What You Don't Get About Trans Fat, and a Little Peanut Butter History

Posted on 09 May 2010 19:21

What people don’t get about trans fat is that many of the products that have been villainized due to trans fat content, such as regular peanut butter, have always contained less than one gram of trans fat per serving. Some of them, in fact, may have always contained less than 0.5 grams of trans fatty-acids per serving.

If Trans Fats are So Bad, Why is this important?

Well, since the recent hysteria involving the unhealthiness of trans fatty acids food labels have undergone a major change.

Yes, some foods have changed too but mostly just the labels. Yep. That's right. Did you think all the products that have suddenly become "trans fat-free" changed their ingredients?

You see, many of the products that proclaim ZERO GRAMS TRANS FAT on the front label actually still contain trans fats.

If you want to be sure, check the ingredients. If it contains “partially hydrogenated oil" or any type of hydrogenated oils then it contains trans fatty acids.

Many, including myself, have made a mistake in reporting that labels can claim zero grams of trans fats if they contain less than one gram and in reporting this as a "new government loophole" In fact, the requirement is LESS THAN .5 GRAMS.

The nature of this requirement has been unjustifiably maligned by many, including myself, by reporting this requirement as if it is new and unique to trans fat when if fact it is the general rule concerning FATS.

Manufacturers must report fat content to the NEAREST .5 GRAMS. Therefore foods containing less than .5 grams can claim zero grams. It would have been ridiculous for the FDA to completely revise it's labeling regulations in order for trans fat to be included on nutrition facts panels.

The trans fat hysteria has caused many people to fall into traps based on certain foods that have been villainized unnecessarily as opposed to other even less healthy foods that are considered good alternatives.

I noticed a thread not too long ago on a bodybuilding board that exemplifies this.

Many of the bodybuilding types are going on and on about natural peanut butter. It’s natty PB this and natty PB that. Regular peanut butter is a villain in the food industry. Don’t worry though, natural peanut butter to the rescue. Also to the rescue of the peanut butter makers since a whole new market has opened up.

Peter Pan peanut butter regular

image via wikimedia

Peter Pan peanut butter regular

image via wikimedia

And there is the added advantage to that handy food labeling term, “natural”.

Now the same public which refused to deal with natural peanut butter in the past is willing to sprain their wrists mixing in the separated oil while it sloshes down the side of the jar. Only to have it separate again. They are willing to have this barely mixed concoction tear their bread to shreds while they make up their PB & J’s.

Better buy natural peanut butter and deal with it. It’s healthy. Good thing for the food industry that the general public is largely unaware of the dangers of rancid oils. They are also unaware that trans fats were not only added to peanut butter to keep the fats from separating and to give it a creamy consistency…it was also there to extend the shelf life. Natural peanut butter should be kept in the refrigerator. Where it will become as hard as a rock.

Actually, things have not always been the same, in regards to how much added oil is in peanut butter. Here is the history lesson promised in the title:

Jiff and the Added Oil Fracas

George Washington Carver invented peanut butter. Wait, that's not true, though you've probably heard it said a million times. Carver is THE peanut dude and he invented hundreds of uses for peanuts. But peanut butter had already been invented. Well, not exactly invented. The truth is, it's not such a novel idea to grind up peanuts and make a paste. Making a paste or powder out of food items you can grind up is just something that is done, throughout history. It is said that African tribes did if for hundreds of years, as well as Peruvians.

What was invented, really, was a convenient way to grind lots of peanuts. This is credited to Dr. Ambrose Straub, of St. Louis, who ground up batches of peanuts to give to his elderly patients, who needed the protein but didn't have the teeth for it. In 1903, he patented a machine for grinding peanuts which was called a mill for grinding peanuts for butter. Thus, peanut butter was born (at least on a large scale).

The first peanut butters were nothing more than ground peanuts. They may have put in a bit of salt and even a bit of sugar. But they were hard and lumpy and the oil tended to separate out to the top, just as natural peanut butters do today. These, at first, were not sold in jars. They came in large cans or wooden tubs. The clerk at the grocery store would scoop some into a jar for you. It went rancid very quickly. The addition of hydrogenated oils to keep the oil from separating was really the first change in the peanut butter formula.

However, Jiff, who came on the scene with their creamy smooth peanut butter went a bit hog wild. They claimed that it was the touch of honey that made their peanut butter smooth. Well, according to the FDA, it was the fact that it was 1/4 vegetable oil. That's right, 25%. This means that in a 16 ounce jar you got 1/4 cup of added vegetable oil.

The FDA decided that a regulatory definition for peanut butter was needed so that consumers could know they were getting mostly peanuts in their peanut butter. The first rule, in 1961, was that peanut butter must be 95% peanuts. Of course, the peanut industry fought the rule, all the way to the supreme court, and managed to whittle it down to 90% peanuts with the addition that peanut butter could also contain some salt, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, artificial or nutritive sweeteners (could be sugar), chemical preservatives, coloring and vitamins. So, when you read the ingredient listing of a modern jar of peanut butter, you can be thankful that it only contains the few ingredients that it typically does.

But here is the thing you may not realize. Many regular peanut butter brands, under the trans fat labeling requirements, could have always called itself “trans fat free”!

Regular peanut butter makers are not, at least that I have seen, proclaiming their peanut butter to be trans fat free. Probably because peanut butter has been made an example of so much that the cat is out of the bag. No problem, just enter the new market.

Guess what product does proclaim itself to be trans fat free. It’s a product that unlike peanut butter, doesn’t simply use trans fat as and additive but owes it’s very existence to partially hydrogenated oils.

This product is “nondairy toppings” or Coolwhip® .

However, I’m not trying to malign Cool Whip here. I’m just trying to make a point in regards to the bodybuilding forum thread I mentioned. In this thread someone posted a recipe using two bodybuilder favorites: natural peanut butter and protein powder. You are supposed to mix the natty peanut butter with the protein powder to make a very tasty spread.

It starts out explaining how the fats in natural peanut butter are supposed to be better for you and all that. Never mind that both natural and regular peanut butter contain the same fats only regular has a little trans fat added…the point is natty is supposed to be better for you.

Ooops. Natty peanut butter doesn’t mix too well with protein powder. No problem. Just add two big spoonfuls of Cool Whip! No, wait, make that Lite Cool Whip.

I’ll let you look up the ingredients in that…

So, anyway, you get it, right? You understand the irony here.

Yet when I pointed out the obvious contradiction, the members tried to defend the non-dairy topping over regular peanut butter! Yet regular peanut butter would have mixed easily and would have made a product that was essentially “less processed” but having a fairly similar trans fat content. Not to mention the new peanut butters with palm oil added which would have worked as well (yes, I DID mention this but Palm oil is a whole other problem since it is so darned Un-Eco friendly in terms of big food).

It becomes more and more clear that people are simply unaware of what they are eating and simply glom on to the current fads concerning bad foods and good foods.

Check out Tom Venuto’s article Trans Fatty Acids: The Poison in Our Food Supply. I think Tom is a bit sensational for my taste on this particular subject since trans fat is but one part of a huge iceberg of problems with oils in our diets. But the information is great and it is well worth the read to get the low-down on what we are looking at with trans fatty acids.

For much more information on labeling regulations and to learn how to read and understand food labels, see How to Read Food Labels.

This page created 09 May 2010 19:21
Last updated 19 Mar 2018 15:49

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