With a special press release, PlantersTM introduced a new peanut butter product and this prompted me to once again promote the virtues of a truly heart healthy peanut butter. The self-created fanfare around Planters new peanut butter is that it is a so-called All Natural variety with no partially hydrogenated oils (i.e. TFAs). No news there, but this product, Planters boasts, is a “no stir” peanut butter. The reference and hype behind the “no stir” proclamation regards the messiness associated with the better options, like my Smuckers TM All Natural peanut butter. Smuckers and fresh ground butters, require stirring. Any of them that do not add in solid fats will separate at room temperature. Yes - solid fats. The reason that Smuckers All Natural and fresh ground peanut butters need to be stirred is because peanut oil is NOT a solid fat. Peanut oil is in the same category as olive and canola - the high in monounsaturated or good fat kind.
Let us pause to discuss this All Natural claim. It means nothing. The FDA, which oversees the labeling of food products, has given little direction on the use of this term other than to say that the food within that package has had to have undergone no more than minimal processing. If you are thinking, hmm, minimal, that is subjective. You are right.
So maybe we need to rethink the peanut butter thing. What if we decide, as consumers, that all natural should mean pure - unadulterated. In this case, the all natural ones would be the ones that do not ADD things.
Those stir free peanut butters always ADD something. Start turning those labels around, under the nutrition facts panel is an ingredient list. What does it say? I will tell you what the new Planters product has in it (and it is the same for similar brands like Skippy and Jiff). If the product claims to be hydrogenated oil free AND does not require stirring, then it has palm oil in it. In fact, the ones that I reviewed had palm oil, salt AND sugar (as added ingredients). This is disturbing on several levels. First, this is what the back of the Smuckers All Natural jar says, “peanuts and 1% or less salt.” [I have to use the word all natural because that is what they call their unadulterated peanut butter]
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 explain that solid fats are ones that are solid or semi solid at room temperature. They solidify because they are predominately saturated. The unhealthy kind of fat. The Guidelines recommend that we avoid SoFAS. SoFAS are solid fats and added sugars. This is EXACTLY what the “all natural” stir free peanut butters are providing.
Healthy oils, on the other hand, ones that we should include in our diet, do not solidify. Because pure peanut butter does not have additives, we have to stir the ‘heart healthy’ oil back in. If you stir it once and refrigerate it (i.e. do not keep it at room temperature) it will stay blended.
What really frustrates me about the adulterated products is the implication that they are good for you and that they are just like the other ones. As if magic obviates the need for stirring. It doesn’t. They do not have to be stirred because they have palm or some other fruit oil added to them. This is not a good substitute.
An article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in July of 2006 by Vega-Lopez et al, found that palm oil increased low energy density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol in the same manner as partially hydrogenated soy bean oil. The scientists concluded that palm oil was NOT recommended as a substitute for partially hydrogenated oils.
Read your labels. Be wary of claims - all natural and organic - and look at the ingredients. The Guidelines suggest we add fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy oils to our diet and avoid saturated and trans fats. The document is available on line. You can also find a video on my You Tube channel where I actually stir a jar of my favorite peanut butter to show you skeptics how its done! It has been viewed well over a thousand times, so that's a good sign.