I recently read a newspaper article that claimed peanut butter contains no saturated fat unless it has hydrogenated vegetable oil added. If that's true, does it mean I'd be better off with the locally produced variety which contains nothing but peanuts? Most national brands seem to have added hydrogenated oil.ANSWER - The real reason to buy peanut butter containing nothing but peanuts and usually labeled "100 percent natural" is because you like the taste and you don't mind stirring the oil that separates as it sits on the shelf. In fact, the amount of oil added to commercial peanut butter is too small to be of practical importance, and you need not worry about it.

But looking at your question, there is a point that needs clarification. The statement you quoted suggests that foods, in this case peanut butter, contain only a single type of fatty acid. This isn't the case. Foods contain mixtures of fatty acids, usually with one type predominating. For example, it's not uncommon to refer to corn or safflower oil as "polyunsaturated." Indeed, that's the main type of fatty acid in both oils. However, both also contain small amounts of mono and saturated fatty acids. In the case of peanuts, the central ingredient in peanut butter, monounsaturates are slightly more plentiful than either of the other two types.

QUESTION - Last week my sister brought home some brown rice syrup. The label says it probably will be necessary to use more of it than you would of regular sugar to get the same degree of sweetness. Unfortunately, nutrition information wasn't given. The label did say that it's processed with "natural enzymes." What does that mean? And since you have to use more of it than of regular sugar, does that mean it's lower in calories?

ANSWER - It's unclear exactly what the producer means by the claim that "natural enzymes" are used to process the syrup. What we can tell you is that since the raw material from which it's made is brown rice, the source of the sweetener is actually starch. As it is processed, the starch eventually is broken down to glucose, which just isn't as sweet as table sugar or honey. There is no reason to believe that it provides significantly fewer calories than any other sugar, though. And by the way, when put to this use, brown rice has no particular advantage over white rice.

Besides calories, the syrup has nothing to offer nutritionally. If you and your sister can afford the calories and you like the taste, fine. Keep the price in mind, though, because there's no reason to pay extra for glucose syrup derived from rice, not even if it is brown rice.

QUESTION - Are there any important nutritional differences among the various types of dried beans?

ANSWER - There are small differences, but none worth focusing on. More important than any minor variations from one kind of bean to another is the fact that when it comes to getting nutritional value for your dollar, dried beans are hard to beat. A cup of cooked beans has about 220 calories and roughly the same amount of protein as in two ounces of meat. Granted, the protein isn't as high in quality as that in meat, because the sulphur-containing essential amino acids are in short supply in dried beans. But that's not a real drawback since you would probably eat the beans along with other foods that would fill in the missing amino acids.

Beans are a topnotch source of iron. While not absorbed as readily as the iron in animal foods, the usefulness of iron in beans can be increased either by eating them with a small amount of meat, fish or poultry or by including a source of vitamin C at the same meal. Beans also contain small amounts of several B vitamins.

Given their nutritional value and low cost, it's too bad that bean consumption has been falling for some time. It's true that what stops many people from using them is that they require some planning ahead. One way to get around that problem is to cook large amounts at one time and freeze them into recipe-size portions that can be taken out as needed. While you're doing it, you might consider freezing two or three different varieties.

1991, Washington Post Writers Group