In addition to my obsession with nuts, I also love nut and seed butters, especially peanut, almond and sunflower seed butters. As with nuts, I know many people avoid eating nut butters due to their high calorie content; a tablespoon has about 100 calories. But the fats in these nut butters are primarily unsaturated and the heart-healthy type. So adding some nut butter to our diet, in place of other saturated fats is actually very good for us.
All Natural Favorites
All natural nut and seed butters are probably best since they don’t have any added preservatives, sugars or fillers. But many individuals don’t like the taste of the all-natural varieties. It is an acquired taste – and the all natural nut and seed butters do need to be stirred and refrigerated since the healthy oils separate from the solid. But once you acquire a taste for the all-natural varieties, there’s no going back in my opinion 🙂 Anything else just tastes too sweet to me! My favorite nut butters are peanut and almond; occasionally, I will have sunflower seed or cashew butter, but the top two contenders for my breakfasts and snacks are primarily peanut and almond.
Nut butters contain many nutrients that are beneficial for our bodies: fiber, iron, niacin (vitamin B3), copper, magnesium, potassium, vitamin E, and of course heart-healthy monounsaturated fats that help lower the risk of heart disease. Peanut butter also contains reservatrol, which is a natural, anti-microbial compound that is found in red grapes, and is thought to aid the body in fighting microbes, and also provide various anti-aging, anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory benefits (though the latter properties are still under study.)
Almond Butter has a slightly sweeter and richer taste than peanut butter, and contains fiber, calcium, folic acid, protein, magnesium and potassium. It is also an excellent source of vitamin E which is a powerful anti-oxidant and has been shown to help reduce high levels of LDL or bad cholesterol. It is also a great option for people who are allergic to peanuts and cannot eat peanut butter. Almond butter has slightly less saturated fat than some peanut butters (depending on the type of oils that may be added to some commercial peanut butter), which is another plus point in its favor.
Sunflower Seed Butter has a very distinct, nuttier and “roasted” flavor compared to peanut and almond butter, and the unflavored variety is not at all sweet (flavored varieties of sunflower butter – such as cinnamon, vanilla etc, are available from certain on-line retailers). It is an excellent source of vitamin E, and a very good source of vitamin B1, manganese, magnesium, copper, selenium, tryptophan, phosphorus, vitamin B5 and folate. A detailed nutritional profile of sunflower seeds and their butter can be found here. Some of the nutritional highlights of sunflower seeds and their butter are that they contain higher levels of phytosterols (which are plant compounds that are thought to help lower blood cholesterol and enhance our immune system when present in our diet) and magnesium than many other nuts and seeds. Magnesium is an essential mineral in our body, and is also shown to help reduce high blood pressure and assist with migraines.
Sunflower seed butter is available in grocery stores from several different companies, but if you are looking for a basic, inexpensive and tasty (though it is an acquired taste!) sunflower seed butter to try, than Trader Joe’s Sunflower Seed butter is a great option. It’s nutty, not at all sweet and can be used in place of peanut or almond butter in any dish (think sunflower sesame noodles as an alternative to peanut sesame noodles for your next stir-fry!!!).
Cashew Butter has a very distinct, “cashew-like” (of course) taste – so if you are not a big fan of cashews than you probably will not like this nut butter. It is very rich and almost “decadent” tasting, but again, it is a nice variation on your traditional peanut butter concoction. Cashew butter, like cashew nuts, is an excellent source of copper, and a good source of magnesium, minerals that are essential for maintaining healthy joints in our bodies. As with other nuts, it has a very low level of saturated fat, and contains oleic acid which is a heart-healthy fatty acid.
Cashew butter is usually sold as “raw” versus “roasted” nut butter, and so it has a more mellow flavor than roasted almond or sunflower seed butter. This makes it a great addition to fruit smoothies and to many Indian curry-type dishes that require cashew paste as an ingredient. It can also be used in place of tahini when making hummus, and blended with chickpeas to make a cashew-hummus for a different twist on flavor. Again, cashew butter is available from different manufacturers, but a relatively inexpensive and great-tasting one to try is the 365 brand that is available from Whole Foods markets.
As with all good things in life, moderation is the key to maintaining a healthy balance and not going over-board with anything. Nut butters are healthy – but they are also high in calories, and a little goes a long way in terms of taste and satiety. I don’t sit down and devour a whole jar in one sitting, but I do like to add a couple of teaspoons to my morning oatmeal or cereal (yes – I put it on the fruit that I add to my cereal :)), and have another teaspoon or two later in the afternoon with a piece of fruit. If I am having peanut or almond butter on toast, I will generally have 2 –3 teaspoons, along with some all-natural fruit spread or sliced fruit. I know that a serving size of nut butter is listed as 2 tablespoons, but (a) I don’t like too much nut butter on my toast/fruit, and (b) I know I will have more later in the afternoon, so I won’t have too much early on in the day. Moderation.
If you really like nut butters and want to enjoy more then one serving at a sitting, then space it out! Have a few teaspoons in the morning, and then another couple of teaspoons later in the afternoon or evening. Spacing out your serving will prevent you from feeling deprived, and also from over-indulging at one sitting. And the healthy fats and proteins will provide a sense of satiety to each of your snacks and meals.
So by all means, try adding some nut butters in place of other saturated fats to your diet, for the health benefits and also of course the taste! They are a truly nourishing and satisfying addition to any meal or snack…in moderation of course 😉
Other articles on the benefits of nut butters can be found at these sites: