Peanut Butter: Health Food or Detrimental to Your Health
by Noor H. Salem, Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach
I can’t count how many clients have asked regarding whether peanut butter is a healthy choice to add to their diet or food that’s better to avoid. Unfortunately, the majority of people pair peanut butter with unhealthy jams or jellies loaded with refined sugar, and extremely processed toast bread. Or perhaps greatly enjoy peanut butter cookies, which may be full of bleached and enriched flours, added sugars, hydrogenated oils, and unwanted preservatives.
While peanut butter and other nuts or nut kinds of butter are high in fat, I numerously remind my clients these are in fact wonderful fats for your health. These healthy fats, from sources like raw nuts or seeds, extra virgin olive oil, fatty fish, grass-fed butter, avocadoes, nut butter, organic coconut oil, and so forth, do not only provide slow absorption and satiety, but they also contain polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids. These healthy fats curb your cravings, keep you full longer, have cardiovascular benefits, have vital antioxidants and nutrients, allow you to better absorb nutrients, are great for your memory, and have anti-inflammatory benefits. I’m sure you’ve experienced eating peanut butter, only to feel full for several hours afterward. Yes, you may thank the fat content. Besides being high in healthy fats, nuts are also high in protein and essential minerals. So should you purchase “all-natural,” “organic,” or regular nut butter? Well, the issue isn’t with the nuts, but also the hydrogenated oils and other ingredients added.
Many popular brands carry “simple” versions of peanut butter, but unfortunately, even these may include genetically modified oils, sugar, and salt. Although there are many great brands I can recommend, like Once Again Nut Butters, I cannot easily tell you to avoid certain brands completely. The easiest way to recognize if your peanut butter is a good option is to read the ingredients. If you find partially hydrogenated oil or fully hydrogenated oil on the ingredient list, hasten to put that back on the shelf. It’s recognized as a Trans-fat, and you don’t want to be putting this into your mouth, let alone your body. Partially or fully hydrogenated oils literally means hydrogen was shot into the oils in an industrial manner to change the compounds and make these oils solid at room temperature. This allows the food to last longer, stay softer, and taste better. Inconsolably, it’s a lose-lose situation. Yes, the product may last much longer on the store shelves or in your pantry, or it may be smooth and moist when you bite into it, but it’s not the best choice for optimum health.
Hydrogenated oils are linked to various health risks, including heart disease, high cholesterol, and even allergies, and they are one of the ingredients I advise my clients to avoid for themselves, and especially for younger children. I assure you that your peanut butter, or other favorite nut butter, will taste just as great without the hydrogenated oil. Look for unsweetened peanut butter, again by merely reading the ingredient list. Although it’s preferable, cashew butter, almond butter, and sunflower seed butter don’t need to organic. Make sure to read the label though for unwanted ingredients. Conversely, I would recommend you purchase peanuts certified organic. The USDA organic label will assure you the product is free of hydrogenated oils, sweeteners, genetically modified ingredients, and other harmful additives.
Importantly, if you purchase peanut butter and see the oil floating on top, it’s in fact a great sign! This means the product does not include any hydrogenated oils or any other oil. Many organic nut butter are pre-stirred, so don’t make this visual the only factor in your decision making when purchasing them. Also, do not toss out the oil at the top, but instead, stir it in slowly with a butter knife to enjoy all of the benefits the oil contains.
Aside from nut kinds of butter, eating raw nuts for a snack is indeed a great choice. As I’ve stated, they grant you satiety, reduce cravings, and taste great, too. Purchase dry roasted nuts or raw nuts, and toast them yourself at home. You simply place them on a baking sheet and allow them to toast on low heat for several minutes. Please be aware though, some nuts require more baking time, thus it’s not best to mix them for baking. While almonds just take ten minutes to reach their peak taste, other nuts like walnuts or hazelnuts will require longer oven time for that perfect crunch. Pistachios and smaller nuts like pine nuts will quickly toast as well, so once again, try to separate them when toasting. Once all your nuts toast, toss them into a bowl and mix them. Add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and Himalayan pink salt for a perfectly delicious snack. You may store any extras in an air-tight glass container for future cravings.
Debunk the myth that nuts are not a portion of healthy food, and incorporate more of them into your diet. You can toss almond butter into your morning smoothie, or atop your steel cut oats. Or you can just make a cashew butter sandwich, or eat it with celery as a snack. There is a myriad of ways you could consume nuts really, get creative! Remember don’t fear to consume healthy fats, read your nut butter labels, consume raw nuts more often, and don’t give up on your way to a healthier lifestyle.
Noor H. Salem is an author, speaker, and Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, from Michigan. Noor works with clients in better understanding their bodies and healing with natural foods through her wellness practice, Holistic Noortrition. She presents various workshops, school lectures, group coaching classes, and community lectures on the topic of holistic health. Noor recently published her book, SUNNAH SUPERFOODS, a culmination of life-changing recipes and remedies, with a foreword by Dr. Waleed Basyouni. Her book consists of prophetic hadith, modern research, and delicious recipes, and is in the process of being translated into other language.