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The question: Which type of peanut butter is healthier? Regular or Light?

The answer: Many people choose light (fat-reduced) peanut butter because it sounds like a healthier choice. Light peanut butter does have less fat than regular peanut butter, but not as much as you might think. One tablespoon of regular peanut butter – smooth or crunchy – has eight grams of fat. If you opt for light peanut butter, you'll save a measly 2 g of fat per tablespoon.

Even if you saved more fat grams by going "light," it's not worth the tradeoff. That's because half the fat in peanut butter is heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, the type that can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, raise HDL (good) cholesterol and combat inflammation in the body. Among people with diabetes, a higher intake of monounsaturated fat may help improve blood sugar control.

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(Polyunsaturated fat makes up 27 per cent of the fat in peanut butter and saturated fat accounts for 20 per cent. )

Light peanut butter isn't much lighter on calories either. One tablespoon of light peanut butter has 80 calories while one tablespoon of regular has 90 (smooth) and 90 to 100 (crunchy), a difference that is not a big deal even for people trying to lose weight.

Your best pick is full-fat peanut butter, in particular the natural kind that's made with only roasted peanuts and sometimes a little salt. Unlike regular peanut butter, natural versions contain no added sugar, maltodextrin (a starchy filler), hydrogenated vegetable oil (prevents the oil from separating from the peanuts) or preservatives.

Some people find natural peanut butter less convenient than regular peanut butter because the oil separates to the top. You have to work to stir it back into the peanut butter, a sometimes messy task. To make this process easier and less messy, store a jar of natural peanut butter upside down in the fridge. The oil will separate to the bottom of the jar so when you are ready to open and use it, it's much easier to stir.

If you do prefer light peanut butter, it's still a nutritious choice. It delivers mainly monounsaturated fat and, like regular and natural peanut butters, it's a source of niacin, folate, vitamin E and magnesium. In fact, two tablespoons of light butter supplies 20 per cent of a day's worth of vitamin E, a nutrient needed for strong immunity and antioxidant protection.

Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto. She can be seen every Thursday at noon on CTV News Channel's Direct; lesliebeck.com.

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