Go p(nuts)! PB is actually good for you

Peanut-butter lovers of the world, rejoice!  This humble legume, in the form of an easy-to-eat spread, has recently earned some noteworthy praise.

First, one of the food industry’s harshest critics, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), has just celebrated the virtues of peanut butter.  In the October 2013 issue of its publication, Nutrition Action, CSPI notes that peanut butter–a lunchbox classic and a staple in 90 percent of U.S. households–is loaded with unsaturated fat, vitamin E, and magnesium, and it supplies some copper, fiber, and zinc as well.  (Some must steer clear of PB because of peanut-related allergies, but most of us can eat it with abandon.)

True, CSPI acknowledges that there’s one small problem with peanut butter:  it’s also loaded with calories. Most people probably eat about 250 calories’ worth in the typical sandwich.  According to CSPI, that’s much more than the 50 to 80 calories in the equivalent amount (roughly 2 ounces) of turkey, ham, or a quarter cup of tuna.  These alternatives also offer more protein:  10 to 12 grams as compared with the 7 or 8 grams in peanut butter.

For the 90 percent of us who relish eating peanut butter, CSPI suggests some new ways to trim the calories.  For starters, there’s powdered PB.  It’s made by slow-roasting and pressing peanuts to remove 85 percent of the oil.  You just mix the powder with water and stir.  According to CSPI, the result is a creamy texture and rich peanut taste for just 50 calories per serving (with roughly the same amount of protein as regular PB).

Two other new products are whipped PB (fewer calories but less protein) and Better ‘n Peanut Butter (defatted peanut flour, mixed with PB and sugars, also cuts both calories and protein).

Traditionalists might want to stick with “natural” PB or even oldies like Jif and Peter Pan.  Happily, none of them have trans fat any more.  Just watch out for the new “artisan” varieties that add chocolate and other sweet ingredients, upping the usual 1 or 2 grams of sugar all the way to 9 grams.  Who needs it?  If you crave PB infused with chocolate, go for broke and have a candy bar instead.

But wait, there’s more good news for peanut-butter lovers!  In addition to CSPI’s focus on PB as a healthy sandwich-filler, the medical community has just declared an even more significant finding.  A study announced in September by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis (along with Harvard Medical School) revealed that girls ages 9 to 15 who regularly ate peanut butter or nuts were 39 percent less likely to develop benign breast disease by age 30.  Although benign breast disease is noncancerous, it increases the risk of breast cancer later in life.

Over 9,000 U.S. girls were part of the study, which began in 1996.  The researchers followed the girls until they were 18 to 30 years old.  This study is significant because it’s the first one that actually recorded what the girls were eating during their adolescent years (instead of relying on their recalling later what they had eaten years before).

The senior author of the study is Graham Colditz, M.D., a disease-prevention expert at Washington University’s School of Medicine.  Professor Colditz is an epidemiologist with a longstanding interest in cancer prevention, particularly among women.

According to Colditz, the findings in the recent study “suggest that peanut butter could help reduce the risk of breast cancer in women.”  He recommends that girls snack on peanut butter or nuts instead of reaching for high-calorie junk food and sugary beverages.

Wow!  Lots of great news about peanut butter!  I feel totally vindicated.  My instincts were right all along.

All those mornings making countless peanut-butter sandwiches for my daughters may have actually led to their staying healthy longer.  My choice to eschew fillings like bologna and head cheese (what was that stuff anyway?) probably didn’t hurt either.

A personal reminiscence about PB:  When my husband had a month-long sabbatical in Paris during the 1980s, we brought a jumbo jar of peanut butter from home because we knew it wasn’t readily available in France.  We wanted our small daughters to have a familiar food to eat while we otherwise attempted to live like Parisians.  I can still see myself in our tiny Paris apartment, spreading peanut butter on scores of French biscotti so our unfamiliar surroundings would feel a little more like home.

Like almost everything I’ve done (and still do) for my daughters, it was worth it.

Thinking about peanut butter has, not surprisingly, made me want some.  I’m ready to munch on a PB sandwich right this minute.  Want to join me?

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