part of their daily diet when it is so high in fat. My answer is always the same: “Yes, but keep in mind …” So when my sister-in-law recently told me that she and her friends have been conversing about which type of peanut butter is best and whether they can enjoy it guilt-free, I decided it was time to fill everyone in on the … part of the answer.
Before I get there though, let me explain why peanuts and the yummy spread are A-Ok.
- Nuts are high in good fat. Everyone knows that nuts are high in fat, but unlike other foods that are filled with unhealthy, saturated and trans fats, nuts and their spreadable counterparts are full of healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats. These fats help lower your LDL,”bad,” cholesterol, and increase your HDL, “good,” cholesterol, as opposed to the saturated and trans fats, which raise the bad and lower the good (which I briefly explained in Spread This the other day).
- They’re full of nutrients. Nuts contain vitamin E, niacin, folate, and resveratrol, an antioxidant found mostly in red grapes and red wine.
- They’re good sources of protein. The protein/fat combo of nuts helps you stay full and keeps your blood sugar levels from peaking and crashing, which can happen when you eat foods with too much sugar.
Now that you know why I advocate nuts and their spreads, keep in mind …
- Nuts are high in good fat (but it’s still fat). I know I said this before in a positive light, but nuts are a double-edged sword. The fat is the good kind, but too much fat, like anything, doesn’t do a body good. So portion control is key when it comes to enjoying your childhood favorite. When it comes to nut butters, you want to stick to a 1-2 tablespoon portion (this will depend on your calorie needs for the day). This may not seem like a lot, but a little bit goes a long way.
- Not all nut butters are alike. Go to the supermarket and you’ll find dozens of peanut butter choices. Creamy, crunchy, natural, organic, reduced-fat, and every combo thereof. In terms of calories and total fat, all these options are alike — the reduced-fat options aren’t much lower in total fat than the regular varieties (12 grams vs 16 grams). The important decision to make is between “regular,” processed brands, such as Skippy and Jif, and those that are natural. What about organic? Most brands that are organic are natural. But if you come across one that is not, check out the ingredients. Just because it’s organic doesn’t mean it’s better for you. The natural brands have less sugar and less saturated fat. Why? Because proccessed peanut butter (and other nut butters) are made with sugar, corn syrup, and hydrogenated oils. This last ingredient is the worst one of all. It is pure trans fat and it’s what keeps the peanut butter solid and shelf stable. Natural peanut butter, on the other hand, usually contains only one ingredient: peanuts. Since there is nothing else mixed in, the natural peanut butter has a layer of oil on top and will not last forever. Often natural peanut butter also has no sodium because salt isn’t added to it. Because of the lack of preservatives in the natural kind, you must remember my next point.
- Natural peanut butter needs to be refrigerated. Once you open a jar of natural peanut butter it needs to go in the fridge to stay fresh. The first thing you need to do before you can enjoy the spread is stir it up. You may be tempted to pour out the oil, but don’t do it! If you do, your peanut butter will be hard as a rock the next time you go to use it. It may take a few stirrings for the oil to stay mixed in to the peanut butter, but don’t give up. After a few uses the peanut butter will be easily spreadable.
- It takes some time getting used to. I often hear complaints from people just starting out on natural peanut butter that it’s not sweet enough or it’s too oily. I always tell them to give it time. Just like any new food, your taste buds need time to adjust to the new, more natural flavor. Soon enough you won’t be able to tell the difference! Case in point, my husband, who was very reluctant to give up his Skippy, now loves natural peanut butter.
- Natural peanut butter may not be at your local supermarket. You may need to go to an organic or whole-foods type of market to find the good stuff, but it’s worth the trip.
My two favorite brands of natural peanut butter are Yum Nature All Natural Organic Peanut Butter and Brad’s Organic Peanut Butter. If these aren’t sold near you, don’t worry. Try different natural brands until you find one you love! Here are my favorite ways to enjoy it:
- Top a whole-grain waffle or 100% whole wheat toast with a spread of peanut butter and serve with berries or a piece of fruit.
- Slice an apple or pear and top with peanut butter.
- Try a grown-up version of Ants on a Log. Fill celery sticks with peanut butter and top with currants instead of raisins.
- Spread peanut butter on whole wheat graham crackers with a drizzle of honey on top.
- For a decadent dessert heat up peanut butter and pour over low-fat ice cream or frozen yogurt. It’s kind of like the peanut butter sauce you used to get on your sundaes, only a lot less unhealthy!