Delving deep into homemade nut butter

I occasionally like to make my own nut butter by grinding nuts in a food processor and adding some coconut oil until it becomes creamy. But I’m worried that I’m losing some of the fiber in the nuts when I grind them. Also, does eating nuts burn more calories than eating nut butter?

As far as the fiber content goes, don’t worry, unless you blanch or otherwise remove the outer layer of the nuts before you process them. Some of the fiber in nuts comes from the skin, so be sure to include the outer layer (not the shell, of course, but the skin around the nut) when processing. It’s true that eating nut butter is a totally different, less crunchy experience than eating nuts, but you won’t lose any of the nut’s fiber by grinding it into a powder, paste or butter.

It’s good that you’re thinking about fiber. Most Americans don’t eat nearly enough: Women should get 21 to 25 grams a day, while men should get 30 to 38. While nuts and seeds can be a good source, keep in mind that fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains are often even better sources.

However, a word to the wise about the coconut oil you’re using to make the nut butter smoother and more spreadable: You could be paying a high price for that convenience.

Even though the internet is plastered with pages touting the health benefits of coconut oil, actual researchers of fatty acids and body energy metabolism are far from convinced. Although the saturated fat in coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides that are thought to provide some health benefits, the detrimental palmitic acid in coconut oil far outweighs any potential dietary benefit in humans. Palmitic acid promotes the formation of belly fat and fat in the liver.

If you feel the need to add some type of oil to your nut butter, you’d be better off using another type of light-tasting or flavor-complementing oil with a higher level of healthier polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fat, such as peanut, walnut, grapeseed, sesame, sunflower or safflower oil.

Finally, don’t be too concerned about the difference in calories that your body burns between eating whole nuts and eating nut butter. The difference would be minuscule. On average, only about 10 percent of the calories your body burns is due to digestion (including chewing) and absorption of nutrients, compared with 30 percent from physical activity (including any type of movement) and 60 percent from basal metabolism.

Interestingly, a small study in the New England Journal of Medicine — notably, in a letter to the editor, not a peer-reviewed journal article — back in 1999 calculated that the energy burned in an hour of chewing gum averaged 11 calories.

The researcher suggested that chewing calorie-free gum during waking hours all day every day could result in the loss of several pounds over a year, and its effects shouldn’t be discounted. But you wouldn’t be chewing nuts for that long. The difference in calories required for digesting nuts as opposed to nut butter is likely indistinguishable.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Dan Remley, field specialist in Food, Nutrition and Wellness with Ohio State University Extension, and Martha Belury, a scientist with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and the Carol S. Kennedy Endowed Professor of Human Nutrition in The Ohio State University’s College of Education and Human Ecology.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Do homework before eating out

167569586I recently noticed that my favorite fast-food restaurant lists the calories of what I’m eating on the wrapper. I was shocked at how high the calories were. Is it just me, or are most people unaware of how many calories are in fast food?

It’s not just you. Many people are blissfully unaware of how many calories they consume, particularly when they eat out.

And that can be a large portion of the diet, considering that about half of Americans’ food dollars are spent on meals prepared outside the home.

Some restaurants already include calorie counts on their menus, which could help people like you who want to make better choices. Unfortunately, though, the implementation of a 2010 federal law requiring any restaurant or other food-service operation that has 20 or more locations to list calories at the point of purchase has stalled as the Food and Drug Administration tries to iron out the details.

But in many cases you can find such information relatively easily. Just go to a restaurant’s website and see if it has nutrition information listed for its menu items. If not, do a Web search — several diet and fitness websites offer such information, gathered from the restaurants or from members of the sites.

Just guessing about calorie counts isn’t a good strategy. In fact, a study recently published in the journal of the British Medical Association showed that Americans tend to underestimate calories, at least in fast-food meals.

The researchers asked more than 3,300 adults, adolescents and school-age children visiting McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, KFC, Dunkin’ Donuts and Wendy’s in four cities in New England to estimate the calories in meals they had just purchased. Then, using the customer’s receipt and the restaurants’ nutrition information, they calculated the actual calories in the meals.

More than two-thirds of the participants underestimated the calories in their meals, with about one-quarter underestimating by 500 calories or more.

Keep in mind that knowing how many calories you’re consuming is just the first step. You also need to know how many calories you should be consuming. For that information, which is based in part on age, gender and daily physical activity, see the chart from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans at http://bit.ly/calneeds. That way you can judge whether your favorite fast-food meal is within the range of your calorie needs.

Know how many calories you need

83252906I always thought almost everyone should eat about 2,000 calories a day, because that’s what is listed on Nutrition Facts labels. But my doctor told me almost no one should eat 2,000 calories a day. Can you clarify this?

The number of calories you should consume each day is personalized, as much as it can be, according to your age, your sex and your activity level.

Calorie recommendations for adults range from a low of 1,600 calories a day for sedentary women 51 or older, to a high of 3,000 calories a day for active men from 19 to 35.

Even though the standard of 2,000 calories a day is appropriate for only a few groups — including sedentary men who are 61 or older and moderately active women between 31 and 50 — it’s not a bad standard to base Nutrition Facts information on. That number (2,000 calories) really only affects the percentages listed under the label’s “Daily Values” for fats, carbohydrates and fiber. Since the actual content (in grams) of those food components is also listed, it’s relatively easy for a person who uses the label to make decisions about their diet to make adjustments accordingly.

For example, if you’re a moderately active 40-year-old man who is in a healthy weight range, your calorie intake should be about 2,600 calories a day. Since fat, carbohydrate and fiber intake are based on that higher calorie level, you know you can aim for more than 100 percent of the Daily Value of those items over the course of the day — 130 percent, in fact, since 2,600 calories is 130 percent of 2,000 calories.

All that detail aside, the bigger point is that everyone should know about how many calories they should be eating each day. To find your level, see the chart from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, posted online at http://bit.ly/calneeds.

To determine how active you are — a key element in figuring out your calorie level — use these guidelines:

  • “Active” means you engage in physical activity equivalent to walking more than 3 miles a day at a rate of 3 to 4 miles per hour.
  • “Moderately active” means your physical activity averages the equivalent of walking 1.5 to 3 miles a day at the same pace.
  • “Sedentary” means you generally don’t engage in daily physical activity beyond that associated with day-to-day life.

For more about physical activity, see this Health and Human Services fact sheet:http://bit.ly/physactivity.