What’s in your Cart? ~ Peanut Butter

Hello!! and welcome to February! Hmmm… I guess it’s already into the 2nd of week of February. I admit, I had such great plans for my blog this year, and here we are another month has gone by and I haven’t even been by to visit. [dusting off the cobwebs *cough, cough*]

To be honest, January is a blur. A nasty flu bug hit our household, and kept it’s stronghold for several weeks. There were days I barely had enough energy to get out of bed – let alone sit at my computer. On the plus side, I did manage to catch up on a lot (and I mean A LOT) of reading. That being said, I did have plenty of ideas swirling around in my head, and some of them even related to this blog! I probably should have written them down though, huh?

Ah well, no worries. While making some toast for breakfast the other morning, I decided to crack open a new jar of peanut butter. A while back, our grocery store had Kraft peanut butter on sale. The way hubby goes through peanut butter, I always try to stock up when a good sale is on. I usually just grab a few jars each of  the smoothy and crunchy kind. This time, however, I happened to notice the “Unsweetened-Unsalted” version. I don’t know if it was the nice blue label and cap that caught my eye, the fact that we have been making a conscious effort to eat better or that only the small (500g) jars were on sale and I wouldn’t feel as bad if we didn’t like it.  Whatever the reason, one jar made its way into my cart, and strangely – got pushed into the back of the cupboard. I may be wrong, but I suspect hubby was trying to avoid that one….

When I opened the jar, I was surprised to see it looked exactly the same as the smooth peanut butter. I guess for some reason, I was expecting it to look more like natural peanut butter. Silly me, since nowhere does it say that (and Kraft actually has an “All Natural” version). I wondered how they could get the same consistency, when there was no sugar. Someone once told me all the added sugar is what makes it so smooth and spreadable. I don’t know if tha’s true, but I guess I never really gave it much thought since. Besides, even though I like peanut butter, I only eat it once in a while. So, I never worried too much about what was in it. Besides, peanut butter is supposed to be a good source of protein, right?

While waiting for my toast to pop up, I decided to take a look at the list of ingredients. I know I should have probably done that in the store when I was buying it, but sometimes I am just wooed by labels and marketing. In my defense, we have been buying less and less pre-packaged products and learning to make more things from scratch so I don’t always think to look at the labels. Also, maybe sometimes we just like something that is tasty, and don’t want to know/care what’s in it. I really don’t want to become a fanatic about EVERYTHING we eat. Sometimes just being more aware is a big step.

Anyway, back to the peanut butter… I was a bit disappointed to read the ingredients:

  • Select Roasted Peanuts
  • Soybean Oil
  • Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil

Wow, I thought Hydrogenated oil was the evil bearer of trans-fats and manufacturers were trying to eliminate them. Apparently not in peanut butter. The strange thing is, the nutrition facts show there is ZERO grams of trans fat. How is that possible? This nutrition labeling can sometimes be very confusing!

Okay, moving on, I decided to compare my smooth peanut butter to the “Unsweetened-Unsalted” version. The smooth version had three more ingredients: corn dextrin, sugar and salt.

You can do some research on your own about dextrins, but I discovered it’s processed from starch to create a binding or thickening agent. Some types of dextrins are used to create the glue on stamps and envelopes, others are used in pharmaceuticals to hold pills together. Some are added to food as a crispness enhancer (for batters and coatings), as well as thickeners for sauces and dressings. Maltodextrin is a food additive starch sugar (carbohydrate), which can be absorbed as quickly as glucose (sugar). One source indicated that corn dextrin was the same as Maltodextrin. So, I think it’s just like adding more sugar… Isn’t that all so exciting?

What does this all mean? Well, here was my biggest surprise. I compared the nutrition facts between my two jars of peanut butter. They were almost IDENTICAL. The serving size matched, the calories were the same, the fat and fibre contest were the same. As expected (hoped), there was no sodium in the unsalted version versus the smooth variety. What surprised me the most was the sugar content in the carbohydrates section. They both have 1 gram of sugar. How can this be???

I am sure some chemist can explain all the intricacies of chemical makeup and naturally occurring elements in foods… BUT this should not be necessary. The media is constantly telling us to be more pro-active and read our nutrition labels. I am all for taking responsibility for what I am eating. However, it would seem to me that these labels are lacking and insufficient enough for us (as consumers) to always make a good choice.

Further to this, I did look into what it would require to make my own peanut butter. I don’t mind if it takes a bit of work. The price to buy the peanuts might be a hindrance, since I don’t get bulk discounts like the manufacturers. I’d have to look into that. Putting the cost factor aside, it was the shelf-life of homemade peanut butter that turned me off from making it myself. Once made, peanut butter will last about 2 weeks – in the FRIDGE. Cold peanut butter is a no go in this household. Sorry, but It’s probably easier to spread glue onto a piece of bread, than it is to spread cold peanut butter – even more so with the natural kind. I’d also have to be making peanut butter (at least) every two weeks.

Some might argue that eating only natural foods would solve that problem, but when you think about… even though a piece of fresh fruit does not come with a label. We all know it can come with hidden ingredients (like pesticides). Meat and dairy can have antibiotics that are not indicated on the packaging (check the news). Others might say eating organic is the answer. Perhaps if you made the same salary some of the doctors who recommend this [sarcasm]. I am sure the average family needs to be careful about spending, and buying everything organic is not always a possibly. I know it’s certainly not an option for us…

So, in the end, what is one to do?

Well, I could probably write an entirely whole other article on the many avenues to look into in this area. We could try to make manufacturers more accountable to start producing healthy YET affordable products. Something that may come about one day, but I honestly don’t see that happening very quickly. Realistically, they want to make a profit, so they will always be looking for ways to cut costs (which more often than not is not in our best interest).  Hopefully, as more and more organic products are introduced into the market, the demand will grow and the prices come down.

In the meantime, we are trying to:

  • make more and more food from scratch
  • eat less processed/packaged foods
  • pay more attention to the ingredients listed in our foods

Even so, I still keep a few boxes of Kraft dinner, canned soup and frozen chicken fingers in the house. We rarely go out to eat, and unless it’s in utter desperation, we don’t eat fast food. We grow some of our own vegetables in the summer, but I am also guilty of buying imported fruits and vegetables. We have snow here almost half the year… there is nothing much growing locally! We do our best, try to keep educated (without going overboard), and sometimes we even throw caution to the wind and buy convenience foods!

How about you? Have you made any changes to help yourself and/or your family to eat more healthy?

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