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Reduced-fat peanut butter reduced healthy fats
By Karen Collins | Columnist
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Published: 6/9/2010 12:01 AM

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Q. I'm confused about whether regular or reduced-fat peanut butter is a better choice. What do you recommend?

A. Choosing low-fat and reduced-fat food options makes sense when the lower-fat choice is either lower in calories (as it is in salad dressing or milk, since fat is such a concentrated source of calories) or substantially lower in cholesterol-raising saturated fat (as it is in meat or cheese).

However, reduced-fat peanut butter is not any lower in calories because the sugar content is often substantially higher than regular peanut butter. In some cases sugar content isn't higher, but there are added maltodextrins, a partially broken down starch that is similar to sugar but isn't classified as sugar on labels.

Because the fats in peanut butter are predominantly the healthy mono- and polyunsaturated types, this is one case where it's hard for me to see any advantage to the reduced-fat product.

As with any high calorie food, even healthful ones, limiting portion size is key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. Two tablespoons is considered one serving and 1 tablespoon is considered as a one ounce equivalent from the meat and beans group in the USDA MyPyramid.

Q. I know that snacking does not necessarily prevent weight loss, but what is a reasonable calorie level for a snack when trying to lose weight?

A. Whether or not you're in the midst of weight reduction efforts, snacks can add important nutrients and keep you from getting so hungry that when you do eat, you quickly eat more than you need. On the other hand, we sometimes forget how the calories in a series of snacks through the day can add up.

The best calorie level for a snack depends on total daily calorie needs (which differ with activity level, age and body size).

Another consideration is whether you prefer to eat "normal" size meals with a small snack or two in between to tide you over, or whether you prefer something more like six mini-meals. For something light, 100 to 120 calories allows for a substantial piece of fruit or a quarter-cup of dried fruit or a cup of vegetable soup, for example. Adult women aiming for about 1600 calories per day to lose weight could have two snacks of about 200 calories each (a handful of nuts, an apple with peanut butter, or six ounces of yogurt, for example) and still leave room for moderate 400-calorie meals.

For people who are larger or more active and losing weight on 1800 or 2000 calories a day, snacks might reasonably be 250 to 300 calories each depending on meal sizes and how many snacks you will include daily. These could then include options like a cup of cereal with fruit and milk, a slice of veggie pizza or a cup of low-fat chili.

Overall, you'll likely take in fewer calories with a couple of well-chosen snacks than you'd get by grazing on little bits of sweets and vending machine snacks throughout the day. You'll get higher quality nutrition and better hunger management, too.

• Provided by the American Institute for Cancer Research. More abou the group and its New American Plate program at aicr.org.