great taste is always in season

Grace Cuisine

If you think peanut better is great, try any other food - it's even better!


A few months ago, a work friend of mine was bemoaning the lack of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in his life.  He was quite animated on the subject, and made an emotional argument about how convenient they are, how tasty.  They are, he argued, the ultimate comfort food, and it saddened him that though kids are sent to school every day with the trusty PB&J, grown ups have to go to delis and restaurants at lunch time and deal with overpriced, often pretentious paninis or wraps featuring organic everything and annoyingly trendy ingredients like bean sprouts and avocado.  Whatever happened to a simple, nutritious, delicious sandwich like peanut butter and jelly, he opined, and why, oh why, can restaurants not wake up to the fact that adults would be thrilled to have this option readily available?  He then went on to enthuse about the wonders of peanut butter - how it is great on its own, or on pretzels. 

His nostalgia for this childhood staple was, apparently, not unique. It was not long after this that I began to notice peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on offer at delis near work. A few months later, I even saw it featured on the menu of a fairly adult restaurant at a mind-blowing price, on "home baked bread". I don't think that peanut butter and jelly suddenly appeared. More so, as an adult, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are not something I would ever consider for lunch, and the idea of it makes me think of hours on an elliptical machine in the gym, so I must have been screening out noticing this shocker and once my friend mentioned it, I started to see it - everywhere, and meant for adults.

The reality behind our childhood favorite.

Now, I know what you are thinking - She isn't going to attack peanut butter is she? That is madness! It's great! It is inexpensive. It has protein. It tastes good. And we all had it as kids! How can you reject such a childhood favorite? Perhaps because I am not a child. And perhaps because I question whether this should be a childhood favorite. Although many may believe they have compelling arguments for peanut butter in that role, I think we need to take a step back, and think about why this product features so largely and so ubiquitously in American life, and is so unquestioned in its position of ruler of the childhood lunch market.

Peanut butter is junk food. I know you think it isn't. I know the "but it has protein" argument. But the reality is that commercial peanut butter is loaded with fat, vegetable oils, sugar and salt. When you look at its nutritional content, there is a real reason to pause before considering it as a snack and, more important, a serious concern that it has become a such a big part of the daily diet of so many, especially children.

We should understand what we are getting with peanut butter "spreads".

The peanut butter most people eat is not just ground up peanuts. It is a peanut butter "spread", a concoction with other ingredients. To see the difference, get some unsalted peanuts and a food processor and make a peanut puree. There is a massive difference in texture, taste, and even aroma. The reason so many people think peanut butter spreads are some delicious wonder food is that it has all the elements of pure junk but has been sold and marketed as something that is appropriate, even healthy, to eat daily, and even to feed to children daily.

A serving of commercial peanut butter spread is two tablespoons. Measure that out and see how very little that is. I would wager that most people don't measure it out. That is one of the big issues with this kind of food. It is like a dip, or a snack, or a condiment, and people just use it, eat it, add it as they see fit. Not everyone is going to stick to the two tablespoon serving when they pile it on to bread to make a sandwich. That two tablespoon serving, which is a very small quantity, has 190 calories, and is loaded with sugar and saturated fat. The big concern is that, though it does have some protein, for many people, this is not a wise source of protein as the fat and calorie content is so significant.

The puzzling dominance of this type of food as part of our daily diets.

But what really perplexes me is that, in a world where most people would never argue that pizza or chips or ice cream should be part of their daily diet, they have no issue with peanut butter. Further, I tasted some recently and the mystery deepened for me. I could tell immediately that this was a super fatty and fattening thing. Yes, I can see how people might come to like it, but it really wasn't that special to me that I would choose this over all the wonderful and more healthy options available. Considering how high in calories it is, I must eat little of it if I want to save room in my diet for other foods. If I am not very careful in how much I eat of this kind of food, one of three outcomes will ensue - I will either exceed my caloric requirements for the day or be forced to be too hungry at some point during the day or will need to make some extra gym time. That is the nature of including highly caloric food in the diet.

So why, I wonder, is this so popular, so accepted, so ubiquitous and totally unquestioned. I believe the answer is the reason so many would argue it is great. Because we are trained to like it as kids. We are trained to believe that this is a healthy way to eat. Our palates and sense of taste are honed on peanut butter, leading to a lifelong acceptance of something incredibly fattening as a normal meal and increasing our desire to have such things as part of our routine eating habits. This is no accident. Peanut butter has been specially created and marketed to take over as a normal part of our diets, and to become an untouchable, unquestionable American tradition. It has the advantage of a certain amount of protein. Because of this, the argument that this is a good option is accepted. Why? Because it's easy. It's cheap. Kids like it. We like it. And the message has been that this is ok, that this is a normal thing to eat every day. Google "peanut butter is junk food" and you will see angry adults on forums, protesting how wrong it is to dare question their all time favorite thing. Many of these people are on forums for folks struggling with weight issues, interestingly.

There is a reason we don't question this choice.

Peanut butter is cheap to produce, stores easily, lasts a long time, and is inexpensive. Take those facts and add loads of sugar to appeal to children, and then create a series of ads promoting this as normal, as healthy, and you have an easy sell. Kids get hooked because it is exactly what they like - fatty, sugary treat food. Parents are lead to believe this is a reasonable option. Of course it has taken over and become so entrenched in our lives we dare not question it. I remember the ads: "Choosy mom's choose Jiff." As a thinking adult, I will not buy into that. No, choosy moms choose not to start their children's eating habits in such a way that they will develop a taste for and an expectation of fatty, highly caloric, sugar-filled convenience food as part of a normal diet. There are a lot of people marketing aggressively to make sure we view these peanut butter spreads (sugar, oil, salt and pureed peanuts) as a healthy staple in our diets. Don't fall for it. I am not saying peanut butter is "bad" - no food really is. But we need to counter that thinking a bit, to take a step back and really consider what it is we are really buying, why even people with weight problems are defensive about this one fattening food, why we think this is a good way to feed children, and why we do not question this taste we have developed.

Today's health challenges mean we must question our choices.

Childhood obesity has hit epidemic proportions and health problems related to diet in both children and adults have skyrocketed to an all time high. Developing tastes for these kinds of foods, normalizing them, training our palates to crave it, and making it so ubiquitous, and almost sentimental in its connection to childhood, has created a monster lurking in our diets. It is a problem we don't question, that stirs emotions when questioned. Why? Well, I am sorry, but the emperor has no clothes and, for many people, peanut butter should not be the staple it is in their diets.

All that said, demonizing any food is silly, and not my intention here. It is definitely possible to have a healthy diet that includes peanut butter. It is possible to include peanut butter and not develop a weight problem. The same can be said of ice cream, potato chips and chocolate cake. But no one is arguing they should send kids to school with a slice of chocolate cake as the main meal and that this is a healthy way to start them thinking about eating at an early age. But if chocolate cake could be marketed as a nutritional option, could be made super cheap and super convenient then, combined with kids' instant addiction to it, we'd face the same perplexing issue with chocolate cake as an unquestioned part of our diets that we do with peanut butter. Adding some protein to the chocolate cake does not a healthy option make. It would do the same harm, making a highly caloric, too easy, fat and sugar filled convenience food the norm, and making it the way we teach kids to eat and the way we shape their tastes, desires and habits. It is not peanut butter per se, but the place it holds in our thinking about food and in the diet of many children and adults that is an issue.

You can include peanut butter, just be smart about it. Knowledge is power.

You say you can't give it up? You say that in fact you must have that convenience when preparing lunch for your kids? You don't have to give it up. But why not use real peanut puree as described above. Natural peanut butter at least doesn't have all the added sugar and oil and used sparingly (because it is still a calorie-dense food) is not unhealthy. Better yet, try almond butter! It has more minerals than peanut butter, and you won't find a mass marketed mix with oil, sugar and salt added to win over the kids. Again though, it should be used with care and consideration as it is calorie dense. However, be prepared that your kids may not go crazy for this option, because it's not a sugary treat. That's really a good thing if it is to be their lunch a few times a week and part of developing their sense of taste and expectations about eating.

We are adults. Maybe it is time to retrain our palates, and rethink our childhood love of fatty, sugary treats. Since peanut butter was made normal for us as kids, do we ever really question if it is as great as we think? Do you consider the trade off when you eat it in terms of what you need to cut back on to keep within your caloric limit for a day? Do you really like it that much, or is this just a throwback to childhood. Most adults have very different tastes than kids do. Kids usually don't warm to things like blue cheese, wine, olives, coffee, etc. Those are the acquired tastes of an adult palate that has learned to appreciate the nuances of food, aside from just sugar, salt and fat. Adults can come to really enjoy salads and vegetables that for many kids are just "yucky". We cling to our peanut butter even though it is really not part of an adult palate because we were taught to believe it is a healthy option.

But the reality is that the popular brands people love like Peter Pan, Jiff, and Skippy and all the many similar concoctions on the market, are closer to the foods you should be having as a rare treat and use sparingly than something most people should make a part of their daily routine. The fact that there is a brand called Reese's (the makers of Reese's peanut butter cup candies) should maybe tip us off that this is closer to treat food than it is food most of us we should eat routinely. I can think of no other food that I was sent to school with as the main part of my regular lunch as a child that is also a candy flavor and an ice cream flavor. Can you? Doesn't this tell us something about the taste we have developed?

Of course there are exceptions to every rule and we should all be wary of any universal prescription when it comes to eating or anyone vilifying any particular food. Athletes, super active people, those with no weight problem, people who need to gain weight, etc, can probably enjoy peanut butter without the major concerns and no one should be afraid of including a food they like. However, many people who struggle with their weight, or are concerned about saturated fat and sugar should reconsider the idea that this is a smart option to include regularly. Those with weight issues should not buy in to the marketing message that peanut butter is a good option or a smart choice for a regular protein source in their diets.

Yes, you can make it work in your diet, as you can any food, and as a treat, at least it is a treat with some protein. But if you are looking to lose weight, and don't want to cut back calories elsewhere or exercise more to accommodate this highly fatty food, you may find it harms your efforts or makes weight loss more of a challenge. Diets are all individualized, and if having peanut butter is the important treat you cannot bear to give up, then don't. Restrictive diets tend to backfire. But at the same time, it is important to be aware of the high fat, high sugar and high calories and that on a regular basis it can make reshaping our tastes difficult, can make retraining our paletes harder, and can lead to the continued cravings for fatty, sugary treats that make weight control an issue for so many of us. Parents should also consider the tastes they are developing in their kids when giving a sweet, salty, fatty convenience food as part of a regular diet.  

As with all foods, it is about choice, real understanding, control and moderation.

This examination of peanut butter spreads and questioning the devotion some may have to them is not about taking away anyone's favorite treat or demonizing a particular food. It is about placing this food in its proper place, and understanding why we think of it as we do. It is about taking control, and really understanding what we eat, and not falling prey to marketing messages or rationalizing decisions that deep down we know don't serve us. And as with all food we eat, it is about informed decisions, balance, and moderation. Like all food, when part of a balanced diet, when incorporated carefully, when compared to other options, when in its appropriate place in out diets considering the real nutritional value, peanut butter is perfectly fine.

If you love peanut butter spreads, then enjoy. Just be careful and be aware of what it is. Have it and give it to your kids in appropriate moderation, perhaps as an occasional treat. But let's just not pretend this is health food. At the very least, many of us, and certainly parents, should consider the natural peanut butter option and other pureed nut butters available without all the added sugar, oil and salt. With so many tasty, low-fat protein options out there, if you are looking to reduce or control your weight, are concerned about saturated fat, want to retrain your tastes so that you don't always crave fat and sugar, or just want to eat like an adult, try anything else, it's better.

by Louise at Grace


By: Anna
On: 09/30/2014 15:22:24
Ok, I have to confess. I was one of the people who thought "they are not going to criticize peanut butter are they?" But I agree with the article. It is true. It's not the healthiest option and I think we do in fact come to think it is more normal than it should be becuase of the marketing and the tradition involved as kids. I do like peanut butter, but I also have a lot of problems keeping my weight under control and should give this some thought. And for me it is one of those more-ish kinds of food where I start snacking and lose track, so the article makes some good points. But it really is interesting that I had such a reaction. Its true, I think, that because it is never, ever questioned, and promoted as healthy, just because it has some protein in it, despite all the junk and fat and calories, that no one ever thinks twice. Scary actually. And scary that I was a bit upset about the idea of even quesitoning this. No one wants to feel like they aren't doing the right thing for their kids and so many send their kids to school with this, and everyone is taught to think this is the right thing. It is cheap and easy too. But a lot of kids are plumping up and we should consider it I think. Good article... A point of view we don't hear a lot. Thanks,
By: Samuel R.J.
On: 09/30/2014 15:34:22
Very thoughtful and brave article, I have been saying this for years! And I am always angry too that government programs like the WIC food program and programs to provide emergency food to poor families ALWAYS give them this junk. They don't give fresh ground or natural peanut butter. They give the salty sugary stuff and because it has protein they claim that is healthy. But so many studies are showing that obesity, not starvation, is the big problem that poor people face. And things like this are the reason why. This is the con we are playing on the poor and the government is buying into it because big food supplier companies are involved, because it is easy to justify with the magic protein argument. But it isn't good. And I do not believe for ONE SECOND that peanut butter suppliers cannot provide natural unsugared peanut butter at a reasonable price... without the added vegeatable oil and salt. They add that stuff to make it junky and addictive. Peanuts are the cheapest nut. I don't believe that just frinding them up, adding a preservative if needed for freshness, and putting in a jar is MORE expensive than adding all the extra cr*p. (pardon me but this topic angers me). They do it because mass marketed fast food and convenience food is about getting people hooked on fat, sugar and salt. I know I sound like an angry conspiracy guy now. But I am not. We have an epidemic in this country and the fact we can't talk about peanut butter and as the article says there are people on the internet going up in arms over even starting the conversation, is warped.

Thanks for being brave and saying somehting people don't want to hear. I agree!
By: John
On: 09/30/2014 15:41:49
This made me laugh. I did bristle a bit to be honest, and I do like peanut butter. But I'm not stupid either and I do pay attention to what I am eating. I agree that kids probably shouldn't be having this as their normal lunch and it is more of a treat. It is kind of a catch 22 though, isn't it. They see it on tv, and in the grocery store and its so common and all the other kids get it at lunch and it is sweet and fatty and yummy and soft and gooey so kids want it. How is a parent to combat all that. The natural stuff is not going to cut it with kids. I think this article raises a good point, but I think the challenge is a big one as we have to change our thinking as a society and also challenge the marketing and the message... It is too hard for parents to take a stand. Kids will think they are being monsters. I mean you can still let them have it as a treat but how are kids ever going to understand why their mom and dad are calling a treat what all the other kids have all the time, what the school gives them too. And the fact is that we have a lot of fat kids, so we really do need to consider it.

Wonder why I haven't seen this topic more often. Probably beacuse no one wants to hear it. The idea that we are not giving kids good food when we have been feeding them this for decade will create a lot of self defensive dissonance I think. Don't have an answer, but glad there is the question.
By: Marcus
On: 09/30/2014 15:54:44
The idea of training your palet is so important in this article. Forget whether or not you think you can have peanut butter or not, and think about how it affects what you like in food. I am training to be a chef now and part of why I am going in to this field is because I had a terrible weight problem for a long time. I lost the weight and have managed to keep it off, but it changed my relationship to food. And I found that when I really changed my habits and started rethinking some dear assumptions, my tastes changed too. Stuff I used to eat all the time and thought was ok seems super fattening and heavy and too much now. I can't eat it. And peanut butter is a great example. But there are great natural nut butters out there, perfect for so many recipes and ok to give kids. But we have to retrain out tastes and think differently. That is something I hope I can do when I am fully trained and a chef. I hope to one day get people to think a little differently and really appreciate food, really understand how complex and nice it can be. but you can't do that if you are addicted to fat and sugar because then that is the base of operations for your tastes and palet and you won't be able to appreciate nicer, lighter food.
By: Mike from up North
On: 09/30/2014 16:28:00
Ok, I eat peanut butter all the time and have no problems! So do my kids. Its not my favorite thing in the world, and I am not saying it is great cuisine or anything, but it is a great go-to source of calroes when I go on a camping trip with a lot of hiking. I can carry a lot of energy in one small jar, and cut down on the total weight of my pack. It's also good fuel before a run. Actually, now that I think about it, I am probably the exception that the article mentions. Not an athlete but close when compared to a lot of folks. Ok, so maybe there's something to it. But I just wanted to get in there that I like the stuff and its not made me fat yet, so not going to change.
By: Clara Loves Her Dog
On: 09/30/2014 16:36:17
I see this same problem with other food too. Yogurt is another one I think that has some similarities. Because it has some protein and has "live cultures" or whatever that are supposed to help digestion, all these sugary, gelatin filled desert things are sold (and particularly targeted to women in the same way peanut butter targets kids) as healthy. But in reality things like Yoplait are SO sugary and junky no one should be eating it except as a treat. Plain yogurt (just like the plain peanut butter) is in fact not bad for you and has some benefits, but marketing sells us on the idea this sugary junk is the same thing. It isn't
By: Greetings from my planet
On: 09/30/2014 17:00:25
Can't stand the stuff myself. Smells awful and it's a gunky fatty mess. Nope, sorry peeps... No PB for me. If you want protein why not eat peanuts. Or mixed nuts. Peanut butter takes everything I like about a peanut and transforms it into sickening goo. I am right. Check this - I visited planet peanut butter. Fattest aliens in the galaxy. Ha ha ha.. I have spoken. MTFBWY and LLAP
By: Steve
On: 09/30/2014 18:03:16
My dad read me this story and we talked about it tonight at dinner time. I want to share another idea about it I have. I don't eat peanut butter cause my mom gets really sick with alerjees if she has any peanuts around her. Thats another thing that people can think about too when they want to choose if they should have peanut butter or something else. some of them can get sick like my mom does. GRACE CUISINE: That's a great point, Steve. Thanks for pointing this out.
By: Steve
On: 10/01/2014 05:45:14
Thank you Grace Cuisine. You are nice to say that I feel proud. I like to share ideas and you also have good ideas too. My dad says good ideas are a gift from the mind. I like to give gifts and get gifts. Also people who have peanut butter should know as much as they can so they can know what to do and also if they need the medicine my mom brings for emergencies. You have good stories here I like to read.
By: Adam
On: 10/01/2014 20:05:36
I hate peanut butter. Hate it. Disgusting! I'll never understand it. Nuts? Ok. Ground up peanuts well, maybe, but why grind them up?. Nuts are nuts, eat them as nuts. Crazy world we live in. Crazy world. Humans just like to mess with food. They like to transform it and make it into all kinds of different things. To me the nut is fine as it is. Leave the nut alone. Can't say I feel so strongly about it as the writer of this article. But then again I don't have kids, don't have a weight problem, and never eat peanut butter. However if any of those things were true I can see why I might get pretty annoyed with peanut butter worship
By: Jenny
On: 10/01/2014 20:26:57
I have to say - I am one of the peanut butter people. I loved it as a kid. I love it now. And to be completely honest, my waistline shows it. Some good points on this article, and I can see the logic and how I came to continue eating this stuff, though I never would eat equally calorie heavy food with so little reservation or concern. I will give this some thought, and maybe I should try to curb my enthusiasm for the gloppy sweet stuff, but its hard, as I have developed a long standing taste for it...

And now, for your all the nuts and nut lovers out there, I offer the long awaited next installment of Jenny's GC blog food jokes:
What do you call a peanut in a spacesuit? An astronut!
Where did the peanuts go to have a few drinks? The Snack Bar!
Two peanuts were walking down a road. One was assaulted
Did you hear the joke about the peanut butter? I'm not telling you. You might spread it!

And finally: A woman walks into a shop and asks the man working there, " Do you have any nuts?" The man looks up from his work and says somberly, "No, no m'am, I don't have any nuts." The woman checks her grocery list and says, "Well, then do you have any dates?"The man replies, "M'am, I don't have any nuts. Do you really expect me to have dates?"

The crowd goes wild as she bows, blows kisses to her loving audience and walks off the stage. Sorry, GC - it's been a while, so had to indulge.
By: Marian
On: 10/16/2014 23:13:28
ha ha ha... It is hard to believe people can feel strongly about peanut butter.. Foodies are funny people. Personally, I could give or take the stuff.

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