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Are Reese's Peanut Butter Cups Actually Health?

I often have patients that I place on a whole foods clean gluten-free (GF) diet ask, "so I can eat Reese's because they are gluten-free?". My response is usually, "Well, you can eat Reese's because they are gluten-free, but should you?". If your goal is to eat a whole foods clean diet that is also GF, you need to evaluate a Reese's nutritional value or even an alternative peanut butter cup, like Justin's. The GF claim on Reese's peanut butter cups is not certified but is valid because they do not contain gluten above 20 parts per million of gluten (The Hersey Company, n.d.). Justin's peanut butter cups are certified GF, Non-GMO, and Organic. However, neither is a nutritious choice when attempting a whole food clean eating diet. Two Reese's cups include 20 grams of sugar, and 19 grams is added (Smart Label, n.d.)! Justin's milk chocolate peanut butter cups contain 16 grams of sugar, all of which is added. These do contain Non-GMO organic ingredients as follows: organic milk chocolate (organic evaporated cane sugar, organic cacao beans, organic full cream milk, organic cocoa butter, organic soya lecithin [emulsifier]), organic peanut butter (organic ground peanuts), organic cane sugar, organic peanut flour, organic palm oil, sea salt, organic sunflower lecithin, making them a better choice than Reese's due to no genetic modification of the food and the decrease in pesticides and hormones, but not a "healthy" choice (Justin's, n.d.b). If you are thinking, "Well, I will just choose the dark chocolate version of Justin's", think again. It contains the exact amount of sugar, 16 grams (Justin's, n.d.a)!

Why all this talk about sugar? The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests an added-sugar limit of no more than 24 grams of sugar per day for most women and no more than 36 grams of sugar per day for most men, which means that eating one serving of Reese's peanut butter cups for women has almost satisfied that upper limit, not to mention there is no nutritional value from eating added sugars (Johnson et al., 2009). A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials by Morenga et al. (2014) reveal that higher sugar intakes caused increased triglycerides, total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and blood pressure. It is well known that hyperlipidemia and hypertension are correlated with Coronary Heart Disease (CHD). Sugar consumption tends to be a predisposing factor for CHD through inflammatory, thrombotic, oxidative, and hormonal pathways. Sugar consumption is also a precipitating factor via increased demand for myocardial oxygen, activation of the cardiac sympathetic nerve, and the adhesiveness of platelets. Many lines of evidence correlate added sugars as etiologic in CHD (Dinicolantonio, Lucan, & O'keefe, 2015). So, just because a food is technically GF or Non-GMO Organic, it does not make it healthy or nutritious!

References

Dinicolantonio, J. J., Lucan, S. C., & O'keefe, J. H. (2015). The Evidence for Saturated Fat and for Sugar Related to Coronary Heart Disease. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pcad.2015.11.006

Johnson, R. K., Appel, L. J., Brands, M., Howard, B. V., Lefevre, M., Lustig, R. H., Sacks, F., Steffen, L. M., & Wylie-Rosett, J. (2009). Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health a scientific statement from the american heart association. Circulation, 120(11), 1011–1020. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.109.192627

Justin's. (n.d.a). Justin's Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups. Retrieved January 29, 2021 from http://www.justins.com/products/dark-chocolate-peanut-butter-cups

Justin's. (n.d.b). Justin's Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups. Retrieved January 29, 2021 from http://www.justins.com/products/milk-chocolate-peanut-butter-cups-2

Morenga, L. A. Te, Howatson, A. J., Jones, R. M., & Mann, J. (2014). Dietary sugars and cardiometabolic risk: systematic review and meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials of the effects on blood pressure and lipids 1-3. Am J Clin Nutr, 100, 65–79. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.113.081521

Smart Label. (n.d.). Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Retrieved January 29, 2021 from https://smartlabel.hersheys.com/00034000004805-0015#nutrition

The Hershey Company. (n.d.). Gluten Free. Retrieved January 29, 2021 from https://www.thehersheycompany.com/en_us/whats-inside/gluten-free.html

*These statements are not meant to diagnose or treat. You should consult your health care provider before starting any new diet, exercise, or supplement.