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Peanut butter contains saturated fat and sodium; so how can it be considered a healthy food? That’s what a reader recently asked the Harvard Heart Letter. It’s a good question that gets to the heart of choosing foods that are good for health. Dr. Walter C. Willett, a nationally known nutrition expert and a member of the Heart Letter’s editorial board, tackled that question as part of the newsletter’s popular Ask the Doctor feature. The presence of saturated fat doesn’t automatically kick a food, such as peanut butter, into the “unhealthy” camp.

Eating a lot of it, though, promotes artery-clogging atherosclerosis, the process that underlies most cardiovascular disease. Peanut butter also gives you some fiber, some vitamins and minerals (including potassium), and other nutrients. Unsalted peanut butter has a terrific potassium-to-sodium ratio, which counters the harmful cardiovascular effects of sodium surplus. And even salted peanut butter still has about twice as much potassium as sodium. Numerous studies have shown that people who regularly include nuts or peanut butter in their diets are less likely to develop heart disease or type 2 diabetes than those who rarely eat nuts.

Brown Sugar vs. White Sugar

While you should generally limit your intake of both brown and white sugar, you may have heard that brown sugar is better for you. While brown sugar may contain slightly more essential nutrients than white sugar, it isn’t necessarily healthy.

What is Brown Sugar?

Brown sugar is simply white sugar mixed with molasses. Therefore, brown sugar can hold its shape like wet sand, while white sugar cannot. Raw sugar is also generally brown in color, and forms when the juice of sugar cane evaporates. However, many people refer to brown sugar as granulated white sugar with molasses added to it.

Molasses and brown sugar do contain more essential nutrients that white sugar, so choosing brown sugar over white is technically healthier. For example, a tablespoon of molasses is a good source of dietary potassium — and provides small amounts of calcium, magnesium and B vitamins. However, the amount of these essential nutrients you’d be getting from brown sugar is very small and won’t do much to meet your daily nutrient needs. Furthermore, just like white sugar, molasses and brown sugar are added sugars that should be limited in your diet as much as possible to avoid unwanted weight gain and increased chronic disease risks.

Brown sugar and white sugar both contain about the same number of calories per serving. A teaspoon of packed brown sugar provides 17 calories and 1 teaspoon of white sugar contains 16 calories, notes the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database. So, if you’re looking for ways to cut calories, choosing brown sugar over white sugar won’t be beneficial.

To maximize your health and lower risks for unwanted weight gain and chronic diseases, limit added sugars — including white sugar, brown sugar, and molasses — as much as possible, suggests the American Heart Association (AHA).

The Sweet Wars Credit Picture License: Sugar Spoon via photopin cc