Sunday, November 25, 2018

The important choice

Now that the US Midterm Elections are over, it’s time to talk about the most important choice of all: Peanut butter. Yes, I’m joking, but finding a peanut butter that’s both good and good for me has been a battle, one I think I’ve finally won.

There are a number of reasons why I wanted to find a peanut butter at all, but the main reason is that I grew up with it and I’ve always loved it. So, finding one that would wouldn’t harm me—or, better still, help me—was important.

For years I avoided peanut butter because I’d been told—wrongly as it turned out—that people with gout should avoid peanuts and peanut products because they’re legumes and, we were told, people with gout should avoid beans, pulses, and legumes.

Turns out, all that advice was flat out wrong. The official advice now is that people with gout should get most of their protein from plant sources— beans, pulses, and legumes, plus also tree nuts. Conveniently, people with heart-related issues get much the same advice.

In addition to avoiding gout attacks, I also want to avoid heart disease (of course). So, I’m meant to basically avoid red meat, get most of my calories from plant sources, and minimise salt and saturated fats. Basically, that means the Mediterranean diet, as I’ve mentioned before.

Peanut butter fits into this very well.

For gout, it’s low in purines (which I need to avoid, and that’s high in animal meat). It’s also high in oils that have anti-inflammatory properties, and that may help prevent gout attacks.

For heart health, it’s high in mono- and polyunsaturated fats, rather than saturated fats. Peanuts have phytosterols which have been shown to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Peanut butter is a vegetable based protein which, when combined with grains, is a complete protein like that of animal products, but without all the bad stuff (cholesterol and saturated fat).

I’ve always known about the protein in a peanut butter sandwich: When I was a kid, my mother used to talk about how peanut butter sandwiches have as much complete protein as a steak (though at that time no one talked about the bad effects of eating meat). As an aside, my mother used to pronounce it “PRO-tee-en”, rather than the “pro-teen” that was common where I grew up. This confused me.

So, peanut butter can be good for me, BUT: I need to look at the sodium levels, because they vary dramatically among commercial brands. Here are the brands I tried:

Bega Smooth Peanut Butter (per 100g): 2590kj, 23.8g protein, 8.5g sugar, 576mg sodium. This was the starting point. Originally made in Australia by Kraft, it was bought by Bega when Kraft decided to exit the spread market (something they apparently later regretted and went to court over*). I used it because there’d been a scandal over contaminated peanut butter made in China, and Kraft (now Bega) was made in Australia using Australian peanuts. It felt safer. But I knew it wouldn’t be hard to get a lower sodium brand.

Woolworth’s Select American Style Peanut Butter (100g): 2600kj, 21.9g protein, 11.4g sugar, 374mg sodium. This was never my brand, but I tried it. To me, it tasted much saltier that the Bega one, but it’s significantly lower in sodium, though higher in sugars. I have no idea where it’s made.

Pic’s No Salt Added Peanut Butter (per 100g): 2488kj, 26.7g protein, 5.9g sugar, 9mg sodium. I tried this a few times, and since it’s made from nothing but peanuts (the regular version has added salt and is 180mg of sodium), it has the same problem as all natural peanut butters: It separates at room temperature, and had to be stirred before use. Every time. I saw advice on the Internet to store the jar upside down, but that was stupid advice: It still separated and I still had to stir it, but it was also very messy. I tried something else: I gave the jar a really good stir, then put it in the fridge. It never gets stiff, but it does keep it from separating. Solved. I liked the taste, which to me tasted like peanuts.

Mother Earth Natural Peanut Butter (per 100g): 2510kj, 27.1g protein, 5.5g sugar, 210mg sodium.
I tried this, but didn’t like the taste, and the separation was annoying.

Eta No Added Sugar or Salt Peanut Butter (per 100g): 2750kj, 23.1g protein, 2.9g sugar, 35mg sodium. I found this just once. It was nice enough, but I the stores I shopped in didn’t routinely stock it, so I only had it once.

Sanitarium No Added Sugar or Salt Peanut Butter (per 100g): 2730kj, 30.7g protein, 3.8g sugar, 2.4mg sodium. I tried this only out of desperation, because I was having so much trouble finding low-salt smooth peanut butter. I don’t buy Sanitarium products because it’s wholly owned by the Seventh Day Adventist Church, gives all of its profits to the church (which is anti-LGBT+, among other bad things), and so the company pays no company tax. This is unfair competition, and I won’t support it or give my money to a church that does things I disapprove of. Fortunately for me, this was flat out terrible. I don’t know if it’s because it was too LOW in sugars and sodium, or the variety of peanuts they used, their processes, or even if it was just a bad batch. But it didn’t taste like peanuts to me. I was relieved.

I tried all these peanut butters, sometimes more than one jar, but there was a lot I couldn’t find, that came out later, seemed too expensive, or any combination of those things. I eventually settled on Pic’s as the best-tasting of the low-salt peanut butters I was able to actually find. However, for a year or so all I could find was the no-salt crunchy, and I only like smooth. I bought it anyway. Then, a few months ago, my usual grocery store suddenly started carrying no-salt smooth again, and I’ve been sorted ever since.

Peanut butter is high in calories, which figures since it’s high in fat—good fats, but fats nevertheless. So, it’s a food to be used is small amounts. After I was able to find ones low in salt and sugar, I had an option for protein that’s plant-based, low salt, slow sodium, and good for both gout and heart health. A total win.

But, this is all about personal taste, too. Other people like things very different from me, and vice versa. That’s fine. I’m just glad that I found something I like that’s also good for me. That’s a good thing. It just took awhile to get there.

*UPDATE: May 1, 2019: An Australian court has ruled that Bega does, indeed, have the right to use the labelling/colours that Kraft (now Mondelez) used when they sold off their spread business in 2017. The US-based Mondelez argued that Kraft Foods Australia had only had a license to use Kraft's labelling/colours, not ownership, and so, couldn't sell it to Bega. The court disagreed. Mondelez was reported to be considering its options.

The products listed and their names are all registered trademarks, and are used here for purposes of description and clarity. No company or entity provided any support or payment for this blog post, and all products were purchased by me at normal retail prices. So, the opinions I expressed are my own genuinely held opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the manufacturers, any retailer, or any known human being, alive or dead, real or corporate. Just so we’re clear.

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