Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Peanut Gallery

Peanut butter is a staple in my home. I know it is high in fat and calories (1 tablespoon has 8 grams and 90 calories, respectively) but it is also rich in protein. I always choose the organic, salt-free, sugar-free kinds (otherwise you're consuming a huge amount of high fructose corn syrup and salt), preferring to grind it at the store myself. In my home, I'm not exaggerating when I say we go through about two jars a week. 

But if you are noticing the number of news stories about the salmonella in some peanut butters sourced from some plant in Georgia and another in Texas, you'd think our addiction to the legume is akin to a game of Russian Roulette. 

Nationwide, peanut butter sales are down 25 percent. A Congressional committee is holding a hearing about this factory's practices. There are even smoking guns: emails after salmonella-laced peanut butter harmed consumers in a Minnesota nursing home. 

My husband and I are trying our best to keep the industry afloat. Yesterday, I was informed that at our nearest market (said to be owned by designer Calvin Klein's dad?), the peanut butter has been shunned to the highest shelf, a spot formerly held for odd jars of French chestnuts or somesuch. For my husband, his addiction is derived from living nearly seven years in London. According to him, Londoners live on bad food blithely (even proudly--what kind of taste is that?). And it's not only in the restaurants (don't even get him started about the service), but in the supermarkets where, like chocolate chips, hamburger meat, vanilla extract and black beans, what they deem peanut butter is vile and disgusting. 

And why do I eat my fattening peanut butter guilt-free? Like honey and coconut water, it is an athlete's food.

1. It's protein-dense. And protein is the macronutrient that runners and other hard-core gym nuts (Ouch. No pun intended here) to help build and repair the muscles they use and depend on in every workout.

2. It's low in carbs so therefore keeps blood sugar balanced. A recent Purdue University showed that those who ate peanuts every day didn't take in more calories overall per day than those who didn't eat the legumes. Why? I think because protein is the slowest digesting macronutrient so you're full for a long time.

3. It even contains a bit of fiber. Fiber is a necessity for heart health and low cholesterol readings. We're supposed to consumer 25 grams a day. And that's a lot to rack up even if you're vigilant with your veggie intake like me. (So, how does fiber exactly keep your cholesterol down? After all, fiber moves through our digestive tract fast because we lack the enzymes to metabolize it. And if fiber never leaves your digestive tract and cholesterol exists in our blood, where do the two meet? Answer: Through our bile!  The liver makes bile, which is used to break down and digest fat in the small intestines. For some reason, bile likes to cling to fiber in the small intestines so as we "pass" fiber we also eliminate old bile. In fact, this may be one of the only ways we rid our bodies of old bile. And bile is made from triglycerides so when fiber rids our bodies of our existing amount, our liver needs to make more by using up more triglycerides--and thereby helping to lower our overall cholesterol numbers in the process.)

But last week at a dinner party (held at a fondue joint;  I don't eat dairy so don't even ask me about the food),  I learned that there is a downside to my passion for peanut butter. And it has nothing to do with a case of salmonella.  

Peanut butter has a fairly high amount of the god-awful omega-6 fatty acids. At nearly 5 g per 2 tablespoons, it's enough to make me nervous. We consume way too many omega-6s in our society--from breads, cereals, pastas, rice, any grain really--and it's the reason why we're so short on omega-3s (a society without our through-the-roof omega-6 intake wouldn't need the desperate quantity that we Westerners need today for good health). In short, our priority for omega-3s has to do with industrialization; our great-great-grandparents didn't need to eat salmon three times a week for health.

So maybe this will be the info that makes me curb my habit. My husband already tossed a bunch of Clif bars I got him to keep in his desk at work for snacks due to the fact they were on the FDA's "do not eat". I thought this was cute because I would've eaten them anyway. 

FDA Salmonella Typhimurium Outbreak 2009. Flash Player 9 is required.

But when it comes to omega-6s, he may have a point... If only the FDA restricted the quantity of omega-6s we our food supply...

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