What’s So Great (And Bad) About Peanut Butter

What’s So Great (And Bad) About Peanut Butter

I ate my body weight in homemade chocolate peanut butter cups over the holiday. Or at least it was my body weight… until the peanut butter cups… Well you get the idea. While adding chocolate to the mix was definitely a holiday splurge, peanut butter is a staple in my diet and, despite being persona non grata at most schools, is likely a favourite of some little people you know. But while trolling around the internet, I came upon a couple stories about peanut butter and its potential as a carcinogen! As in cancer!?  What gives?

Dr. Mercola, a Board Certified Osteopath and Surgeon and New York Times bestselling author advises avoiding peanuts and peanut products for two reasons: “they have no omega-3 and therefore distort your omega 6:3 ratio. They are also frequently contaminated with a carcinogenic mold called aflatoxin, and are one of the most pesticide-contaminated crops.”

Okay, so let’s break this down. First, aflatoxin. According to Organic Authority “the soft and porous shell that encases peanuts can allow fungus with aflatoxin to penetrate into the nut.” “Although aflatoxin has yet to be proven to cause cancer in the United States, it has been documented as causing liver cancer in developing countries where corn, peanuts and grains are grown without strict soil quality regulation. Currently, all commercially-produced peanut butters must be tested for aflatoxin, but grind-your-own peanut butter may actually be at a higher risk because the peanuts sit around the longest without refrigeration, allowing more mold to develop. “Consumer Reports has researched aflatoxins since 1972 but still says peanuts are worth eating for their health benefits”. The good news is that refrigerating your peanut butter can prevent the mold from growing.

Second issue: omega 3:6 balance. You may remember a post we did way back when about the benefits of eating hemp seeds (you can check it out here if you missed it). Basically, most of us get too many Omega 6 fatty acids and not enough Omega 3’s. The balance of the two is key to staving off inflammation and disease. Peanuts are heavy on the 6 and have almost no 3’s. Boooooo. There have been some hit and miss attempts among manufacturers to add omega-3 to peanut butter with flax or fish oil so if you’re all about balance on a micro level, check them out (Jif makes one and so does Better n’Peanut Butter or you can make your own by adding ground flax or flax oil to peanut butter). On the other hand, it might be easier to back up slightly and look at the whole picture of one’s diet to ensure a good balance of 3’s and 6’s on a meal by meal, day by day or even week by week basis as opposed to the more arduous process of achieving balance with every food (does that sound like the desperate rationalization of an addict??).

Third issue: cancer. Ok, so maybe cancer should have been issue one but it’s also the murkiest of the three.  Because is it just me or does everything give you cancer? The toxins in the drinking water, your shampoo, pesticide residue on the healthiest of fruits and veggies, eating dairy, not getting enough Vitamin D because you gave up dairy, laying in the sun, staying out of the sun, drinking red wine to protect your heart but… oops sorry about your girl parts. So, while it’s great to be informed, it’s not so great to be an alarmist (pause to let the laughter of all who know me die down). The Harvard Heart Letter says, “Peanut butter gives you some fibre, some vitamins and minerals (including potassium), and other nutrients. Unsalted peanut butter has a terrific potassium-to-sodium ratio… and even salted peanut butter still has about twice as much potassium as sodium. Numerous studies have shown that people who regularly include peanut butter in their diets are less likely to develop heart disease or type 2 diabetes than those who rarely eat nuts… it is likely that nuts themselves have a lot to do with these benefits”.

And Dr. Weil says, “The U.S. government tests crops for aflatoxin and doesn’t permit them to be used for human or animal food if they contain levels over 20 parts per billion. If you love peanuts, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t continue to eat them – and peanut butter – in moderation. While they’re really legumes, not true nuts, peanuts (and peanut butter) do contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. However, I still prefer almond butter and cashew butter, because they have a better fatty acid profile”.

Too bad I’m all out of peanut butter cups to celebrate!

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2 Comments

  1. Christine
    January 09, 13:55 Reply

    First of all, I LOVED the first sentence of this blog. I did the same with shortbread. I also love peanut butter and so do my kids. My life would be such a breeze if I could just send them PB&J sandwiches everyday. This is a good post, unlikely to make PB go away for our morning breakfast routine, but it’s good to be aware. Thanks!

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    March 17, 08:39 Reply

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