Some foods are considered both “healthy and delicious.” Peanut butter is a staple, a favorite snack food that also curbs sweet cravings. Those of us who aren’t allergic have likely tried it and peanut butter sales (700 million pounds annually) confirm a lot of people really love this stuff! It’s been featured in countless movies, television shows, and homes around the world.
The average child in the United States will consume about 1,500 peanut butter sandwiches by their high school graduation.
The consensus among average consumers is that peanut butter is good for you and is a wise dietary choice for adults and children alike. Let’s take a look at the health (and hype) surrounding our old friend peanut butter. A few facts about peanut butter may surprise you.
The Good News
- Raw peanuts are healthy. They’re packed with healthy fats that are excellent for your heart in moderation. If you pick up a jar of childhood memories at your local grocer and there is only one ingredient, then that peanut butter is healthy for you. Otherwise, it’s loaded with sugar, additives, preservatives, and other disgusting things you don’t want in your body.
- Low-fat peanut butter goes through so much processing to remove the fat (and a lot of scary chemicals are added back in so it still “tastes” like peanut butter) that you’re doing yourself far more harm than good. Just eat the full fat variety.
- Natural peanut butter is loaded with vitamins and minerals. B vitamins, copper, manganese, vitamin E, magnesium, iron, zinc, and folate are part of the package when you eat one-ingredient peanut butters.
- Peanuts are the best food source of biotin (another B vitamin), a necessary ingredient for your body to regulate fat and blood sugar. It also plays a key role in metabolism so peanut butter might boost your efforts to lose weight.
- It has a good balance of carbs, protein, and fat to make it a great energy source but it’s heavy on calories so be cautious there.
The Bad News
- Aflatoxin (fungus) content is pretty high for raw peanuts. Even though humans have a good tolerance to these carcinogens, it’s good to know that almost all of them are removed in the processing of peanut butter.
- It has healthy fats as well as some of the not-so-healthy fats. Americans already get a heavy load of omega-6 fatty acids (and not enough omega-3s) so again, moderation is key.
- What kind of peanut butter matters and the company that produces it is pretty important, too. Food manufacturers are getting sloppy. Shoddy plant conditions, poorly sourced ingredients, and deceptive business practices make our food supply shaky at best. Know where your food comes from and buy organic whenever possible. It isn’t a guarantee but it helps in the grand scheme of things.
The takeaway is that peanut butter, like most foods, is good for you A) in moderation, and B) when you choose your peanut butter wisely.
When Food Manufacturers Put Profits Over Safety
Processed peanut butter was at the center of a trial that should send a ripple of shock (and accountability) through the food manufacturing industry. In 2008, nine people died and more than 700 became ill when they consumed salmonella-tainted peanut butter. It was the deadliest outbreak in decades and resulted in a massive recall by companies that used the peanut paste produced by a company in Georgia called Peanut Corporation of America for various products.
The owner of that company, when told that there were issues with the products, instructed his people to, “Just ship it.” As a result, he was sentenced to 28 years in jail for knowingly shipping tainted food to be consumed by people all over the country. Stewart Parnell, his brother Michael, and his quality manager Mary Wilkerson were all given actual jail time for their crimes.
It’s groundbreaking because it’s the first time a food manufacturer was held accountable for poisoning the public. In this case, the food in question was peanut butter. An inspection of the now-closed factory found deplorable conditions that were a breeding ground for deadly bacteria.
The devastating facts about the peanut butter contamination were not ignored.
An attorney for food safety, Bill Marler, stated about the Parnell sentencing, “Honestly, I think the fact that he was prosecuted at all is a victory for consumers. It is the longest sentence ever in a food poisoning case.”
Annually, 48 million people (1-in-6 Americans) become ill from foodborne bacteria, viruses, or contaminants in foods and drinks. Of those, more than 128,000 are hospitalized. A shocking 3,000 deaths due to food contamination occur every year in the United States alone.
The majority of these cases are preventable. In 2011, new regulations that the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) called the broadest reform of food safety in seven decades, was signed into law by the President of the United States, Barrack Obama.
Know Your Risk
So far in 2015, major food manufacturers and distributors have issued sweeping recalls on foods in wide circulation. Companies such as Blue Bell (makers of ice cream), Sabra (hummus), Trader Joe’s (chicken sausage as well as walnuts), Amy’s Kitchen (organic frozen food), Kraft (macaroni and cheese), Whole Foods (macadamia nuts), and dozens of other companies are on a regularly updated list from the FDA.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a new problem and it certainly isn’t confined to one food.
It isn’t even contained to one species. The amount of dog and cat foods listed on the FDA’s list is extremely troubling. Bacteria does one thing better than most other organisms on earth: multiply. If it enters your home in the form of pet food, there are literally no barriers to where it can go from there.
Be picky about what you eat. Know the facts about peanut butter and other foods you (and your animals) regularly consume so you minimize your personal risk to foodborne contaminants. The chances are high that you’ll be a victim of mild to severe food poisoning in your lifetime. If that happens, stay hydrated, rest, and get to the emergency room if the symptoms worsen.
Right now, I’m going to make myself a peanut butter sandwich. I’m almost certain I didn’t meet the quota before I graduated.