This week’s topic was chosen by Lisa (employee here at the Heart & Vascular Institute). Lisa had mentioned that her 12 year old son just loves to eat peanut butter and if he’s able, would even eat an entire jar of it daily. This is a very common ‘staple’ that I hear of many people consuming on a daily basis and they end up wanting to know first off, if it is healthy to consume that much peanut butter and if so, what kind? Though Lisa’s son doesn’t have any weight issues, she was concerned about the variety in his diet. I told her that I agreed, he should be consuming more of a variety of healthy fats rather than relying so much on peanut butter to get the majority of his daily fat intake.
This then brings up the question of how healthy peanut butter overall really is. Well, just like any food group, too much of it can be unhealthy since everything in the body works within a delicate balance. When we consume too many food groups that are considered inflammatory (such as processed ‘junk food’, flours, sugars, conventional meats (not grass-fed), vegetable oils (cottonseed, soybean, sunflower/safflower, all hydrogenated oils) and peanut butter, the body would need to have more anti-inflammatory food groups such as vegetables, grass-fed products and other omega-3 containing foods to help with that balance. Though inflammation is a whole other topic in itself, it is important to be aware of the balance of the foods we eat.
When it comes to ingesting fats, I am all for it. I could easily say that fats may be the most important macronutrient since science tells us our bodies are meant to use fat as our primary fuel source, not an overabundance of carbohydrates. Quality proteins and complex carbohydrates are needed- but I do like to emphasize healthy fats since most information we hear now regarding fats is that we should be focusing on low-fat or no-fat products. Our country has built up such a fear surrounding all foods containing any amount of fat that many people try to almost completely avoid them- this is very harmful to the body for many reasons. There is a separate article I have written titled ‘All About Fats’, which goes into more detail on this topic than I will get into here, but it is definitely worth reading about the benefits of healthy fats from quality sources (not from companies just trying to sell their low-fat products).
Just as amino acids from proteins comprise a portion of every cell in the body, so do fatty acids from fats. Fats make up a good portion of what the brain is made of as well as helping to create your hormones and to keep them in balance. Consuming adequate healthy fats is particularly important for a growing child as well. Consuming fats keeps us full and satiated while not having to worry about blood sugar fluctuations the way you would when consuming carbohydrates (specifically processed carbs) for your main fuel source. For Your Information- anything that breaks down into sugar in the body (all carbohydrates) will utilize the hormone insulin to keep the blood sugar in normal range and anytime insulin is present- you are not burning fat.
There are real benefits to consuming adequate amounts of fat in the diet, including blood sugar regulation, better mood, less cravings (the body can make the saturated fat it needs from ingesting carbohydrates- so if you are continually craving carbohydrates, try giving your body what it really needs- healthy fats) From diabetes to heart disease, one of the large missing links is healthy fat- our body simply needs to consume fat to run efficiently. The question then, is not whether we should be consuming fat or not, it is rather what types of fat we should consume to make the most of this nutrient dense food.
Back to the peanut butter- I believe the idea behind eating peanut butter is a healthy one- peanut butter is filling, it fulfills our taste buds, and it seems like a great addition to many different food items. Peanut butter is also the one fat that America seems to be okay with eating- which is great. However, there is no reason we need to rely more on peanut butter than other potentially healthier forms of fat. As mentioned above, peanut butter tends to be more inflammatory, which is never good for the inside of the body if it is not counter balanced with other anti-inflammatory foods. If you’d like to decrease the content of the omega-6 (inflammatory) fatty acid content- an idea is to pour out the excess oil and instead replace it with some macadamia nut oil or some other type of oil that is known to have a healthy ratio of fat. Also, just like most nut-butters, most peanut butters are roasted and nuts in general are not meant to be heated, so consuming large amounts of the typical nut butters is likely to not be healthy if only for that reason (there are some raw nut butter options available). If you’d like me to get even more technical, nut butters at their finest should be germinated as well.
What does it mean for a nut to be germinated you ask? Simply put, nuts and grains have something called phytic acid, which stops us from absorbing the valuable nutrients in the nuts and grains. To counter this, we must soak our grains/nuts/seeds for a few hours in water with some sea salt or other means (you can easily search on the internet for proper ways to soak and germinate your seeds/nuts or check out the book: ‘Nourishing Traditions’ by Sally Fallon). Another option to get around phytic acid is to just go ahead and purchase nuts and nut butters that have already been germinated so that all you need to do is enjoy the quality nutrients that come from consuming nuts through those means. Although there are other companies out there that sell sprouted nut butter, Blue Mountain Organics seems to be very high quality. If you can’t find any sprouted/germinated nut butters at health food stores- let them know and usually they are open to ordering new items.
The far better option than to continually pay the higher price for germinated nut butters is to just put the extra money it costs to purchase sprouted nut products into instead purchasing a dehydrator. With a dehydrator you can easily make your own healthy nuts and nut butters (along with a plethora of other healthy snacks) and once you have the dehydrator, you can do this at a fraction of the cost. I do realize, however, that for most people, worrying about whether the nut butter is sprouted/germinated is not the top priority, but I did need to throw this info in there to help make you aware of what exactly the healthiest forms of nuts can be.
When it comes to nut butters in the normal spectrum of the everyday grocery store, plain nut butter is always best (you may add your own seasonings at home). Nut butters tend to have added salt and sugar so one must pay attention to the label and read the ingredients thoroughly. The other hidden ingredient a lot of nut butters (as well as processed ‘junk’ food) contain is ‘hydrogenated oil’, ‘partially hydrogenated oil’, and ‘trans fats’. All of these words listed basically mean the same thing- bad, toxic, artery clogging fat. I must point out here that ‘Jif’ uses hydrogenated oils in most of their peanut butter products, which very much concerns me in regards to Jif being marketed to children or human beings in general for that matter. You may find more natural nut butters at health food stores as well as a few random brands dispersed throughout Meijer/Kroger and other similar stores.
One more important point to take into account is that peanuts tend to be contaminated with a carcinogenic mold called ‘aflatoxin’ (on Dr. Mercola’s website he states that peanuts grown in Mexico have not been found to be contaminated with this mold due to the dryer climate). The company ‘Arrowhead Mills’ gets their peanuts from Mexico- an organic peanut butter from them would be a great option and being organic, it would also skip the toxic pesticides normally a part of peanut butter if it is non-organic.
Moral of the story: vary your nut butters so as to give your body different nutrients and prevent food sensitivities, avoid eating peanut butter as a staple but instead replace some of those calories with other healthy fats such as avocado, grass-fed butter/ghee/yogurt/kefir/whole milk/coconut oil/olive oil/germinated nuts, and grass-fed meats. If purchasing regular store brand nut-butter, as mentioned above, you can purchase a ‘plain’ one to be sure there are no unhealthy additives and then add your own healthy sea salt (compared to typical table salt), turbinado sugar or raw honey/coconut sap (compared to typical processed white sugar) and maybe even some nutritional yeast for added protein. All in all, nuts can be a healthy food, I just wouldn’t solely rely on them since everything has a good and a bad side and just simply needs to be kept in balance.