Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Food Review: Natural Peanut Butter

As long as you don't suffer from a peanut allergy, peanut butter is amazingly tasty, a rock-solid partner in weight management, and extremely versatile. Today I will focus on natural peanut butter, which is peanut butter in its purest form without added sugar and unidentifiable ingredients that keep it shelf-stable for an eternity.

Years ago I switched from good old Skippy to natural peanut butter. At first bite, I didn't like it. A few more tries and I was hooked. Yes, you do have to keep the natural stuff refrigerated. Plus, you must mix the oil into the peanut butter. Don't dump out that oil or you may end up with hard, crumbly peanut butter in a few days. When comparing natural vs. regular peanut butters, the nutrition labels are not that different from each other. However, there are minimal additives and preservatives in natural peanut butter, which is why it must be refrigerated after opening. You can get the same health benefits from natural or regular peanut butter; however, you will get added oils, sugars, and other preservatives from the regular stuff.

Peanuts offer a wealth of health benefits. Chock-full of monounsaturated fat, this fat can help lower your total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol, plus raise your HDL (good) cholesterol. The end result may be a decrease in the risk of coronary heart disease. Peanuts are a great source of Vitamin E, niacin, phosphorous, magnesium and fiber. Big deal, right? What the heck does all of this mean?
  • Niacin - According to researchers from the Chicago Health and Aging project, subjects consuming approximately 22mg of niacin/day were 70 percent less likely to have developed Alzheimer's disease (Morris et al., 2004).
  • Vitamin E - This powerful antioxidant can help fight free radical damage, aiding in the prevention of diseases such as cancer.
  • Magnesium - This mineral may help control hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
  • Phosphorous - It is required for bone and tooth structure, plus works in energy metabolism.
  • Fiber - Helps to manage blood glucose (sugar) levels, keeps us full longer, aids in constipation relief and overall digestive health.
This tasty childhood treat can be a weight-watchers secret weapon to fight hunger. If I have a late dinner reservation, I eat a spoonful of peanut butter to take the edge off my growling tummy. This way I don't show up to the restaurant and inhale the bread basket. The unsaturated fat, protein and fiber content is what makes peanut butter satisfying. One tablespoon of peanut butter is approximately 100 calories, 8g of fat, 4g of protein and 1.5 g of fiber. Compare this to eating a 100-calorie snack pack of crackers, where you get virtually no heart-healthy fat, protein or fiber. What does this mean? The crackers will go through your system quickly, leaving you unsatisfied and looking for more food fast. The 100-calories of peanut butter will go through your digestive system slowly, keeping you full longer.

So how can you enjoy PB? Here's some ways I like to do it up:
  • 1-2 tablespoons on whole wheat toast, English muffin or whole grain waffle with a sliced 1/2 banana
  • Mix 2 teaspoons into oatmeal
  • 1-2 tablespoons with apple slices
  • Spread 1-2 tablespoons in a whole grain wrap for an afternoon snack
  • Spread on some graham crackers
  • Use in a Thai recipe (e.g., peanut sauce)
  • Eat it straight out of the jar!
Here's my weight-watcher warning: don't go overboard. Too much of a good thing can be detrimental to your waistline. I recommend about 2 tablespoons for a serving per day. You won't increase the health benefits by eating half of the jar. You'll only be increasing the amount of fat and calories you consume for the day. Although healthy, even healthy fat and calories add to your daily bottom line (and your bottom).

My personal PB favorites: Nature's Promise Organic Crunchy peanut butter (a Stop & Shop brand; see photo) and Naturally More peanut butter (fortified with flax seed and flax oil so it has a sweet and nutty flax taste with a mild crunch).

One last thing: don't forget some water or low-fat milk for washing it down!

NOTE: The peanut recall scare has simmered down at this point. If you are concerned, visit:
Ehrensberger, B.S. (2007, July). Peanut Butter: Power-Packed Nutrition. Retrieved July 8, 2009, from Web site:

Hookham, J (2007, May). Nutrition 101 - Magnesium. Retrieved July 8, 2009, from Healthcastle Web site:

Hookham, J (2007, June). Nutrition 101 - Phosphorous. Retrieved July 8, 2009, from Web site:

Morris MC, Evans DA, Bienias JL, Scherr PA, Tangney CC, Hebert LE, Bennett DA, Wilson RS, Aggarwal N. Dietary niacin and the risk of incident Alzheimer's disease and of cognitive decline. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2004 Aug;75(8):1093-9. 2004. PMID:15258207.

The World's Healthiest Foods: Peanuts (2001-2009). Retrieved July 8, 2009, from The World's Healthiest Foods Web site:

Tsang, G (2004, December). Fats 101: How to tell Good Fats and Bad Fats. Retrieved July 8, 2009, from Web site:

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