Saturday, February 25, 2012

In Praise of Peanuts and Peanut Butter

Peanuts! I love 'em.  Roasted. In the shell. They're fun to eat and because it's somewhat time consuming to crack them open to get at the actual nut,  peanuts are a good and healthy snack alternative. There's no way you can consume as many peanuts as you can potato chips or handfuls of M&M's. Not to mention, peanuts are packed with good stuff, in fact, over thirty essential nutrients and phytonutrients. You can't get all that from a bag of chips.

I am not talking about those big cans of peanuts. Those are loaded with salt and oil. I can eat a whole can of those all by myself. The salt is addictive and they taste so good but they're also very fattening. Certainly not the best choice, but if it's between them and a whole bag of candy, definitely choose the peanuts. When I say snack on peanuts, I am mean the good old fashioned peanuts in the shell. Like the ones you get at baseball games or at the zoo. Elephant food. :)

This brings me to the subject of peanut butter. Who doesn't love a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Or my personal favorite: peanut butter spread on a Granny Smith apple. YUMMY!

Most of us shy away from peanut butter because it's so unhealthy.  The traditional brands we've loved since childhood are loaded with partially hydrogenated oil.  We all know that trans-fat laden additive is the enemy. Unfortunately, it's also what makes peanut butter so luscious and creamy. Remove it and you're left with nothing more than a glob of peanut mess that's impossible to spread.

Years ago, when I first set out on a mission to improve my health and that of my family, I did all my shopping at a tiny little health food store around the corner from home. It was the most amazing store with old-fashioned wooden floors.  Grains and beans were stored in big burlap sacks on the floor. I just took what I needed and brought it home in little brown paper bags. All kinds of goodies like nuts, dried fruit, coffee, and homemade carob-covered rice cakes were stored in big glass jars on shelves that lined the walls from floor to ceiling.  I could spend all day in there, browsing, sampling, chatting with really cool hippie owners. They had a peanut grinder all the way in the back of the store.  Every few months, I would bring my own glass jar and fill it with freshly ground peanut butter. It was most delicious stuff I'd ever tasted. Just peanuts. That's it. No salt, no sugar, no additives.

It took awhile for my family to adjust to the taste and texture of this fresh, all natural peanut butter. We'd all grown up with Jif and Skippy  It was also a labor of love to actually make a peanut butter sandwich. My jar of freshly ground peanuts had to be stored in the fridge to prevent rancidity and was impossible to spread unless it was at room temperature. This meant I had to set it out on the counter and wait.  Then I had to stir, stir, stir. Oh, but it was so worth it.  Eventually, we were all hooked.

It was a sad day when a large Natural Foods Super Market (an actual chain store) took up residence in the same neighborhood and put my little health food store out of business. No more peanut grinder. Of course I refused to shop there at first but eventually I had no choice. There were no other independent health food stores around. I tried to convince the manager of the new market to install a peanut grinder, but he refused. It wasn't practical and no one wanted to deal with the mess. Instead, he pointed me to an aisle filled with jars of "all natural" peanut butter.  They all contained palm oil.  Not only is palm oil extremely high in saturated fat, but it's also controversial for the harm it causes to the environment -- rain forests and peat lands in Malaysia and Indonesia have been cleared out to increase production of the palm trees that produce palm oil. Yuck. I bought my own little grinder and from that day on, made my own peanut butter at home.

This was a long time ago. My child is grown and my lifestyle has changed. I am still very health-conscious but I don't have time to grind my own peanuts. I am happy to say that peanut butter has evolved and there are quite a few really good brands out there that are basically nothing more than peanuts and salt. Not quite as delicious as freshly ground but pretty close.  I can actually enjoy and not feel guilty about peanut butter from a jar and you can, too.  Just be sure to choose the healthiest, most natural brand you can find.

Not sure which brand to choose? Here's an article I found on the best tasting (and healthiest) natural peanut butters.

Taste Test- the Best Natural Peanut Butters

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