Whether you grew up eating Skippy, Jif, or you are a loyal fan of Peter Pan or some other brand, peanut butter probably figures prominently somewhere in your childhood. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are as much a part of growing up for many people as skinned knees and the ABCs.
Peanut butter is, of course, made from peanuts. Peanuts are not a nut, but a legume. Legumes are part of a group of food which also contains dried peas and lentils. Peanuts grow underground and are part of the protein food group.
To make peanut butter, peanuts are usually first roasted and then ground into a paste with a little salt added. In many commercial varieties, sometimes oils and sugar or shortening are added. Peanut butter is simple to make at home, too, so it is a great at-home project to do with children. Natural peanut butter will separate (the oil will float to the top). This can be fixed by simply stirring the oil back into the peanut butter until it is a smooth paste again.
As a spread, peanut butter can be used in various forms in recipes both sweet and savory. Peanut butter cookies can be found, in some version or another, in just about any general cookbook. Peanut butter is used to make dipping sauces, marinades and soups. It is also found in international cuisines.
Peanut butter has a lot going for it in terms of nutrition. Although relatively high in calories (about 190 per 2 tablespoon serving) it is high in protein, vitamin E, B vitamins, fiber, phosphorus, manganese and magnesium. It is also contains copper which helps maintain bone health. According to WebMd.com, it also contains a fat called oleic acid which can help to maintain HDL (the “good” cholesterol), blood pressure and blood sugar. Maintaining healthy levels of these may aid in helping to prevent heart disease.
However, because it is high in fat (some of which is saturated fat) and calories, a little goes a long way, and consuming too much peanut butter can result in weight gain unless a person’s physical activity level compensates for the additional calories. Therefore, as with most foods, peanut butter should be consumed in moderation.
Due to the fat content (and protein) of peanut butter it tends to give a sense of fullness after it is eaten and is slow to be digested, therefore it prevents a feeling of hunger for a longer period of time and can help prevent overeating and weight gain.
Peanut butter is not for everyone, however. Some people are highly allergic to it and can go into anaphylactic shock from eating even very small amounts. This reaction causes swelling of the tongue and throat and can cause hives. This is a medical, life-threatening emergency and requires immediate medical attention.
Peanut butter as a snack has a lot of options: peanut butter and apple slices, peanut butter and crackers, peanut butter and celery with raisins (also known as “ants on a log”), peanut butter and celery with dried cranberries (also known as “lady bugs on a log”), etc.
And speaking of celery … April is National Celery Month. When some people think of celery they may think of its claim to fame as a diet food. But there is much more to celery than just its tiny amount of calories (10 calories per stalk). It has antioxidants which protect cells, blood vessels and organs from oxidative damage. It contains vitamins K, A and C, nutrients such as folate and potassium, fiber and at 95% water, it provides a source of hydration. It is also low in sodium.
However you take your peanut butter and celery, both can be part of a healthy and nutritious diet. For more information and recipes using both peanut butter and celery, go to www.foodhero.org.