November is Peanut Butter Lovers Month, and for a lot of you who’ve chosen to read this article it is more than likely that peanut butter has a place in your hearts. From those crust-less PB&J sandwiches our mom used to pack in our lunch boxes, to eating Jiffy right from the jar watching Saturday morning cartoons. But that was long ago, and now we are responsible adults who can’t eat whatever we want. Unfortunately that delicious, creamy spread you once loved isn’t as healthy as you’d like, meaning alternatives need to be found. But with so many different nut butters out there, which one has the ideal amount of health benefits? In this article we will discuss exactly that as well as what to look for in your nut butters.
When you compare the numbers of different nut butters there isn’t too much variation in terms of macronutrients. All are around 180-200 calories, 15-18 grams of fat, 6-10 grams of carbs (1-4 of which being fiber), and 4-7 grams of protein per two tablespoon serving size. But of course the numbers aren’t the only important factor here. The number of ingredients in your nut butter can also be an indication of its healthiness, staying true to the rule that less ingredients equals healthier.
Most peanut butters you can find in stores contain more than just peanuts. To keep the flavor top notch and the consistency extra creamy they add extra sugar and hydrogenated oils (also known as trans-fat). The simplest way to avoid this is to buy natural! Most stores that sell peanut butter have a natural selection as well. For those who don’t know, the only difference between regular and natural PB is the lack of additives. Most natural peanut butters contain roasted peanuts and sometimes salt. Most complain of oil separation but this can be easily fixed by mixing the oil back into the solid with a spoon or knife.
Alternative Nut Butters
Of course in recent years many health conscious individuals are looking past peanut butter to try and find a more nutrient dense, allergy friendly nut butter. As it turns out one has been underneath our noses the entire time, in the form of almond butter. Compared to peanut butter, almond butter isn’t particularly any better macronutrient wise, but the micronutrients are what make all the difference. With four times as much calcium (about 80 mg per serving), the presence of antioxidants like vitamin E, as well as important minerals like iron and magnesium, almond butter is superior to peanut butter in almost all health related respects.
Another popular alternative is cashew butter, but unfortunately this nut butter falls short as it has the least amount of protein per serving of all nut butters and doesn’t have any ALA Omega-3 fatty acids (a very healthy type of fat). It does have a generous amount of copper, magnesium and phosphorous though. Macadamia nut butter exists but is considerably higher in fat and calories than the rest. A two tablespoon serving has 230 calories as well as 24 grams of fat, making this nut butter good for anybody trying to gain weight, but could go to the waistline of others trying to lose weight.
Sunflower butter is a close second to almond butter as it also contains magnesium, zinc, iron and vitamin E, with its only downside being a lack of calcium supplied in peanut butter and almond butter. While there are many more types of nut butters the last one I will cover is soynut butter. This isn’t exactly a nut butter in the way peanut butter is. It is actually a legume butter, made from ground soybeans. Although it is quite grainy, this alternative contains 9 grams of protein per serving and 60 mgs of calcium, but lacks in other micronutrient departments. My advice is to be careful if you try soynut butter as the jury is still out about its estrogen raising properties, although a serving of soy a day is most likely alright for men to consume.
Take Home Message
So as you can see there are plenty of different types of nut butter for everybody. While some are more superior and nutrient rich than others, all contain healthy fats, protein and fiber. Something important to keep in mind is that while nut butters are healthy and nutrient dense, they are just as dense in calories. There is a joke going around which is more truth than most realize: “if you’d like to know how out of touch you are with reality, actually measure out a serving of peanut butter”. Meaning while you think you only have one serving on your rice cakes, it might be closer to two or three. This can be the difference between fat loss and fat gain, something to keep in mind depending on your goals. With that being said, nut butters are a healthy way to liven up many desserts, smoothies and snacks, as long as you are cautious of how much you are using!