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Navigating Nut Butters

Sep 26, 2013

Peanut butter sandwiches were a staple lunch choice in our home—it was the one food our mom knew her picky kids would eat without argument. However, the incidence of peanut allergies has dramatically increased in recent years, inspiring many schools, camps and other kid-friendly locations to institute mandatory peanut-free rules. Today, a walk through your local supermarket makes it clear that peanut butter is not the only nut butter lining store shelves.

In fact, one positive effect of the increased prevalence of peanut allergies, as well as the health-craze in general, is that you can find practically any nut in its butter form. From cashew and almond butters to macadamia, hazelnut and sunflower butters, each nut has a different taste and flavor. So, depending on what you’re using it for, you can choose from an array of different tastes and textures. There are even powdered nut butters that, when water is added, turn into creamy, delicious spreads, which are great on the go. Plus, they’re higher in protein and lower in fat than traditional nut butter, so you get a larger serving for fewer calories.

The Pros and Cons

Nuts and their butters are a healthy choice largely because of their heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Plus, they are a good source of vitamin E, many other vitamins and minerals and fiber, and possess cholesterol-lowering capabilities. However, keep in mind that while nut butters are good for you, they are still high in fat and calories. One 2-tablespoon serving (that’s level tablespoons, not heaping) has about 200 calories and a quarter of your daily fat allowance, so be mindful of your portion sizes.

Peanut butter, which many people find more difficult to resist than chocolate, is one of the most common foods to send dieters over the edge when it comes to overdoing it. In fact, many of our clients tell us that they can’t have any nut butter or it sets them up for eating an entire jar—more than 3,200 calories!

What follows is a run down on popular nut butters on the market. If you have a love/hate relationship with peanut butter—meaning you love it so much that you can’t help but devour the entire jar—perhaps one of these other nut butters will be your healthy alternative—one that you enjoy, but not so much that you have to eat the whole jar in one sitting.

Navigation tip: When shopping for nut butters, look for products that say “all-natural.” Also take a peek at the ingredient list to make sure the item contains only the nut and possibly salt, and try to avoid those with added sugar or hydrogenated oils like conventional nut butters (think Jif, Skippy, etc.). If you can’t find the natural nut butter you’re after, try making your own by simply grinding nuts in a food processor.

Popular Options

Texture and flavor: Pleasant, smooth or crunchy

Best Used With:

  • Bread
  • Smoothies
  • Oatmeal
  • Fruit

Nutritional positives/negatives:

  • Pros: Satisfying, inexpensive source of protein; highest folic acid content
  • Cons: Many contain hydrogenated oils, trans fats and preservatives

Texture and flavor: Once water is added, thick and typically smooth

Best Used With:

  • Satays and sauces
  • Protein on the go to mix and use as you would peanut butter
  • Smoothies
  • Sprinkle a little on anything that you’d like a little peanut butter flavor, such as cereal, yogurt, coffee, waffles, etc.

Nutritional positives/negatives:

  • Pros: Powdered peanut butter allows you to get more protein and a larger serving size for fewer calories and is great on-the-go; 4 tbsp=100 calories compared to 1 tbsp of the real deal
  • Cons: It requires you to add water and mix well

Texture and flavor: Rich and creamy; sweat

Best Used With:

  • Sandwiches, especially with avocado and veggies
  • Smoothies
  • Oatmeal
  • Apple slices
  • Used to thicken sauces

Nutritional positives/negatives:

  • Pros: Highest in zinc, copper and iron
  • Cons: Slightly less protein than peanut or almond butter, does not contain omega-3’s like many other nuts do

Texture and flavor: Crunchy or smooth; mild and sweet

Best Used With:

  • Savory dishes
  • Sandwich with apple slices
  • Brie or Gouda cheese
  • Whole grain waffle
  • Homemade energy bars (substitute almond butter for peanut butter)
  • Almond butter cookies (substitute peanut butter with almond butter)

Nutritional positives/negatives:

  • Pros: Among the lowest in calories, but one of the highest in protein, fiber and calcium; 3 grams more heart healthy monounsaturated fat per serving than peanut butter; if sugar is added, amount is typically lower than what is added to peanut butter; free of hydrogenated oil
  • Cons: More expensive than peanut butter

Texture and flavor: Smooth texture, similar to creamy peanut butter

Best Used With:

  • Use it the same way you’d use peanut butter, as a spread on sandwiches, crackers, bananas, etc.
  • Dip apples in it for a snack
  • Add a touch of vanilla and/or cinnamon for a unique twist

Nutritional positives/negatives:

  • Pros: Rich in fiber, protein, zinc, iron, magnesium, and vitamin E; the perfect alternative for anyone with a tree nut allergy since it comes from a seed and not a nut
  • Cons: Often has added sugar

Texture and flavor: Soft and oily; bitter aftertaste

Best Used With:

  • Not suitable for sandwiches because it has a bitter aftertaste
  • Spread on crostini and garnish with a slice of fruit or fresh herbs for an elegant appetizer
  • Use it as a vegetable dip
  • Mix with chickpeas, garlic, orange zest, orange juice and pepper
  • Add a tasty punch to breakfast grains and oatmeal

Nutritional positives/negatives:

  • Pros: One of the best vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids
  • Cons: Slightly lower in protein and slightly higher in fat than other nut butters

Texture and flavor: Grainy and thick; fruity and naturally sweet

Best Used With:

  • Mix with chocolate syrup at a 1:1 ratio for a sweet spread on bread with bananas or apple wedges
  • Oatmeal
  • With fruits for desserts
  • Use in dessert recipes to add deep, rich flavor

Nutritional positives/negatives:

  • Pros: One of the lowest percentages of saturated fat (along with pine nuts and almonds); highest proanthocyanidins (PACs) content – antioxidant capabilities of PACs likely 20 times more potent than vitamin C and 50 times more potent than Vitamin E
  • Cons: Often have chocolate added and deliver quite a bit of sugar to your daily diet; read labels to see exactly how much sugar you’re adding


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