My sister Zoe is allergic to peanuts, so she’s missed out on peanut butter her whole life. When different kinds of nuts and seed butters came onto the market, she almost found what she’s been missing; nut and seed butters are tasty, but also great for traveling (they bump up your snack by adding protein and healthy fats to toast and oatmeal, for example). She’s now in Argentina for the year and is sponsored by Boulder-based Justin’s Nut Butter and their squeeze packs. This guide shares all of the different health benefits of each nut butter.
Until recently, a craving for a creamy, nutty spread sent you in only one direction: the peanut butter aisle. But now, the peanut-intolerant and nut-lovers alike can spend much more time in the peanut butter aisle, with the privilege to choose from a variety of nut butters: almond, walnut, hazelnut, even Brazil nut. Each nut butter provides a different flavor and texture, but also a unique nutritional profile and its own perks. Although nuts are high in fat, it’s the healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated kind that can improve cardiovascular health. High protein levels also make nut butters a filling snack for vegetarians, vegans, or anyone looking to reduce their animal protein intake. Read on to compare nutritional information and benefits, and find out which nut butter you’d like to smear on your toast–or sandwich!–next.
Peanut Butter, per 1 tablespoon: 94 calories, 4 g protein, 8 g fat, 2 g fiber, 3 g sugar
Although their name implies otherwise, peanuts are not actual nuts: they are legumes, a family that also includes peas, lentils, and chickpeas. In addition to heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, peanuts are rich sources of vitamin E, niacin, folate, and resveratrol, the phenolic antioxidant found in red wine. These nutrients have all been found to contribute to a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease. Peanuts also have antioxidant capabilities that rival those of blackberries and strawberries, offering protection against cancer. A compound called p-coumaric acid has been found to reduce the risk of stomach cancer by inhibiting the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines; roasting peanuts has been found to increase the antioxidant capacity of p-coumaric acid by 22%. Give your regular PB&J a break and try peanut butter in savory dishes: add it to coconut milk and curry paste to make a hearty sauce, or make an African peanut soup with the chunky variety.
Almond Butter, per 1 tablespoon: 101 calories, 2 g protein, 9 g fat, 1 g fiber, 0.8 g sugar
Almonds go where peanuts might not go: they are high in both magnesium and potassium. A good supply of magnesium allows blood vessels to relax, improving blood flow and allowing oxygen and nutrients to circulate with ease, ultimately aiding in heart health. While peanuts can easily pack in the sodium, almonds are naturally high in potassium (257 mg) and low in sodium (0.3 mg). Americans are often deficient in potassium and consume too much sodium through packaged goods, so almonds help restore a healthy balance that protects against high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Almonds also offer protection against diabetes and help control unsteady blood sugar levels. Eating almonds along with high-glycemic index foods helps to lower the glycemic index of the whole meal, thereby stabilizing blood sugar and saving you from a crash shortly after eating. In fact, one study found that eating two ounces of almonds with white bread decreased the glycemic index from 105.8 to 63. Make sure to eat almonds with the skins intact: the twenty antioxidants found in the skin more than doubles their impact as well as the healthful benefits of vitamin E.
Walnut Butter, per 1 tablespoon: 102 calories, 2 g protein, 8.5 g fat, 1.8 g fiber, 1 g sugar
Walnuts have been on all sorts of superfood lists, often listed next to salmon as a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.
In fact, walnuts are one of the richest food sources of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), containing more than nine times the amount than the next closest nut. This powerhouse omega-3 fatty acid does it all: it has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, depression and other mood disorders. The benefits of omega-3s have been highlighted in the Mediterranean diet, full of fish, whole grains, olive oil, and vegetables. But many people incorrectly attribute its benefits to fish and olive oil, when in fact, walnuts may play more of a role: a study found that walnuts have a protective effect on arteries after consuming a high-saturated-fat meal by undoing the damage it causes. Olive oil, while still healthy, is more neutral and does not have the same protective effect. You can also use walnuts to fight fat with fat: the problems associated with metabolic syndrome, including obesity, high blood pressure, elevated triglyceride blood levels, and low HDL cholesterol, can be reduced by eating an ounce of nuts daily. And even though walnuts are a calorie-dense food, adding them to your diet does not result in weight gain. Try making walnut hummus with walnut butter, chickpeas, garlic, orange zest, and cracked pepper; it’s tasty with whole grain crackers and veggie strips.
Hazelnut Butter, per 1 tablespoon: 85 calories, 3.5 g protein, 7 g fat, 1.5 g fiber, 1 g sugar
Hazelnuts are often mixed with chocolate to create a sweet, rich spread. But hazelnuts, with their indulgent and buttery taste, can stand on their own, both in flavor and nutritional benefits: Greek physician Dioscorides attributed hazelnuts to curing anything from a nasty cough to the common cold to restoring hair growth! These days, hazelnuts are praised for their cardio-protective benefits and high phytochemical content. Hazelnuts are a good source of arginine, an amino acid that helps relax blood vessels, and are the highest food source of proanthocyanidins (PACs), a polyphenol also found in red wine, that suppresses the activity of a protein that constricts blood vessels. The antioxidants found in PACs are incredibly potent: they are 20 times more powerful than vitamin C, and 50 times more powerful than vitamin E. Try making your own cocoa hazelnut butter and enjoying it with fruit or toast or breakfast. In savory dishes, its sweet flavor adds depth to earthy vegetables such as Brussels sprouts as well as rich meats like pork chops.
Cashew Butter, per 1 tablespoon: 94 calories, 3 g protein, 8 g fat, 0.3 g fiber, sugars NA
Cashews are actually the seeds of the cashew apple, a plant native to Brazil. Cashews are high in a number of essential minerals, including copper, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and zinc. Copper is a multitasking mineral: it’s a component of the enzyme superoxidase dismutase, which plays a role in energy production and metabolism and antioxidant activity. Copper also helps lysyl oxidase, an enzyme that supports the formation of collagen and elastin, which provide structure to blood vessels, bones, and joints–and firm, healthy skin to boot. Further improving the skin is zinc, which helps repair and heal damaged tissue and inflammation found with acne and rashes. Cashews contribute to eye health, too: they contain zeaxanthin, a flavanoid that protects against age-related macular degeneration. Cashew butter has a rich flavor and thick texture; try it in sandwiches for a hearty and creamy bite. Or try it in Thai and Indian recipes that might normally call for peanut butter.
Other nut butters, such as those made from macadamia nuts, pistachios, pecans, Brazil nuts, and pumpkin seeds, may be more difficult to find, but they, too, offer unique tastes and benefits. With the high protein, fiber, and healthy fat triad, nut butters add a filling and healthy component to any meal. Whether you dip, spread, bake, or drizzle, try a new nut butter each week to enjoy new flavors and nutrients.