Healthy Eating: Spreading the word

Is it worth a double dip? Find out what's lurking inside your favorite dips and spreads.

humous gan eden 311 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
humous gan eden 311
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
With summer just around the corner, many of us are starting to watch our weight, hit the gym, and maybe even lose a few pounds before swimsuit season is upon us. Now most of us know that to lose weight and tone up, it’s a good idea to cut out the chocolate bars, curb back on the fried foods and use extreme will power to say no to ice cream and cakes – but is there anything else we can do? When it comes to weight loss, spreads and dips are often overlooked. Why? Because we tend not to realize (or want to acknowledge) how much we pile on. Dips such as cream-laden artichoke and spinach, and spreads such as mayonnaise are automatic diet busters, but what about the others?
Find out which of our favorite dips, spreads and shmears you should lay off as you get ready for summer:
Loaded with B vitamins and protein as well as essential fatty acids, this sesame-based spread is without doubt healthy for you. A single serving contains one third of your daily-recommended intake of calcium, which is a pretty great advantage for those who are lactose intolerant or just don’t like milk. In fact, many people believe that tahini has a higher concentration of calcium than any other food.
So what’s the problem? While tahini is packed with nutrients, it is also packed with calories – 89 calories and 8 grams of fat per tablespoon to be exact. Even though this may not seem like a lot, like so many dips and spreads, we do not realize how much we have piled on. And while tahini may be loaded with healthy nutrients, stick to a ping-pong ball-sized serving (about 2 tablespoons) to keep your calories in check.
When the two first ingredients on the list are chocolate and hazelnuts, you can pretty much guess that Nutella leans towards the more fattening side of the scale (200 calories per two tablespoons to be exact). So aside from its addictive flavor, does Nutella offer us any nutritional benefits to make up for its high caloric content?  Unfortunately, when it comes to Nutella the answer leads more towards no than yes.
Nutella does contain some calcium and iron, two essential minerals for the body, but the content is less than 5 percent and so can easily be found elsewhere. So while Nutella claims it’s simply made from hazelnuts, cocoa and skim milk – all healthy ingredients on their own – don’t be fooled by the ads.
Peanut Butter
Many of us have a love-hate relationship with peanut butter: we love its creamy addictive taste, yet we hate the fact that it is so darn fattening – two tablespoons can reach almost 200 calories. But with the bad comes the good, which extends beyond its delectable flavor.
While peanut butter may be loaded with fat, most of it is surprisingly healthy monounsaturated fat. Moreover, while this yummy spread may be high in calories, it is also loaded with protein (7 grams per two tablespoons to be exact) and so it will help to repair muscles and keep you feeling full and energetic throughout a long day.
And now we come to vitamins and minerals – while peanut butter may not contain as many nutrients as hummus or tahini, it holds its own with high amounts of niacin, potassium and Vitamin E. So all in all, when it comes to our peanut butter addiction, moderation is most definitely key – and two tablespoons is without a doubt plenty.
When the two main ingredients in this middle-eastern delicacy are chickpeas and tahini, you really can’t go wrong. The health benefits of tahini were covered above, so what about chickpeas? Aside from being an excellent source of protein, chickpeas contain no cholesterol or saturated fats. In fact, chickpeas have been found to help prevent the build up of cholesterol in blood vessels. Another major ingredient in hummus is of course olive oil, a health food superstar that is rich in heart beneficial monounsaturated fats as well as garlic, another nutritional all-star that has been linked with fighting infection and improving immune function. 
Cream Cheese
Is cream cheese good for you or not? Well the truth is it depends on what option you choose – regular cream cheese contains about 100 calories per two tablespoons, and about 70% of those calories comes from fat. This is significantly more than its low fat counterpart. Now, as it is a dairy product, cream cheese is often associated with being high in calcium – and while it does offer some of this bone essential mineral, a glass of milk, a yogurt or even a spoonful of tahini is far far superior. Moreover, it is not a significant source of any vitamins or minerals. Cream cheese is unfortunately also lower in protein than hummus, tahini and even peanut butter. So when it comes to this shmear, while it is certainly tasty, you may be better off spreading lightly.