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Are All Nut Butters Healthy?

Nut Butters

There’s nothing nutty about loving nut butter! They’re a nutrient-dense option when you’re in a hurry. These days, you can find a variety of nut butters on store shelves, a far cry from the limited selection you had decades ago. If you shopped for nut butter in the past, you had few choices beyond peanut butter. Now you can choose butters made from a variety of nuts and seeds, including almond, pistachio, walnut, sunflower seeds, cashew, hazelnut, and pecan. If it’s a nut or seed, manufacturers have found a way to turn it into butter. Keeps life interesting, doesn’t it?

You might wonder whether these nut butters differ in nutritional value and how they compare to peanut butter. Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of various types of nut butter you can find at most grocery stores.

The Nutritional Value of Nut Butters

All nut and seed butters are nutrient-dense and supply a variety of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. Plus, many nut butters are a source of healthy fats and protein that boost satiety and discourage overeating. That they’re low in carbohydrates and rich in healthy fats makes them satisfying and easy on your blood sugar. The type of fat in nut butter is monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat, types that are heart-healthy.

Decisions! Decision! When you’re ready to enjoy nut butter, which should you choose? Although most are a good source of certain key nutrients, such as magnesium, potassium, calcium, B-vitamins, vitamin A, and E, some are better sources of key nutrients than others.

When you compare peanut butter to the next more popular type of nut butter, almond butter, almond butter stands out for its higher vitamin E content, It also has more calcium, magnesium, and vitamin E relative to peanut butter. Plus, almond butter has less saturated fat and more heart-healthy monounsaturated fats than peanut butter.

Peanut butter also trumps almond butter for protein content, although the difference is modest. Almond butter also has double the fiber relative to peanut butter. If you don’t mind paying a little more, almond butter is a slightly more nutrient-dense choice.

If you’re looking for a nut butter rich in heart-healthy fat, give walnut butter a closer look. Although it’s harder to find, it’s the best source, among nut butters, of a short-chain omega-3 fat called alpha-linolenic acid. Although short-chain omega-3s aren’t equivalent to long-chain omega-3s and your body can only convert a small percentage of short-chain omega-3s to long-chain, studies suggest that all omega-3s have some heart health benefits. A drawback of walnut butter is it’s lower in protein than peanut or almond butter. Walnut butter has only 3 grams of protein per serving, while peanut butter has 8 grams.

Another nut butter that’s harder to find is Brazil nut butter. What makes this nut butter stand out is its high selenium content. Selenium is a trace mineral that helps your thyroid gland produce thyroid hormone. Plus, you need selenium to fight free radicals that damage cells and tissues and for immune health. Brazil nuts are so rich in selenium that you shouldn’t overeat it, as selenium in high amounts can be toxic.

Pistachio butter is another tasty nut butter option, known for its high potassium content. Potassium is important for heart health and blood pressure control. Pistachio butter is also high in fiber and contains as much protein as almond butter. Although it tastes delicious, it’s often expensive and harder to find than the old standbys, peanut butter, and almond butter.

Another more “exotic” option is hazelnut butter. Although the taste is yummy, hazelnut butter is lower in protein than peanut and almond butter. A serving of hazelnut butter has 4 grams of protein, half the amount in peanut butter. Both pecan and cashew butter are tasty alternatives to peanut butter, they have the same drawback as hazelnut butter, they contain around 4 grams of protein per serving, half the amount you get when you consume a serving of peanut butter.

Tips for Choosing Nut Butters

Peanut butter is the old standby and is also the least expensive. Some of the more exotic nut butters, like hazelnut and walnut butter, will cost more. Look for ones without added sugar, salt, or trans-fat. One downside to nut butter is nuts and nut butter may contain aflatoxins, mycotoxins linked with liver damage, and cancer. Because they’re a more concentrated source of nuts, the risk of consuming too much is higher with nut butter than from eating whole nuts.

However, you have some level of assurance when you buy known nut butter brands, as they’re closely regulated, and the FDA has strict guidelines for how many aflatoxins it allows in food products. The risk is higher if you buy nut butter from overseas sources, as some areas of the world produce nuts with high levels of aflatoxins and don’t have the same regulations.

Also, avoid the grind your own nut butter stations. You don’t know how often they clean them, and aflatoxins can proliferate if there’s moisture. Always store nut butter in a cool, dry place. Don’t assume that organic nut butters are free of aflatoxins. Being organically grown is no guarantee. Buy from a well-known company.

The Bottom Line

Enjoy nut butter in moderation. They’re all nutrient-dense and easy on your blood sugar. Studies show that people who eat nuts most days of the week have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and reduced mortality. If you choose nut butter carefully, the same may apply to eating nut butter. Keep in mind that nut butter is high in calories, so watch your portion sizes. However, they’re also filling and satisfying.

 

References:

  • WebMD.com. “Health Benefits of Nut Butter”
  • BerkeleyWellness.com. “Aflatoxin in Peanuts”
  • HealthLine.com. “Almond Butter vs. Peanut Butter: Which Is Healthier?”
  • Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2010 Nov; 12(6): 359–367.Published online 2010 Sep 3. doi: 10.1007/s11883-010-0137-0.
  • Harvard Health Publishing. “Ask the doctor: Why is peanut butter “healthy” if it has saturated fat?”

 

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