Let’s check out peanut butter as a case study. This discussion will talk about toxins found in peanuts, hidden trans fat in 0% trans fat foods, and healthy and unhealthy oils.
Peanut butter is great. It’s one of my favorite foods, but it’s a food I will only eat healthy versions of.
This first issue is toxins. Peanuts are known to be susceptible to aflatoxins, which are produced by various types of fungus in food and are linked to liver problems and cancer. The law requires low aflatoxin levels, but peanut butter always contains at least a small amount. In 2004 the Food Standards Agency in the UK found that 5% of nut-based products had unacceptable levels of aflatoxins. Standards are improving, but the bottom line is this. We don’t know what long term exposure to low levels of aflatoxins will result in.
While I’m not sure how much I should worry about aflatoxins, this next topic really pisses me off. According to the FDA, the average American consumes 5.8 grams of trans fat DAILY. Trans fat looks like plastic under a microscope and may cause cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, liver dysfunction, and cancer. More on trans fat here.
Anyway, food corporations pulled a fast one on your food label. The government made an exception wherein products may contain up to .5 grams of trans fat, and still claim there are zero grams of trans fat. Given that there is no regulation of serving sizes, these small amounts can add up. If you look at the nutrition label for Skippy peanut butter, there are clearly partially hydrogenated oils listed. These ARE trans fats. Trans fats are listed as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils (fully hydrogenated should contain no trans fats).
Let’s look at the evil marketing involved here. They not only list 0% trans fat on the nutrition label, but shout it on the front as well. This tactic can be seen with any number of snack foods, like potato chips.
One final point; you don’t want any hydrogenated oils, so what oils are healthy? Cold pressed olive oil as well as coconut oil are great; they have lots of omega 3 fats, which promote cardiovascular health. For high temperature cooking, use coconut oil or palm oil, which both have lots of healthy saturated fats that don’t break down under fire. Butter, flax seed oil, pumpkin seed oil, caster oil, and cod liver oil are all fine. That’s about it.
The bad oils. Vegetable oils like soy bean, corn, safflower, sesame, and canola contain polyunsaturated fats, lots of omega 6’s, few omega 3’s, are often from genetically modified plants, and sometimes aren’t even real food (like cotton seed oil).
You always hear about omega 3 fatty acids; instead of these healthy fats, the American diet is loaded with omega 6 fatty acids. This imbalance in our diet causes inflammation, arthritis, and heart disease, and a whole lot of it comes from vegetable oils. Of all the plaque that clogs your arteries, only 27% is saturated fat; the rest is mostly polyunsaturated fat. If you look at our Skippy label again, you’ll see that it has three of these bad oils.
In conclusion, look for peanut butter with palm oil and as few strange sounding ingredients as possible and you should be alright. We can’t resolve the aflatoxin problem, so eat at your own risk and if you’re worried about it consider limiting peanut intake. I think Skippy’s natural peanut butter with palm oil isn’t bad, but there’s a range of organic and other peanut butters you can check out. Many have nothing but peanuts and salt.
I’m out, you may now resume making fluffernutters and drinking RC Cola.