An Answer to the “Gourmet” Nut-Butter Craze

May 23, 2017 in Foodland, General, Health, Mediterranean, Uncategorized by Joyce Bunderson

Certainly, we’ve written plenty about the benefits of pulses, beans, and legumes; three of the words that represent a very healthy group of foods central to the Mediterranean-style of eating. This exceptional group of foods, including beans, lentils, and peanuts is finally getting some excellent press; and for that I’m grateful. It always makes me happy to see healthy foods in the news. It’s nice to see whole foods, loaded with nutrients, including fiber and protein, get some press. Today, I’m looking at the little ground nut – goober; yes, peanut. It was genetically traced back to Bolivia, just last year. So it’s a very old food; maybe 10,000 years old.

Many of you realize by now that the food processors are smart people. They’re way ahead of you if you’re thinking that peanut butter IS JUST peanut butter. Silly person! If your job is to make money, and you’re in the food processing business, you realize that you can take a product as traditionally inexpensive as peanuts and replace some of the fat with cheaper palm oil and add a load of sugar. Then hype it to us with by advertising the term “gourmet” and “dessert” and sell your cheaper-to-make version for a higher price. Some are even adding white flour; check out trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter. We’re talking cheap ingredients – much cheaper than peanuts. Increasing profits is a good thing, if you’re a shareholder; but this site is about healthy eating.

One way the food processors can win you over as a customer, is to make something easier to use or tastier. So cheap salt and sugar are a given – that’s a no-brainer to enhance taste. Second, stirring in some palm oil or partially hydrogenated oil helps the peanut butter from separating, while paring down the cost of ingredients. I know it’s kind of a pain to have to stir the oil into the ground peanut solids when you buy the natural stuff; but if you put it into the fridge after doing that, it will stay stirred for a very long time. I think it is worth the effort to not have to have sources of trans fat or so much saturated fat in peanut butter that has added oils. If you buy peanut butter with no additives and use the stir and refrigerate method, you can scoop what you need onto a little plate and microwave for a few seconds and voila – it’s nicely spreadable without ripping your bread.

In my growing up years, peanut butter was considered a budget-friendly and easy food. But now days, nut butters have gone gourmet. Some of the food processors even name their nut butters with dessert names; case in point: Nuts N More’s Cookie Butter. Color me dumbfounded! I realize that by shopping at the grocery store and just picking up my jar of Adam’s All-Natural Peanut Butter, that I’m missing out on what I could find on GNC and Vitamin Shoppe’s shelves. GNC and Vitamin Shoppe, What are you thinking? Oh, I know; your job is to make a buck and keeping peanut butter’s healthy image makes that easier.

Just in case you’ve not discovered the gourmet peanut butters, let me share my first observations. In order for the Nuts N More people to slam a “high protein” banner across the front of their label, they simply mix in a load of whey protein. Whey, the by-product of cheese production, can be dried and cheaply added to the ground peanuts. Be sure that the recipient of your sandwich does not suffer from lactose intolerance. The whey adds to the sweetness of the cookie butter. But if that was not enough, the processors add cane sugar (regular sucrose – table sugar) plus xylitol (a polyol that causes some, including myself, to have serious GI distress.) I admit I have not tasted this product and have no plans to do so; but I know I could vouch for it to be a true representative of the label – Cookie Butter! Holy Mackerel!!! Just one more, please? Doesn’t salted caramel sound like candy? It’s a $12.00 peanut spread like Cookie Butter. OK, I’ll stop and won’t go on with other gourmet-ized sugary peanut butters; Birthday Cake; Toffee Crunch or White Chocolate. Or Cookies ‘n Cream and Chocolate Cheesecake from Jif. I’m not making this stuff up. But what I have discovered is that my speed shopping skipped right over this stuff in the regular market. That way, my Dr. Grandma’s critical evaluation of the contents wasn’t needed to reject it.

What you really need to know it that peanut butter and good old-fashioned dessert Nutella has been passed up by highly processed stuff. I think everyone knew that Nutella was a treat – dessert. It has more added sugar (five teaspoons) plus palm oil than it has nuts (hazelnuts). But some of the labels of the new generation peanut butters present themselves as some kind of health food – “high protein” spread.

This is what is kind of amusing to me; I switched to Adams Peanut Butter years ago because I didn’t want the added partially-hydrogenated (trans fats) or palm oil; or sugar from products like Jif, Peter Pan or Skippy. But those products generally have a trifling 1 or 2 grams of added sugar to the naturally occurring 1 or 2 grams from the nuts. Some of the new nut butters have 10 grams of added sugars. If you’re trying to keep your sugar intake under 100 calories/day for women; or 150 for men – there’s 40 calories in just one serving of some of the sweet spreads.

Let me be clear. When I’m encouraging you to increase your intake of legumes, including peanuts, I’m really not talking about the sugar-loaded stuff - the new “gourmet” nut butters. They may masquerade as healthy nut butters but maybe the first step is just to be aware that they’re out there. One website provides a list of the nine best brands. The brands that I’m familiar with are Adams 100% Natural Peanut Butter; Smucker’s Natural Peanut Butter and Justin’s Classic Almond Butter. And if you have the time you can grind your own nuts/peanuts – that’s always an option. Peanuts and peanut butter are an old, nourishing and delicious food. Enjoy Good Old-Fashioned Peanut Butter!