There’s something undeniably indulgent about a dipping an apple slice or celery stick into smooth, creamy almond butter (or enjoying a spoonful from the jar). Aside from their deliciousness, nut butters are also excellent sources of protein, healthy fat, and key vitamins and minerals.
“Nuts are one of the most popular snack foods in the world,” says Lisa Books-Williams, a San Francisco-based certified green chef. “Though olive oil can be a healthy addition to a diet, extraction occurs when the oil is extracted from the olive. There’s no extraction with nut butters, making them less processed. The nut is simply broken down and mixed with its natural oil.”
There’s nothing like being a kid in a candy (nut butter) shop. But when standing in front of fully-stocked shelves with countless options, from traditional peanut butter to more unusual types like walnut or cashew butter, it’s easy to become indecisive. We sat down with Lisa, another self-proclaimed nut butter devotee, to help us better understand popular nut butters and why they benefit our health.
Why are nuts and nut butters good for you?
“All nuts have fiber, protein, carbohydrates, and polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats that work well together to support the body,” says Books-Williams. “They all have potassium, fiber, vitamin D, and other nutrients that are key to a healthy diet.”
We often hear that nut butters are an excellent source of “healthy” fat, but what exactly does this mean? Books-Williams explains that saturated and trans fats, which are often found in processed foods and animal products, tend to stick to the lining of the arteries. This can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and inflammation. “But polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which are found in plant sources like nuts, have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels,” she says. “The essential fatty acids in nut butters, known as omega-3 fatty acids, also help the brain function and reduce inflammation in the body.”
Breaking down butters
Walnut butter is a fantastic option because it has more omega-3 fatty acids than most nut butters, which keep our brain alert and focused. “Just remember, walnuts are shaped like a brain,” suggests Books-Williams. However, with only six grams of protein per serving, walnut butter is not as strong of a protein source compared to other varieties.
Almond butter has plenty of protein and vitamin E. “Almond butter has 9.5 grams of protein per serving, making it one of the highest,” says Books-Williams. “This makes it a great staple for vegetarians or vegans, or when you want something more filling.” Plus, the vitamin E in almond butter keeps skin hydrated and hair and nails strong.
Cashew butter is naturally sweet, which makes it perfect for baking or as a frosting alternative. “It has about eight grams of protein per serving, but it’s lower in calories than both walnut and almond butter.” Sweet, high in protein, and low in calories? Sign us up.
Peanut butter may the most well-known nut butter, but Books-Williams suggests reaching for others first. Because peanuts are grown in the ground (unlike the aforementioned tree nuts), they’re more susceptible to mold, which can be damaging to the liver when consumed. Many people have allergies and sensitivities to peanuts, too. “Let me put it this way: peanut butter is a Honda. The others are Mercedes,” she says. “However, it is less expensive than other tree nuts and tree nut butters.”
Read ingredient labels and don’t go too nuts
No matter what nut butter you select, Books-Williams says it’s important that the only ingredients listed are the nut and salt. “Many nut butters are becoming bastardized,” she says. “Some consumers don’t want to stir their nut butter. As a result, manufacturers are adding inflammatory oils, like soybean, peanut, and palm oil, high-fructose corn syrup, and sugar to make them no-stir.”
More oil and sugar means less nut, and less natural. “Adding ingredients like sugar and oils is not the way nature intended nut butters to be. When the nut is the only ingredient, the oil should rise to the top and you’ll have to stir it for a minute or two,” Brooks-Williams explains. (If you decide to go the natural route, don’t forget to store the jar in the refrigerator.)
Before you Netflix and nut butter (yes, we’re making that phrase happen), Books-Williams’ last tip is not to go too nuts with them. “Keep in mind, nut butters are high in calories and fat, so they should be enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy diet,” she says. “I recommend no more than two tablespoons per day. One tablespoon can go a long way!”
So there you go: add a tablespoon or two to your smoothie, put a dollop in the middle of a date, or use it to create a nutty-flavored sauce for pad thai. In other words, go nuts… in moderation, of course.