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Peanut Butter – Friend or Foe?

May 29, 2020
Peanut Butter – Friend or Foe?

This month’s recipe is stir-fry with a peanut-based sauce.

For many of us, PB&J was the hallmark of our youth. PB&Js made their way into our lunchboxes in the early 1900’s due to peanut butter’s simple manufacturing process and availability: there wasn’t a store where you couldn’t find sliced bread and peanut butter. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches also gained notoriety during the WWII-era as soldiers would often eat them for energy during maneuvers. Easy to find and universal to the taste buds, peanut butter became a staple in everyone’s kitchen. Peanut butter’s low price and high nutritional value made it a simple, accessible, and versatile spread enjoyed by all ages.

In 1971, due to increasing amounts of hydrogenated oils and sugars that were being added to the traditional recipe, The Food and Drug Administration began to require that peanut butter be made with 90 percent peanuts. Subsequently, peanut butter evolved into a health food darling as many options emerged that were fresh-ground, sans the fat and the sugar.

But then came the allergies. In the late 90s, a rise in the number of peanut allergic reactions became a controversial topic in Western countries. As a result, many parents began to replace peanut butter with other nut butters in their children’s diets. More recent studies have actually found the opposite: that introducing peanut-containing foods early for children, even in infancy, may reduce the risk of developing peanut allergies. You might be curious to know that peanut butter also has a fascinating relationship with microbiome! One study showed that peanut butter could act as a strong, protective vehicle to getting healthy bacteria into your gut.

Because we wanted this month’s recipe for one-pan peanut stir-fry to be maximally accessible, we made it with the kind of peanut butter you can get anywhere, from your corner convenience store to every national chain.

But let’s take a second to compare the differences between conventional, commercially-produced peanut butter and fresh-ground peanuts – how does nutritional value change and how would you substitute in this recipe?

Added oils (often hydrogenated) are still included in commercial peanut butter (they contribute to its texture), as are sugar and salt (flavor!). Given their high fat content and some on-board carbohydrate content, ground peanuts are still quite tasty on their own, but often have a grittier consistency than conventional peanut butter. In terms of substitution in this recipe, the biggest difference you’ll note will likely be the sugar content – if you use all-natural ground peanuts, we suggest you sneak a teaspoon or two of sugar into the sauce.

For those who are allergic to peanuts, what about other nut butters like cashew butter or almond butter?

Cashew butter contains a bit less protein and carbohydrate, with more iron, magnesium, and monosaturated fats. Almond butter has more monosaturated fat, half the saturated fat, and similar mineral counts to cashew butter. In terms of substitution, each will confer a slightly different taste and we encourage you to experiment.

Since the recipe contains only a tablespoon of nut butter, neither of these nut butter substitutions will make a significant nutritional contribution. However, there is one real hero in this dish: the vegetables. You may have noticed that this is not a sugar- or fat-free recipe  (in our wellness guide, we don’t advocate “no fat,” but a “healthy fat” diet). But the important thing to pay attention to here isn’t that a little fat or sugar is going to break the bank – it’s that any small negative impact is very much balanced out by the abundance of healthy vegetables.

The beauty of this recipe is that you can use any veggie that you like or have on hand! But as an FYI, here is the nutritional breakdown of the stir fry vegetables that we have included in this recipe:

Broccoli – Not only is broccoli a real food, it is also one of the best vegetables you can eat, full of vitamins, fiber, and beneficial plant compounds (phytochemicals). Research has linked cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, along with its relatives cauliflower, kale, and bok choy) to a lower risk of several types of cancer.

Carrots – Carrots contain beta carotene, which converts to vitamin A. Beneficial compounds naturally occurring in carrots include anthocyanins and polyacetylenes.

Onions – Onions are not only full of nutrients like vitamin C, but they also contain flavonoids and anthocyanins. Researchers have documented flavonoids’ anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.

Zucchini – The often-overlooked zucchini is a powerhouse vegetable! While low in calories, it is a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, minerals, antioxidants (especially other carotenoids), and fiber. There is anecdotal evidence that zucchini (and its bright-yellow relative, summer squash) has been used as a traditional folk medicine.

As another curiosity, note that this recipe is nearly grain-free. The soy sauce contains a small amount of wheat; you can substitute tamari (available at health-food stores and some chain grocery stores) to make it gluten-free. You can always serve it over rice or any other grain if you like.

Bon appétit!

One-pan Veggie Stir Fry with Peanut Sauce
In a medium jar combine:

  • 2 tbs of peanut butter
  • 1 tsp of soy sauce
  • 1 tsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tbs orange juice
  • 1 tsp of ketchup (yes!)
  • ½ tsp of crushed garlic
  • ¼ cup boiling water

Shake until combined. Heat 1 tbs of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add:

  • 1 cup broccoli, chopped small
  • 1 cup shaved cabbage
  • 1-2 carrots, shaved
  • 1 cup chopped zucchini
  • ¼ cup chopped red pepper
  • ¼ cup chopped onion

Sauté until vegetables are soft. Move the cooked vegetables to the far sides of the pan, making a hole in the center. Add: 1 tsp of oil and 1 cup of ½ inch cubed meat, fish, or tofu. Cook protein in the center of the pan for 5 minutes, turning only 1-2 times. Mix the vegetables and the protein. Turn the heat to high and stir in the peanut sauce. Stir constantly on high heat until the sauce is distributed and comes to a boil, about 2 minutes.

Yield: 2 servings