The lunchbox classic has gone gourmet. Hello Honey Pretzel, Vanilla Espresso, Mocha Cappuccino, and so on...and then some with nuts other than peanuts. Here's what to try, and not to.
ALA is not a bonus. The evidence that the omega-3 fat in flax seed and other vegetable oils protects the heart are quite weak. Omega's found in seafood (EPA & DHA) are proving to be more beneficial.
Trans fat has been eliminated from nearly all of them. Some contain hydrogenated oils, which do not contain trans fat. Avoid the partially hydrogenated oils, as they are the ones that contain the trans fat.
Natural can sometimes mean there are no hydrogenated oils...only to substitute with palm oil, which adds saturated fat. It can also mean there are no added oil or emulsifiers to keep the oils from separating.
Salt Most peanut butters taste just fine without added salt, but even for those with salt added, it is not an unreasonable amount. Two tablespoons of peanut butter contain approx. 70 - 200 mg. "Low sodium" varieties contain about 60 - 100mg. Check the Nutrition Facts label on individual brands.
Sugar Name brands usually add 1-2 grams to the 1-2 grams that occur naturally in the peanuts. Not a lot. Avoid the added corn syrup or dreaded high fructose corn syrup, which of course is just sugar in a different form. "Artisan" varieties can contain as much as 9 added grams of sugar per serving. Some contain enough sugar to displace a gram or two of protein. The butters containing fruit may sound healthier, but most have more sugar than fruit, if any real fruit at all. If you like fruit with your peanut butter, add your own!
Light Two flat tablespoons of regular peanut butter contain 200 calories with only 7-8 grams of protein, about 50 more calories than 2 oz. of turkey or ham. It's hard to reduce the calories with out losing nutrition. Here's how some make the attempt: Powdered Is made with dry roasted peanuts that you add water to. The calories are reduced to just 50 per serving, while maintaining the protein. Whipped PB contains about 150 calories per serving by adding air, which also reduces the protein to about 5-6 grams. Reduced Fat does not always mean less calories. Some varieties replace the fat with corn syrup solids - sugar instead of nuts - no savings there! Also avoid ingredients that dilute peanuts with defatted peanut flour. It only reduces the protein to less than 4g per serving.
Peanut butter is rich in unsaturated fat (cholesterol lowering), vit E, magnesium, copper, fiber, and zinc. Other nuts, seeds and soy can offer less saturated fats and more nutrients.
Almond butter contains more vit E, magnesium, iron, and copper than PB, and less sat. fat, and is rich in calcium. Just be prepared to pay at least twice as much.
Cashew butters are rich in magnesium, iron, and copper, but less vit E and protein than PB, and less cholesterol lowering polyunsaturated fat. Cashews are also higher in saturated fats...too much to balance out the fat ratio to be considered "heart healthy."
Soy butter doesn't taste like PB, and has the same amount of calories. It works for some folks who can't eat peanuts.
Sunflower is lower in saturated fat and higher in nutrition; great for those who can't eat nuts. Beware of brands made in the same factory as peanut butter if you are allergic to nuts.
Chocolate-nut spreads sound healthy, but they are not. Most contain more added sugar and palm oil than nuts, with less than 2g protein and 4% of the day's calcium requirement. The high saturated fat is not balanced by the amount of unsaturated fat.