Tag Archives: trans-fat

Are Nut Butters Worth The Hype?

Question:  I’ve heard that peanut butter alternatives, like almond butter, are better for you. The problem is, they can cost twice as much! Are the health benefits worth shelling out the extra dough?

Answer: A small container of peanut butter may cost $3.50, while an even smaller jar of almond butter might run you $7 bucks! The thing is, these “nut butters” are all very similar nutritionally and it mostly comes down to what your taste buds prefer.

Real butter comes from animal sources and contains a lot of artery-clogging saturated fat. Nut butters are made from plant-based sources, such as almonds, peanuts and cashews. Nut butters also contain a large amount of fat, but they are low in saturated fat and high in heart-healthy unsaturated fats.

The following table lists the nutrient profiles of 1 Tbsp of several nut butters. They generally have the same amount of calories, but peanut butter contains the most protein, which is what fills you up. Unfortunately, peanut butter also contains the most saturated fat (2 g per Tbsp), although not significantly more than the other nut butters.

Calories Protein Total Fat Saturated fat Monounsaturated fat Polyunsaturated fat
Peanut butter 95 cal 4g 8g 2g 4g 2g
Almond butter 101 cal 2g 9g 1g 6g 2g
Cashew butter 94 cal 3g 7.5g 1.5g 4.5g 1.5g
Sesame butter/Tahini 89 cal 3g 7.5g 1g 3g 3.5g
Sunflower butter 93 cal 3g 7.5g 1g 1.5g 5g

The nut butters highest in monounsaturated fats are the best for cardiovascular health, but all are great vegetarian options. Nut butters make great snacks, high in protein, calcium and iron! Here are a few healthful ideas: top a half a bagel or an apple with nut butter or spread nut butter on a whole-wheat tortilla and add sliced banana.

I found a 2003 study examining how eating different forms of almonds affect men and women with high cholesterol levels (Spiller et al). The subjects all followed a heart-healthy diet, which included 100 grams daily of roasted salted almonds, roasted almond butter or raw almonds for four weeks. All three forms lowered LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, but only roasted and raw almonds lowered total cholesterol. HDL (“good”) cholesterol did not change in the raw or roasted almonds groups, but slightly increased with almond butter!

All nut butters are healthy choices when used in moderation and when substituting for an unhealthy snack. If you’re interested, you can choose “natural” varieties that contain no hydrogenated oils or trans fats. Regular peanut butter contains a tiny amount of partially hydrogenated oil (a.k.a. trans fat), which keeps the product from separating and makes it taste creamier. “Natural” nut butters made with zero hydrogenated oils may have a layer of liquid at the top of the container, which needs to be stirred into the mixture prior to consumption. However, since the amount of trans fat in regular peanut butter is insignificant, government regulations allow products to remain labeled as containing “no trans fats per serving!”

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Filed under Food Groups, Heart Healthy Choices

Protecting your heart

Q: My doctor says I have high cholesterol. What can I do to lower it?

A: There are several components to a “lipid profile” – total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, HDL (“good”) cholesterol and triglycerides. If your physician is telling you that you have “high cholesterol,” he is referring to either the total cholesterol number, your LDL reading or both. A desirable profile is as follows:

Total cholesterol <200 mg/dl

LDL cholesterol <130 mg/dl

HDL cholesterol >40 mg/dl (>50 mg/dl for women)

Triglyceride level <150 mg/dl

Cholesterol is a component of animal products and is not found in plant-based foods. It is necessary in the body for the production of bile, which helps digest fats, and steroid hormones (e.g. vitamin D, estrogen and testosterone). While the body utilizes cholesterol for important functions, the liver is also able to synthesize necessary amounts – it is not necessary to ingest it as part of your diet! Total cholesterol, LDL and triglyceride levels that are too high put you at risk for cardiovascular disease.


Let’s focus on LDL cholesterol, since it has been linked to atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Several factors influence LDL levels, including age, diabetes, obesity, reduced estrogen levels and diet.  Diets high in saturated fat and cholesterol elevate LDL. In addition, trans-fats can raise LDL and lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol – a double whammy!

Lower your saturated fat intake! Saturated fat intake has a much greater negative effect on blood cholesterol than does dietary cholesterol. (Dietary cholesterol, however, is often found in the same foods that are high in saturated fat.) Choose lean meats, select skim milk, low-fat dairy products and stick to vegetable oils that are liquid at room temperature (e.g. cook with olive or canola oil, rather than butter or lard.) To further cut back on fat intake, remove the skin from chicken before eating, substitute margarine for butter and grill or bake fish, meat and poultry instead of frying.

Eat a minimum amount of trans-fat. Select products that are made with no hydrogenated (or partially hydrogenated) vegetable oils. Check the ingredient list before buying!!

Lastly, up your intake of viscous or soluble fiber. Choose more fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains, especially barley and oats.

While there are several ways to manage blood cholesterol levels with medication, try modifying your diet first. Just a 1-point decrease in your LDL cholesterol level corresponds to a 1-2% decrease in your risk for developing coronary heart disease!

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Filed under Fruits and Vegetables, Grains, Heart Healthy Choices, Medical Conditions

Better than butter?

Q: Is there a difference between butter and margarine?

A: Yes! A quick look at the nutrition facts tells us there is a big difference between butter and margarine! The debate focuses on the types of fat found in these products and stick butter has the most saturated fat per tablespoon (7g), giving it the most unhealthy characteristics.

When it comes to eating a heart healthy diet, you want to minimize intake of artery-clogging trans-fat and saturated fat, both of which can raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol level. Keep trans-fat consumption to a minimum and saturated fat to less than 10% of daily calories. (That’s 20g saturated fat for a daily 2,000 calorie diet!)

Years ago, hard margarines were made with unhealthy hydrogenated oils. Hydrogenation is the process of taking unsaturated (healthier) fats and adding hydrogen atoms to obtain characteristics of a saturated fat. For example, hydrogenated oils are firmer and easier to spread, but this causes the loss of health benefits associated with unsaturated fats. Trans-fatty acids also form during hydrogenation and pose a double risk to heart health by raising LDL (bad) cholesterol AND lowering HDL (good) cholesterol. Thanks to better technology, soft margarines and spreads can now be made from a blend of unhydrogenated oils, such as soybean and canola oils, which are mostly unsaturated and, therefore, more heart healthy than butter.

While whipped butter has less saturated fat per tablespoon that stick butter (see below), soft margarine and spreads are clearly the way to go to save on calories and saturated fat grams! The bottom line? Check the ingredient list to make sure the product is not made with partially hydrogenated oils and look for spreads that are trans-fat free and low in saturated fat!

Butter, stick (1 Tbsp): 100 calories, 11g total fat (7g saturated)

Breakstone’s whipped butter (1 Tbsp): 70 calories, 7g total fat (4.5g saturated)

Land o’ Lakes whipped butter (1 Tbsp): 50 calories, 6g total fat (3.5g saturated)

Land o’ Lakes soft margarine (1 Tbsp): 100 calories, 11g total fat (3g saturated)

Land o’ Lakes Fresh Buttery Taste Spread, soft (1 Tbsp): 70 calories, 8g total fat (2g saturated)

Fleischmann’s Original Soft Spread (1 Tbsp): 70 calories, 8g total fat (1.5g saturated)

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, original soft spread (1 Tbsp): 70 calories, 8g total fat (2g saturated)

*Smart Balance Original Buttery Spread (1 Tbsp): 80 calories, 9g total fat (2.5g saturated)

*Promise buttery spread (1 Tbsp): 80 calories, 8g total fat (1.5g saturated)


*Made with no hydrogenated oils

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Filed under Fats & Oils, Heart Healthy Choices

Helpful hints when choosing your foods

My previous post on understanding the food pyramid provided guidelines on how many servings from each food group should be consumed per day.  Use that information, along with the tips below to make your diet as nutritious as possible.

Food Group Helpful Hints!
Grains

 

-Make half your daily grain choices whole grains.-Good sources: whole grain or whole wheat bread or pasta, oats, rye, barley, couscous

-Poor sources: enriched wheat flour (e.g. white bread), cookies, cakes, doughnuts

-When preparing mixed dishes, such as soups or stews, include whole grains such as barley or quinoa. Use whole grain bread crumbs in meatloaf and use whole wheat flour for up to half of the flour used in pancake, waffle and muffin recipes.


 

Fruit
-While 100% fruit juice counts towards daily fruit intake, try and limit consumption to less than ¾ cup per day (1.5 servings). Juice lacks the fiber that whole fruits provide.
-When selecting canned items, be sure the fruit is canned in 100% fruit juice or water, rather than syrup
 
Vegetables

-While french fries technically count as a veggie, it’s important to mix it up! Be sure to also eat dark green and orange veggies, such as spinach, broccoli, carrots and squash.
Dairy

-Milk choices, including fluid milk, cottage cheese and yogurt, should be fat-free or low-fat.
-Foods made from milk that have little to no calcium, including cream cheese, cream and butter are not included in this group. Instead, they appear under “oils,” because of their fat content.


 

Meats, poultry, fish, nuts
-Choose lean or low-fat cuts and remember that preparation method matters! Baking or grilling a cutlet is a lot healthier than deep-frying it!-Wondering how many nuts make up ½ oz? It’s 12 almonds, 24 pistachios or 7 walnut halves.

-Good sources: beans, tofu, fish, chicken without skin, eggs, lean meat, peanut butter, seeds

-Poor sources: baked beans, fried eggs, sausages, spare ribs

-Eat fish at least twice a week and select fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, trout and herring.

-Organ meats, including liver, as well as egg yolks are high in cholesterol, but egg whites are cholesterol-free!

-Processed meats, such as ham, sausage, hot dogs and deli meats are high in sodium, so limit your intake.


 

Oils -It’s best to steer clear of solid fats, like butter and lard, because solid fats are high in trans fat and saturated fat, which increase your risk for heart disease. Instead, use liquid fats, such as canola, corn and olive oils. (Note: coconut and palm kernel are the two oils high in saturated fat and should be used sparingly.)

-When choosing margarine to purchase, look for one with zero grams trans fat.


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