In the information society, nobody thinks. We expected to banish paper, but we actually banished thought.
― Michael Crichton
The Peanut Butter Conundrum
I was at a friend’s house earlier in the week, and she being a lovely person had thoughtfully made a dessert that didn’t include any wheat. Chocolate on the outside, peanut butter and butter on the inside, she said. I had several. I had several because I really appreciated her going out of her way to make something without wheat in it, we were having an engaging conversation at the time she brought them out, I was a guest in this woman’s home. I know her to be a person who thrives on knowing that what she’s made in the kitchen is enjoyed by those who eat it.
But after eating two, I found myself having a sudden urge to eat the entire tray.
That’s odd, I thought to myself.
I ate one more and then forced myself to stop. It was harder than anything I’d done in a long time. I then sat and watched some of the Olympics with them. (We agreed that Winter Olympics are pretty boring. You can only watch a person sliding downhill so many different ways.)
Then we left, walked a ways in the cold, found a cab, and got home. When we got home, I felt an overwhelming sense of frustration. I wanted to clean the entire house right that minute.
This is not a normal state for me.
My calm equilibrium was completely upended. Finally, The Roommate made me have a cup of decaf with butter and coconut oil. That fixed everything very fast.
You see… it was a blood sugar crash. I haven’t had one in such a long time that I didn’t recognize it till I realized I wanted to be aggressively angry over the dog’s toy. That kind of battle–to not be upset, frustrated, angry, or worried–used to be one I fought all the time. Turned out that being on the blood sugar roller coaster is a lot like being on a real roller coaster, what with the constant hormone swings, including adrenaline.
Your body is reacting in a primal way to the terrible specter of starvation that it sees before it (your fat is locked up by insulin and unavailable to use for fuel, and you’ve run out of sugar since those “healthy” Cheerios you had for breakfast. Your body is designed to panic in this situation and make you eat). And if you’re also eating very little fat, you’re depriving your entire hormone production system of the very building blocks it needs to properly produce and maintain your hormones.
The next day, after recovery, I looked up a lot of recipes for these chocolate peanut butter balls that I had been served. Most of the recipes called for this:
- 18 oz peanut butter
- 16 oz confectioner’s sugar
- 1/4 cup butter
- 12 oz chocolate chips
- 2 cups smooth peanut butter
- 1 cup butter or margarine, softened
- 5 cups confectioners’ sugar
Folks, that’s an incredible amount of sugar. I did the math for us, figuring for the number of servings one of those recipes purports to make and using Jiffy peanut butter and Nestle Toll House chocolate chips. That’s going to run you about 16g of sugar per peanut butter ball. No one at the home I was visiting had fewer than three.
So we come to our first “why.”
WHY??? Why is all that sugar necessary?
You can tell I have an optimist’s heart, because my first thought was that maybe this was a consistency issue. Maybe there was something about the sugar that rendered the inner texture of the dessert more palatable. Surely no one would just dump sugar into things for no reason. They must have to do it.
I was one of those people addicted to starch–which of course, is exactly the same thing as sugar once it gets digested. But I never craved candy or sweets. Once I stopped eating all the sugar in the form of whole grain bread and apples, my tolerance for sugary sweet things dropped even lower. I just don’t like them. They don’t feel good to eat. They may be tasty initially, but if I have more than about 15-20g of sugar in a sitting, or if those grams aren’t well padded out with fat and eaten after I’m already full, I don’t feel well at all.
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING IS THEORY
What I just described is, in my opinion, closer to what should be normal for a human being than the way the person on the Standard American Diet (SAD) lives. It’s closer to normal even than those who don’t eat SAD, but who constantly spike their blood sugar with “healthy” fruit smoothies and whole grain snacks all day.
Those who love their sugar will probably retort that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think it’s good to be so sensitive to sugar; they think it’s good to keep up a high tolerance for it. I once had a woman, after hearing how badly I’m affected by wheat, tell me that was why she wouldn’t give it up. She didn’t want to “lose tolerance for it.”
But I would argue that anything you have to describe in such terms is not good for you. Let’s take fat. If you overeat healthy fat what happens?
I can hear your reply: I feel SO wasted and exhausted when I eat too many pieces of pizza! The same is probably true of cheesecake, milkshakes, twelve-foot party subs, etc. But all those things are even higher in sugar or other carbohydrate than they are in fat. How did you feel when you binged on fat alone?
Oh, that’s right.
You never did that.
You never sat in front of the TV three hours after dinner, thinking about snacks more and more with each passing minute, swearing to yourself that you’d exercise control THIS time, you WOULDN’T do it tonight, till you finally broke down, staggered guiltily to the refrigerator, and wolfed down a butter stick.
You never started to feel that afternoon slump at work, darting glances at the vending machines, telling yourself not to do it, going to get another refill of water to “fill you up,” walking around the office once or twice to “get going,” had your fourth cup of coffee, and then finally broke down, rushed to the corner market and buried your face in a tin of coconut oil.
Nope, you only did that with pizza and cake and cheesecake and milkshakes and Snickers bars and donuts and big soft pretzels and M&M’s and chips and mocha lattes and french fries and freshly baked bread and Tootsie rolls and cheese with crackers. Or, if you were really healthy, you might have done it with “baked” chips and granola bars (chocolate chip?) and yogurt-fruit smoothies.
And that’s what I mean. That horrible, sickeningly-full, bloated, so-tired-I-can’t-move-off-the-couch feeling comes from sugar and refined starches. If you seriously go off sugar and then suddenly eat 30g of it in one sitting, you feel like your life might just be coming to an end. If you go low-fat and then suddenly eat 5 pieces of bacon and 2 eggs for breakfast on your low-fat diet cheat day, you may feel temporarily a bit too full, but that’s about it. (Except you probably will also feel satisfied. And more energetic than you have in a while.) The only people who can’t tolerate a sudden return to fat are concentration camp victims and those dieters who have mimicked concentration camp food intakes: and that is not a physical state to which I aspire.
So let’s go back to those poor, sad peanut butter balls.
I decided to experiment. I do need dessert recipes because people expect it. And as humans, dessert is part of how we fellowship and celebrate. I have a lot of people come to my home, and I don’t want to be one of “those people.”
You know whom I mean.
People who show up to potluck suppers with enough food to feed their large family, all of which food is absolutely disgusting. Desserts that aren’t even pretending to be sweet, entrees full of tasteless mush, consistencies everyone gagged on–all in the name of “health” (and of course their children won’t touch that stuff once free of the parental leash, so they power through the food everyone else brought like seventh-year plague locusts, leaving nothing but heritage-grain-meatless-meatballs for everyone else).
That being said, I will not knowingly feed a guest or loved one poison; so you’re never going to have 16g-of-sugar-per-hit peanut butter balls or chocolate cake at my house. But I will serve you things that taste good and won’t hurt you in moderation, which is why I experiment.
And I know that many people won’t touch peanut butter since peanuts are legumes and not nuts. I myself try to keep away from too much of it. But the oil in natural peanut butter is good for some people’s eczema, and some people just love a little once in a while. This is a personal choice. I’ve no doubt that almond butter would be just as delicious if you’d care to substitute it.
In this case, I could see no good reason why any sugar needed to be added at all to these treats. Peanut butter has a little. Dark chocolate has a little. Why add more? So I tried it, and came up with the following, extremely scientific, recipe:
2 enormous, overflowing soup spoons of peanut butter
1 1/2 T salted butter
4 squares of 70% dark chocolate
Drizzle of coconut oil
Melt the butter and mix with the peanut butter. Refrigerate (or freeze if you’re in a hurry) until hard. Meanwhile, melt the chocolate in the microwave. Add a little coconut oil. (This will help keep the chocolate in the finished product from melting so fast in people’s hands.) Form the peanut butter mixture into balls of the desired size (I got about 10 out of this) and roll about in the chocolate. Throw onto a cookie sheet and into the freezer or fridge.
Mine will set you back about 4.5g of sugar per ball, and mine were much larger than my friend’s. They also taste amazing. They don’t taste like sugar–they taste like peanut butter and chocolate. Especially if you use ingredients like I did: Peanut Butter Co. creamy peanut butter and Plantagen Schokolade’s 70% El Cuador. I chose these on purpose.
Peanut Butter Co.’s butter is made from the following:
Note the use of palm oil–a natural fat similar to coconut oil–instead of a toxic hydrogenated oil. Note also the use of evaporated cane juice instead of high-fructose corn syrup or refined sugar. Don’t get me wrong–it’s just as sweet. But there’s something especially damaging about the refining process of sugar that makes white table sugar especially toxic. If it’s possible to avoid it, I do.
Here’s the ingredients in Jiffy and in Walmart’s Great Value peanut butter brands:
Peanuts, sugar, molasses, hydrogenated vegetable oils, mono and diglycerides, salt.
And here’s what’s in my chocolate bar:
Just cocoa mass, cane sugar and cocoa butter. Nothing else. I don’t care for soy in my chocolate, which nearly every company uses. Now don’t be confused–the sugar here, sadly, is refined. There’s no way around it that I’ve yet found for chocolate bars. (Aside from making my own, which I’m getting to.) “Cane sugar” just means it’s 100% from sugar cane. Most cheap table sugar is made from a combo of beets and sugar cane.
They also use Ecuadorian beans, which are my favorite. They are the richest of all in polyphenols and minerals like magnesium and potassium. Of course, the polyphenols are also what gives chocolate its bitter flavor. Ever wonder why a Hershey’s kiss is so melt-in-your-mouth-able? They’ve removed all the nutrition to give it a less bitter flavor. But appreciating the bitter behind good chocolate is no different than appreciating a good cup of coffee. If you only like “coffee” with three squirts of hazelnut syrup and twenty ounces of milk, you don’t like coffee. You like sugar. If you only like chocolate when it’s “milk chocolate”, you don’t like chocolate. You like chocolate-flavored sugar.
That’s the answer to why: people love sugar. They’re addicted to it, and they put way more into things than is necessary for taste or texture.
Why is the eternal question. There are more why‘s in the realm of nutrition. Never fear. We’ll get to them.
Plato says he’s hungry
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