Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Grocery store lessons: Natural Peanut Butter

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I know that “natural” is a meaningless marketing term. It still drives me nuts when peanut butter that consists of any ingredients other than peanuts is described as “natural”. So, what got me going this time? The Kitchn’s peanut butter taste test purporting to test seven natural peanut butters. But just how natural are all of those peanut butters?

1. Smucker’s Natural Creamy Peanut Butter

INGREDIENTS: PEANUTS, CONTAINS 1% OR LESS OF SALT.

Not too bad. Although that 1% of salt amounts to 105 mg of sodium in a two tablespoon serving. Compare that to 0 mg of sodium in a truly natural peanut butter.

2. Justin’s Classic Peanut Butter

INGREDIENTS: Dry Roasted Peanuts, Palm Fruit Oil*.

I’m not sure why there’s an asterisk on the palm fruit oil as it doesn’t appear to lead to anything. Strangely, that addition of oil doesn’t appear to increase the fat content in comparison to a peanut butter that’s 100% natural.

3. Brad’s Organic Peanut Butter

INGREDIENTS: Organic Peanuts

Thumbs up for this one!

4. Whole Foods Creamy Peanut Butter

INGREDIENTS: Organic dry-roasted peanuts, organic palm oil, organic pure cane sugar, sea salt

Face palm. There is nothing natural about this. Organic ingredients and sea salt do not a natural product make. Thumbs way down.

5. Trader Joe’s Creamy Unsalted Peanut Butter

INGREDIENTS: Organic Peanuts

Another thumbs up. Funnily enough, I noticed that this is a product of Canada but we don’t have Trader Joe’s here.

6. Skippy Natural Peanut Butter

INGREDIENTS: Roasted peanuts, sugar, palm oil, salt

Skippy didn’t even bother to trick people into thinking their ingredients are healthy by using organic ones. Another faux natural peanut butter.

7. Smart Balance Natural Creamy Peanut Butter

INGREDIENTS: Peanut butter (peanuts, dried cane syrup, salt, molasses), natural oils (palm fruit and flax seed oils)

Is there something less than thumbs down? I give this one that rating. Two added sugars, two added oils, and salt. Pass.

If you want a natural peanut butter you’re going to have to look beyond the marketing terms on the front of the label. Check the ingredients. If you see anything other than peanuts it’s not truly “natural” and you need to decide if those extra ingredients are worth the extras (i.e. sugar, sodium, fat) they bring with them.


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Some thoughts on M&Ms and natural dyes

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An American mum has started a crusade to have artificial food dyes removed from M&Ms. Apparently, in Europe, natural plant-based dyes are used to provide the colour for the candy shells of M&Ms. As there is potential that some of these artificial food dyes have negative effects on health I can get behind the demand to have these ingredients removed from food products.

Some of my comments on the petition to remove food dyes from Kraft Dinner in the US apply to this matter as well. I think that it’s important to bear in mind that regardless of the source of colour, we’re still talking about candy here. Changing the source of the colour is not going to make M&Ms any healthier. M&Ms should still be regarded as a treat; not as a regular part of a diet.

In addition, I’d also like to take the time to remind people that “natural” doesn’t necessarily make a food superior. It’s actually a pretty meaningless marketing term. Remember that “natural vanilla flavour” might come from beaver anal glands and sometimes ground insects are used to colour foods.


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Aloe vera juice: another instance where natural may not be best

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The CSPI recently released a statement deeming aloe vera beverages unsafe to drink. This statement was based on research by the US government. The CSPI doesn’t provide a link to the research but I believe that it was this rat study published in 2012. As you know, I’m the first to be skeptical of any mouse or rat research. After all, these species are very different from humans and results seen with them does not necessarily translate to similar results seen with humans. However, this study does give me pause to reconsider consumption of aloe vera juices.

There has been limited research on aloe vera juice to date. However, the little research that does exist seems to lend support solely to the topical application of aloe vera. I might add, that there is conflicting research as to the wound healing properties of aloe vera. It appears that in some people topical application of aloe to cuts may actually exacerbate the problem and delay healing. Oral consumption of aloe vera is also not recommended for pregnant women as it can induce contractions.

The current rat study was conducted over the course of two years. During which time the rats were given water containing either no aloe, 0.5, 1, or 1.5% aloe vera. I’m a little unclear as to whether or not the rats were provided with any beverages besides the aloe vera laced water and how much aloe vera these concentrations would translate to for human consumption. I do think that these things matter when drawing conclusions from the results as we know that excessive consumption of anything is bad for you and it may be that the higher concentrations would be far more aloe vera than anyone would realistically consume. However, it’s very interesting to note that no intestinal tumors were seen in the rats consuming the 0 or 0.5% concentrations while a significant number of rats consuming the 1 and 1.5% concentrations developed intestinal tumors. Even if these rats were especially susceptible to intestinal tumors (which as far as I can tell they aren’t, although they are susceptible to liver carcinomas) you would then expect to see intestinal tumors developing in all of the groups, not just those ingesting the higher concentrations of aloe vera.

The rats were given aloe vera whole leaf extract which might also have played a role in the negative findings. It’s possible that different results might be found for the consumption of just the inner-fillet. Regardless, until further research is done, you might want to think twice before consuming aloe vera juice on a regular basis. Just because it’s “natural” doesn’t mean it’s good for you.


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Grocery store lessons: Natural peanut butter

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I love natural peanut butter. Just peanuts, nothing more. I saw the Skippy Natural Smooth peanut butter in the grocery store and took a look at the ingredients:

roasted peanuts, sugar, palm oil, salt

Now I know that “natural” is a bit of a meaningless marketing term but I was still pretty surprised by that list. Is that really different from “regular” peanut butter??

Here’s the ingredient list for Skippy Creamy peanut butter:

freshly roasted peanuts, soybean oil, maltodextrin, icing sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oil, salt

Okay, so the “natural” peanut butter is slightly better than the regular peanut butter but it’s still far from truly natural peanut butter containing only peanuts.