It’s pretty easy to spare little thought for something so ubiquitous as peanut butter—but not all varieties are created one and the same. Naturally, the dominant ingredient for each and every one of them is the good old peanut: and there’s much to love about it.
As a food source, the peanut has a history that harks back around 7,000 years ago, and it is believed to have originated from South America. In botany, the peanut is unusual as the plant from which it grows sprouts flowers above ground, but the fruit—that is, the peanut—is found below the ground. The peanut is part of the legume family, so they are actually more of a bean than nut (which means only the “pea” part of its name is accurate!). Although humans have eaten peanuts for centuries, the conventional peanut butter of today has only been enjoyed for a little over a hundred years, when machinery made such processing possible. As for peanut butter’s march beyond its native America, it began gaining popularity worldwide only after 1960.
Good for health
If Americans already consume 800 million pounds of peanut butter a year—an amount that would cover the entire floor of the Grand Canyon—how much more for the rest of the world! It seems that we just can’t get enough of the stuff, and that’s no surprise considering how nutritionally dense peanut butter is (there are 30 vitamins and minerals in it). Consider these healthful facts:
♥ Peanuts contain twice the protein of cooked dry beans. Three tablespoons of peanut butter contain 135 grams of protein (about the amount in two eggs or a glass of milk)
♥ Peanuts are a commendable source of dietary fibre. Three tablespoons of peanut butter contain around four grams of fibre (about 8-10 percent of the recommended daily allowance in each serving)
♥ Peanuts have healthy fats. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed the peanuts in peanut butter lowered blood cholesterol levels much like olive oil does. Peanut butter contains monounsaturated fats, which have been shown to lower bad cholesterol (LDL, or low-density lipoprotein), while polyunsaturated fats help raise good cholesterol (HDL, or high-density lipoprotein) levels. Consuming both types of fats aid in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. It also has niacin (vitamin B3) that helps increase HDL levels by as much as 30 percent.
♥ Research done on peanuts has found them to be as loaded with antioxidants as strawberries and blackberries. They also contain more antioxidants than apples and carrots. These antioxidants include heart-beneficial resveratrol (peanuts contain more of it than grapes), as well vitamin E, which is important in immune function and removes toxins that lead to certain cancers. Two tablespoons of peanut butter contain 2.9mg of vitamin E (or 15 percent of the recommended daily amount)
♥ Other nutrients in peanut butter include the mineral zinc (good for repair and the immune system); phosphorous and calcium (essential for bone health); riboflavin and iron (for red-blood cell production); potassium (to regulate blood pressure); magnesium (all-rounder for nerve, muscle and bone health); folate (helps prevent birth defects before and during pregnancy); as well as other B vitamins (vitamins B1 and B6 for all-round body functioning)
That is really quite a list! Unless you have a known allergy to peanuts (which can be fatal and taken very seriously) or arachibutyrophobia—which is the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth, yes, really!—you are best advised to steer clear of this food item.
Despite all of its nutritional benefits, however, there are still some folks who remain doubtful as they are convinced that peanut butter is more unhealthy and fattening than good for the diet. As always, common sense should prevail and eating in moderation helps ensure that you don’t consume too much of a good thing (in the case of peanut butter, that would be calories). Well, how about stuff like salt or sodium? The good news is that two tablespoons of peanut butter contain 200mg of potassium, a nutrient which actually decreases the negative effects of sodium. So even if your peanut butter contains salt, it will still contain twice as much potassium to counter that, while the unsalted variety will have even more!
Nutritionists advise paying close attention to food labels if you want what’s best for your family. Indeed, besides roasted peanuts and salt, you will notice that additional ingredients commonly found in some brands of peanut butter include sugar, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), as well as partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Cottonseed and rapeseed oils are usually used for the latter, and these are added to prevent the liquid and solid components of peanut butter from separating, thus extending shelf life. Unfortunately, the oils also undergo the hydrogenation process, which alters them into harmful trans-fats, which lead to build-up of fatty deposits that clog heart arteries. The other main unhealthy culprit is HFCS, which has no nutritional value and contributes to obesity.
So, what are you to do as a responsible consumer? “Organic peanut butter and peanut butter with few ingredients are the better solution,” advises naturopathic doctor and nutritionist Christina Major. “A good sign of quality in peanut butter is the oil layer on top. The natural oils in the peanut separate once they are ground up and settle on top. If your peanut butter doesn’t do this, it has an emulsifier to keep the oil mixed in. These emulsifiers are anything from eggs to chemicals, so you really need to watch the label.”
The good news is that quality peanut butter is readily and conveniently available at the supermarket. You don’t necessarily have to visit an organic health food store to purchase this item, and neither do you have to spend much more. A great choice is the Smucker’s® brand, which specialises in fruit jams and spreads, and its range of peanut butters include the variants of Natural Chunky, Natural Creamy, Natural with Honey, Natural Creamy with No Salt Added, as well as Reduced Fat Natural Style Creamy. There are also Organic Chunky and Organic Creamy versions, and for the occasional treat, there’s also the fruit jelly options of either Goober® Grape or Strawberry PB&J Stripes.
“Natural” is emphasised in the Smucker’s® varieties of peanut butter, and with good reason. After all, fresh-roasted peanuts make up the main ingredient and every standard 16oz jar contains one percent or less of salt—with no chemical additives or artificial flavourings. (Bet you didn’t know that an 18oz jar already contains approximately 810 peanuts!) Truly, that’s the way to go to incorporate peanut butter healthfully into your family’s diet. What’s more, when you chose whole wheat bread as a base for your peanut butter sandwich, you get even more nutritious bang for your buck as there’s now even more fibre and other essential vitamins and minerals from the whole grains in every mouthful.
Don’t underestimate a simple jar of peanut butter. If no one in the family has a peanut allergy, chances are, most households will have a jar of the stuff in their kitchen. As these recipes demonstrate, peanut butter spread is not just yummy, it’s amazingly versatile to boot!
Peanut Butter Smoothie
- 1 banana, sliced
- 3 tbsp peanut butter
- 1 cup of milk
- ½ cup plain yogurt
1. Blend the banana into the milk until it reaches a smooth consistency.
2. Mix the yogurt and peanut butter together beforehand in a bowl and then add to the blender.
3. Blend until smooth and creamy.
Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
- ½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
- ½ cup chunky or smooth peanut butter
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup packed brown sugar
- 1 egg
- 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. Cream the butter, peanut butter and sugars until light.
3. Add the egg and mix until fluffy.
4. Blend the flour, baking powder, soda and salt together well.
5. Add these dry ingredients to the butter mixture; add the chocolate chips next.
6. Drop cookie dough by teaspoonfuls onto lightly greased baking sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes at 375° F.
Okra with Peanut Butter
- 12-15 okra (ladies fingers)
- 2 tbsps peanut butter
- 1 small onion
- 1 tsp ginger-garlic paste
- 1 tsp red chilli powder
- 1 tsp dry coriander powder
- ½ tsp cumin powder
- ¼ tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- ¼ tsp salt
1. Wash and pan fry the okra then place on a kitchen napkin to soak excess oil.
2. Chop off the head and the tail part of the okra; make a slit on one side from top to the bottom end. Make about 2 inch pieces of ridge gourd and make a slit lengthwise.
3. Peel and chop the onion, then grind into a fine paste.
4. Take a small bowl and add the onion paste, salt, ginger-garlic paste, peanut butter and all the dry spices. Mix well till all the ingredients are well blended.
5. Take a pre-slit okra and fill about 1 teaspoon of the above mixture as stuffing. Repeat the same process with all the rest. Place aside.
6. Heat oil in a flat skillet or pan.
7. Add all the stuffed okras carefully into the hot oil. Cook for a few minutes on medium heat and turn the okras gently, taking care to keep the stuffing in. Cook for another 5 minutes then turn off heat.
8. Garnish the cooked peanut butter okra with fresh coriander leaves and serve them with Indian flat breads or naan.
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