March 17, 2014

LANDSMAN | Peanut Butter: Crunchy or Smooth?

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For some reason, as a vegan the subject of peanut butter comes up quite often in conversation. This past summer while I was talking to a friend about my veganism and my infatuation with peanut butter, a woman interrupted me to inform me that peanut butter was bad for me and that I should never eat it. Being that I was younger and shier, I just stood there with a blank face, unable to rebut her claim.

Now that it’s seven months later, I think it’s time to get the facts straight. As with any food – chocolate, pancakes and even carrots – moderation is key. Should I be consuming the amount of peanut butter I do? Probably not. Could peanut butter be beneficial with some self-control? Absolutely!

One of the main arguments against the healthiness of peanut butter is that it contains saturated fats. (Saturated fats increase both LDL (bad cholesterol) and HDL (good cholesterol) levels.) This is correct; it does indeed have saturated fats! But did you know that saturated fats are also found in all animal products and most oils? According to the FDA, less than 20 grams of saturated fat should be consumed daily. 20 grams of saturated fat would be equivalent to 12 tablespoons of peanut butter, three hamburgers or four slices of cheese. To fully deduce whether a food is “healthy,” all of its nutrients should be taken into consideration. 80 percent of peanut butter’s fat is unsaturated, which is shown to reduce LDL levels (the “bad” cholesterol) and decrease the risk for heart disease. The potassium to sodium ratio is also important. According to an interview with Harvard professor Dr. Willett, “Unsalted peanut butter has five milligrams of sodium and a terrific potassium to sodium ratio. Salted peanut butter still has about twice more potassium as sodium. That profile compares quite favorably with bologna, roast beef and many other sandwich fixings.”

Another big concern about peanut butter is its high caloric density. Although comparatively, peanut butter has just as many calories as other sandwich fillers, there are some smart ways to make the filling less dense. Adding mashed banana, pumpkin puree or applesauce can lower the calories from 100 per tablespoon to just 50 calories per tablespoon.

So, what are the benefits of eating peanut butter? Aside from being delicious and making people happy, peanut butter also contains protein, fiber, potassium, magnesium, manganese, vitamin B-6 and omega fatty acids. The condiment is definitely good for you in moderation. The real question comes down to this – which do you prefer more, chunky or smooth?