You have a variety of options when you purchase peanut butter. Peanut butter can be hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated and unrefined. The unrefined peanut butter is made of just peanuts that have been crushed. The oil in this type of peanut butter will separate from the peanuts and must be stirred back in. Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated peanut butter does not separate at all and will usually have additional ingredients, such as sugar.
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Benefits of Peanut Butter
Peanut butter is a good source of protein, plant fat and fiber. In its original form, the fat is unsaturated and the fiber comes from complex carbohydrates. Peanuts were once very popular during World War II, when meat was not readily available, as a strong source of protein, according to The Peanut Institute. A 1-oz. serving of peanuts provides 7 g of protein. Peanuts are also high in arginine, an amino acid thought to help reduce your blood pressure. Half the fat in peanuts is monounsaturated fat and more than 30 percent is polyunsaturated fat, both excellent for your health.
Hydrogenation is a chemical process in which unsaturated fats are converted to saturated fatty acids. During this hydrogenation process, the fatty acids change physical properties and become trans fats. Chemically speaking, trans fatty acids are still monounsaturated or polyunsaturated but are now classified as saturated fats because of the difference in their physical properties. This hydrogenation makes the peanut butter smoother and also increases the shelf life at room temperature.
Trouble With Trans Fats
Trans fatty acids are considered by some physicians to be the worst type of fat that you can ingest. Unlike other types of fats, trans fatty acids will both raise your "bad" cholesterol levels as well as lower the "good" cholesterol levels. In combination, this increases your risk of heart disease. Trans fats are found in commercially baked items, such as crackers, cookies and cakes, as well as food that is manufactured using a hydrogenation process. Be aware that if a food has less than 0.5 g of trans fat per serving it can legally be labeled as having 0 g of trans fat. While 0.5 g is a small amount, multiple servings of foods with less than 0.5 g can cause you to exceed your recommended daily limits. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows manufacturers to reduce the serving sizes until the amount of trans fat reaches 0.5 g, thus allowing them to label the product trans fat free.
Peanut Butter and Trans Fats
Refined peanut butter from the grocery store will contain partially hydrogenated oils, which keeps the oil from the peanuts from separating out and rising to the top of the jar. It also makes the peanut butter creamier and dramatically increases the shelf life. According to PeanutButterLovers.com, the amount of trans fat within the regular peanut butter in 2 tbsp. is less than the amount required to report trans fatty acids. In this way, manufacturers are able to list hydrogenated peanut butter with 0 g of trans fatty acids.