I’ve heard many people say that they avoid peanut butter because it has so much fat in each serving. While this is true, the majority of this fat is healthy unsaturated fat, which you most certainly need in your diet! Not only will it help keep you full longer, but these healthy fats can improve heart health and help you absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K, among many other important functions.
However, like a majority of the foods lining the grocery store shelves these days, peanut butter has become a victim of excessive processing. As a result, the peanut butter you choose could actually contain some trans fats, which are harmful to your heart health. Let’s take a look at why.
Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature – think olive and canola oil. Saturated fats, like butter, shortening, or lard, are solid at room temperature. It may look confusing but I think the picture below helps you see what’s going on:
As you can see, a saturated fat is called such because all available spots are filled (saturated) with hydrogen. The unsaturated fats have some spots without hydrogen. In order to make these unsaturated fats more shelf-stable and solid at room temperature, companies often hydrogenate them, meaning they add hydrogens back so that the fat looks and behaves more like a saturated fat.
It is during this hydrogenation process that trans fats are formed. You may recall that the use of trans fats has largely been banned in restaurants and packaged foods because they have been found to increase bad (LDL) cholesterol and decrease good (HDL) cholesterol.
However, labeling laws allow products containing less than o.5 grams of trans fat per serving to list 0 grams trans fat on the label. It is recommended to keep trans fat intake to less than 2 grams per day, if not avoid it completely. As you can imagine, it would be easy to pass this limit while consuming foods labeled as containing 0 trans fat that actually do contain trans fats.
For this reason, it is important to read the ingredients list on products, not just the nutrition facts panel. If you see hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, there are probably some trans fats lurking in that product and it would be best to choose another option.
Which brings me back to peanut butter! I know many people are put off by having to stir their peanut butter but that oil separation comes from a lack of hydrogenated oils. You should really only have to stir it on the first use, then keep it in the refrigerator to prevent further separation and spoilage. They even make little peanut butter stirring lids if you prefer 🙂
Many peanut butters that claim to be “natural” still contain hydrogenated oils or palm oil, another saturated fat. Check the ingredients – it should only list peanuts and salt.
You shouldn’t have to spend a small fortune on good peanut butter either. Just check those ingredients! Some recommended brands:
- Smuckers: delicious but sometimes it can be pricy and some people don’t like the “grittier” texture
- Justin’s: comes in many flavors and even in individual packets
- Make your own by tossing some dry roasted peanuts in a food processor!
- Don’t forget about store brands! My favorite is actually the Kroger brand natural peanut butter and it’s usually less than $2.50/jar. Right now, it’s only $1.67….which would explain this: