Peanut Butter

This sandwich spread packs a punch against blood sugar spikes.

Think peanut butter is just for kids? Well, perhaps the classic PB&J (peanut butter and jelly on sticky white bread that melts in your mouth) is best left as part of childhood, but don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Peanut butter is actually a smart addition to a Magic diet, and it makes perfect sense since peanuts are a Magic food, too.

Peanut butter packs a one-two punch against blood sugar spikes: protein and “good” (unsaturated) fat. In fact, the famed Nurses’ Health Study found that women who ate peanut butter at least five times a week were as much as 30 percent less likely to develop diabetes.

On a related note, you may have heard of the peanut butter diet. Crazy? Maybe not. It seems that peanut butter sticks to your ribs as well as the roof of your mouth, thanks to its winning combo of good fat, protein, and fiber. A study at Purdue University found that eating it can dampen appetite for up to 2 hours longer than a low-fiber, high-carb snack.

Like nuts, peanut butter is also a potent protector of the heart. Its good fat helps to tame high cholesterol — after all, it’s the same type of fat found in olive oil. One study found that diets that got most of their monounsaturated fat from peanut butter provided almost the same reduction in heart disease risk as diets that got most of their monounsaturated fats from olive oil. Like the peanuts it comes from, peanut butter is rich in plant compounds called sterols, one of the top proven cholesterol busters. (In fact, sterols are added to some cholesterol-lowering margarines.) Plus, it has a gram of fiber per tablespoon. You really couldn’t pack many more benefits into something you can spoon out of a jar.

Watch what brand you buy, though. Many are sweetened with corn syrup or sugar — 1/2 teaspoon per 2 tablespoons of peanut butter. We don’t quite understand why, since ground peanuts taste great on their own. Natural and organic brands generally have no added sugar and less sodium than regular brands.

Health Bonus
The stash of sterols in peanut butter not only helps control cholesterol, it may also help fend off colon, prostate, and breast cancers. Peanut butter is also a rich source of the heart-healthy antioxidant compound resveratrol, the one for which red wine is most famous. Natural brands of the spread contain even more resveratrol than other types of peanut butter.

Eating peanut butter (or nuts) several times a week is a proven way to keep high blood pressure under control. And peanut butter ranks right up there with most nuts for its stash of vitamin E, important for a healthy immune system.

Peanut butter as a bone builder? Yep. It’s one of the top sources of the bone-building mineral boron.

Finally, eat peanut butter and/or nuts at least five times a week, and you could lower your risk of developing gallstones, according to one study.

Glycemic Load: Very low

Some natural peanut butters need to be refrigerated after you open them (check the label). If the oil separates, let the jar come to room temperature, then stir it up. Most national brands, however, can be sealed tightly and stored in the pantry.

Menu Magic

  • Spread peanut butter on whole grain waffles or pancakes for breakfast.
  • Make a peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole grain bread for a pack-and-go lunch. Or smear half a banana with some peanut butter as a snack.
  • For a nibble that won’t make your blood sugar go haywire, spread peanut butter on whole grain crackers or triangles of toasted whole wheat pita bread.
  • For an even lower-GL snack that will stave off hunger longer, spread peanut butter on apple slices, celery sticks, or carrots.
  • Be adventurous and try different types of nut butters with different types of fruit and vegetables. Almond butter on sliced pears (Anjou, Bartlett, or Asian) is a delicious combination.

Perfect Portion: 1 tablespoon
Peanut butter won’t raise your blood sugar, but it does contain almost 100 calories per tablespoon. When you’re spreading bread, a cracker, or a bagel, be sure you practice portion control and stick with that amount.

Smart Substitution
Instead of jam: Spread peanut butter on your whole grain toast or bagel. You’ll get more calories but also more hunger-satisfying protein and less sugar.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest