Have you explored the different types of nut butters down your grocery store isle? Making small ingredient swaps like this can lead to a healthier lifestyle. Take a look at the benefits of alternative nut butter options here.
Sunflower Seed Butter – According to the USDA, sunflower seed butter has significantly more magnesium, phosphorous, zinc, copper, and selenium than either almond or peanut butter and is classified as an “excellent source” of these minerals. Because of this, sunflower seed butter can be an important source of nutrition for some of the more than 3 million Americans who are allergic to peanuts and/or tree nuts. It’s similarly high in unsaturated fats, moderate in protein and low in sugar as are other nut and seed butters. But be careful: Sunflower seed butters sold in stores are often sweetened, and you may be consuming unwanted sugar calories if you don’t read the ingredient labels carefully. Avoid products with evaporated cane juice, cane sugar or other sweeteners.
Almond Butter – Two-thirds of almond butter’s fat is in the healthful monounsaturated form, and almond butter contains about seven times the amount of calcium and about 50 percent more magnesium than peanut butter. Heather Demetra touts the nutritional benefits and convenience of the food on her blog Heather Eats Almond Butter, dedicated entirely to the nutty spread. According to Demetra, “Almond butter, a delicious alternative to peanut butter, provides our bodies with several key nutrients while also serving as a good source of protein and fat. Almond butter can be added to simple snacks such as apples slices or pretzels to make them more filling and nutrient dense, and a little goes a long way. It can also be used as a substitute for butter or oil in various baked goods, like my Maple Nut Oaties.” Raw almond butter is usually free of additives, while roasted varieties can have unwanted ingredients. Look for brands that contain only almonds and salt.
Cashew Butter – Cashew butter has a relatively sweet taste and a smooth, creamy texture. Although cashew butter is somewhat lower in fat than other nut butters (two tablespoons contain 16 grams of fat, compared with 18 grams for almond butter and 19 grams for walnut butter), its fat profile is a winning one. Sixty-two percent of the fat in cashew butter is of the monounsaturated kind, making it one of the top sources of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) in the nut category. MUFAs, also found in high proportions in olive oil and avocados, have beneficial effects on blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Two tablespoons of cashew butter provides about 87 percent of the Recommend Dietary Allowance (RDA) of copper, a trace mineral that’s essential for adequate use of iron by the body. Cashew butter sold in stores may contain added oils (e.g., sunflower oil), so look out for products with any ingredients other than cashews and salt.
Walnut Butter – Walnuts are prized for their high omega-3 content. Omega-3 fats help with normal heart rate and blood flow, reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and improve arthritis symptoms. At 2.5 grams per ounce, walnuts contain five times more omega-3 fats than pecans, which have the next highest concentration. Two tablespoons of raw walnut butter provide a similar amount of omega-3 fats. Because of the high proportion of this fragile fat, walnuts and their butter can turn rancid easily — especially with exposure to heat and air, so store the butter in the fridge. Walnut butter has an earthy, buttery taste, but it may also have a sharp bitter note, so it’s often a mixed with other nuts that lend a sweetness.
Tahini (sesame seed butter) – Tahini is a smooth butter made from finely ground, usually toasted sesame seeds. Tahini shows up often in Middle Eastern cuisine, and when sold in grocery stores it may be labeled either “tahini” or “sesame seed butter.” Unlike peanut and almond butters, which often contain sweeteners, tahini is typically free of additional ingredients, so you’re unlikely to consume hidden sugar or trans fats along with it. Like most nuts and seeds, sesame seeds have a healthy distribution of fats, with more than 85 percent unsaturated and about 15 percent saturated fat. Sesame seeds also contain sesamin, a compound that inhibits absorption and increases excretion of cholesterol in the intestinal tract. A study in the journal Nutrition Research in 2005 showed a significant reduction in total and LDL cholesterol in study participants with high cholesterol who consumed about 1.5 ounces of sesame seeds as part of a their daily diet. Tahini has a relatively liquid consistency compared to other nut and seed butters and is in sauces and salad dressings that call for nutty, earthy notes.
Brazil Nut Butter – Brazil nuts are large, oval seeds of giant trees from the rainforest of Central and South America. Brazil nut butter is often made simply from organic raw Brazil nuts without any additional ingredients. The Brazil nut’s claim to nutrition fame is its exceptionally high selenium content: Just one ounce of the nuts contains about 10 times the recommended daily intake. Although most people in the U.S. get adequate selenium in their diets, the mineral is so important that adding a rich source of selenium like Brazil nut butter to one’s diet is certainly a nod to good health. The National Institutes of Health notes: “Because of its effects on DNA repair…and the endocrine and immune systems … including its antioxidant properties … selenium might play a role in the prevention of cancer.”