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National Peanut Butter Day!

Today is a most wonderful day in the world food. It's National Peanut Butter Day!

For all you kids out there, peanut butter was what we slathered on two slices of bread, along with some all-fruit spread and ate for lunch - before everyone got allergies and peanuts were banned from schools and day cares. It was a glorious time.

Peanut butter and jelly was also what I subsisted on during a cheap beach vacation with my friend Jen in my early 20's. And what I lived off of during a hiking vacation with my dad and brother a few years later. It's both nostalgic and practical. Recently, USA Today ran a story on how PBJ could actually change America's education system.

As a dietitian, I'm excited to see the resurgence of the natural peanut butters out there - no need for anything added like sugar, corn syrup, oils, or emulsifiers. I can get behind varieties that add salt, but definitely prefer just good ol' peanuts. 

Why is peanut butter so good? For starters, it's a pretty cheap plant-based protein source. You can splurge on organic and still get a good deal. It's also shelf stable and very portable, even after you open it. What's not to love there? And, contrary to common sense, peanuts aren't even nuts! They are actually a legume. Which is interesting, but the ramifications aren't significant. I see it truly as a botanical distinction, because in the culinary world, peanuts are used more like an almond than a chickpea.

In two tablespoons of peanut butter, you're getting about 200 calories and 17g of fat (give or take, depending on the brand), which makes it pretty calorically dense. However, most of that fat (about 14g) is heart healthy fat that promotes feeling satisfied. In addition, you get 2g of fiber and 7 or 8g of protein - more of that satisfied feeling. As for micronutrients, peanut butter is a good source of vitamins E and B6, and minerals magnesium, potassium, and iron. There is even evidence of small amounts of heart-healthy, cancer-fighting resveratrol in peanuts.

But it's not all sunshine and roses, of course. There's the allergy issue that I mentioned earlier. For many people, especially children, this is a serious health concern, with reactions as severe as death. I'd say that not subjecting someone to that is worth the extra creativity required when packing your kid's lunch.

And maybe you've heard about the issue of aflatoxin. It is one of the main reasons that the Paleo and Whole30 diets banish peanuts. Aflatoxin is, indeed, a toxin. It forms from a type of mold that peanuts are especially susceptible to growing. Organic doesn't protect you from this, because it's an issue with storage. However, in the United States, the FDA works to reduce the potential risk for us, by encouraging safe farming and storing techniques, and by regularly testing peanuts and peanut butter. Plus, to the best of my ability to research the topic, there have been zero cases of aflatoxicosis in the US. 

Some cool research from Johns Hopkins University suggests that a chlorophyll compound found in green veggies may inhibit the cancer-causing effects of aflatoxin. So along with the FDA working on consumers' behalf, this is a way to further reduce your risk. Plus, adding green veggies to your diet is good for plenty of other reasons :)  

All this to say that the risk of aflatoxicosis isn't one that bothers me. Peanuts aren't a major player in my diet, even though I do love the flavor. But I don't want to minimize the issue for others. If you are susceptible to mold allergies or other allergies, you might want to consider other nut or seed butters. If you already have liver problems, I'd recommend avoiding the peanuts - it's just not worth it. (Aflatoxicosis is associated with liver cancer.) As always, nutrition is personalized and you have to know how your body reacts to things.

But let's get back to celebrating the wonderful peanut and the butter it makes! I thought that a few recipes from some of my favorite bloggers, dietitians, and food resources might help you celebrate the day right. So without further ado....

Breakfast

Snack (under 200 calories)

  • 1  1/2 Tbs peanut butter with 1 cup carrot and celery sticks - classic!
  • 1/2 whole wheat english muffin with 1 Tbs peanut butter, sprinkled with cinnamon
  • 1/2 recipe Pumpkin Peanut Butter Dip, from Cookin' Cowgirl with 1 small or 1/2 large apple, sliced

Lunch or Dinner

African Peanut Stew with Quinoa, from Teaspoon of Spice

African Peanut Stew with Quinoa, from Teaspoon of Spice

Dessert (under 200 calories)

In general, you can see some pretty classics combos aside from PB&J - banana, chocolate and Asian flavors all pair fantastically with peanut butter. Let me know if you try any of the above, and what you like. Plus, I hope you find some other good resources for delicious healthy eats!

What's your favorite way to enjoy peanut butter?