On Your Health

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Alternatives to Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is a staple in most American kitchens. Whether it’s used in a classic PB&J or as a garnish for apple slices and celery, peanut butter reigns supreme as the most consumed nut butter in the U.S. But is it the best for you? Most people don’t realize there are a wide variety of nut butters made from other nut varieties. When it comes to health benefits, peanut butter just can’t compete with the healthy ingredients found in other nut butters.

Why choose peanut butter alternatives?  

Peanut butter makes for a delicious, nutritious snack and is a great way to get a hearty serving of protein and healthy, monounsaturated fats. However most store-bought varieties are full of additives, including sugars, salt and hydrogenated oils, lessening the nutritional value compared to alternatives.

Nut butters made from almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, walnuts and other nut varieties usually have less added ingredients, making them a great way to reap the health benefits that nuts provide, without the extra sugar and other additives. These creamy spreads contain many healthful nutrients, but the key to benefiting from their full potential is minimalism. Brands that offer butters made from the simplest ingredient — the nut — with minimal added ingredients are best. Squeaky-clean nut butters can also be made at home by grinding your favorite variety in a food processor until it forms a creamy spread. 

Another reason many reach for nut butters other than peanut butter is the growing prevalence of peanut allergies. According to the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology, the peanut is the most prevalent allergen among school-aged children. While some may be allergic to all forms of nuts and should avoid nut butters all together, many are safe to consume everything except peanut butter. This is because peanuts are in the legume family and are not technically nuts. However, it’s best to consult your doctor before trying other nut butters if you have a peanut allergy, as it may be safer for you to opt for non-nut options.

Health benefits of nut butters

Nuts are a fantastic source of many nutrients that can improve your overall health. Protein, healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals — chemical compounds produced by plants — are all found in nut butters. While the specific amount and type of nutrients in nut butter varies depending on the type of nut, each provides its own unique benefits.

They’re good for your heart

When reviewing nut butter options, you may notice that they all contain high levels of fat, but don’t let that scare you. Nuts are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that are proven to lower bad LHL cholesterol levels, increase good HDL cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes and even lower the risk of obesity.

They keep you feeling fuller for longer

The fat content of nut butters, along with high levels of protein and fiber, lead to greater satiation, meaning you feel fuller for longer throughout the day. When you’re not as hungry, you eat less and thus gain less weight. This is the main reason nut and nut butter consumption can be linked to lower risks of obesity.

types of nuts and seeds in bowls, jars and spoons

Nut butter comparison

Each type of nut butter provides its own flavor and health benefits. We’ve compiled some of the most common nut butters found on grocery shelves or at farmers markets and detailed the benefits each can provide when eaten in the right amount. Nuts and nut butters are both high in calories, so it’s best to consume them in moderation. The recommended serving size is usually two tablespoons.

Almond butter

When it comes to nut butters, almond butter takes the cake for providing the most nutrients. Almond butter has generally the same texture as peanut butter, but offers more monounsaturated fats per serving, meaning it’s great for your heart and reduces your risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Almonds are also a great source of riboflavin, magnesium and manganese, which help prevent osteoporosis and regulate your metabolism.

Almond butter also contains high levels of vitamin E, the antioxidant responsible for balancing your cholesterol, promoting cell health, supporting healthy skin and hair and even balancing your hormones. In terms of nutritional value, almond butter is a great source of protein and offers the most fiber of all the nut butter varieties as well as the lowest saturated fat content. To top it off, almonds contain large amounts of calcium, potassium, phosphorous, iron and copper.

Cashew butter

Cashew butter provides less calcium than other options but still has great nutritional value. These nuts are a good source of phosphorus, copper and magnesium, which is best known for relieving constipation, insomnia, headaches and muscle cramps as well as regulating the immune system and supporting brain function.

In comparison to peanut butter, cashew butter offers more omega-3. It’s also rich in important minerals like iron and zinc and is known to reduce triglyceride levels. Cashew butter may be a little harder to find at the store, but it’s definitely worth the effort.

Hazelnut butter

Hazelnuts, also called filberts, provide an energy boost and are dense in folate, the vitamin linked to healthier pregnancies and treating anemia. This butter is also a good source of fiber, vitamin E, copper and manganese, but is lacking in protein and offers less satiety than other options.

Many hazelnut butters found on the shelves are paired with chocolate, so be sure to read the ingredients closely and opt for the brand with the least additives.

Macadamia butter

Of all the nut varieties, macadamia nuts contain the greatest concentration of monounsaturated fat. The large amounts of monounsaturated fats, as well as heart-healthy polyphenols, have been proven to prevent coronary artery disease. Macadamia butter can also increase good levels of cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, control blood sugar levels and help maintain bowel regularity.

On the downside, macadamia nuts are high in fat. Even though it’s mostly healthy fat, it’s best to stick to the recommended serving size. Like hazelnuts, macadamia nuts are also low in protein.

Pecan butter

Pecan butter is also loaded with age-defying antioxidants like vitamins A, B and E, in addition to potassium, magnesium and large amounts of fiber. Pecans are known to lower cholesterol levels, facilitate regular bowel movements, increase metabolism and even reduce inflammation. Pecan butter is also high in fat, so consider portion size when indulging in this vitamin-packed treat.

Pistachio butter

Pistachio butter is especially helpful for diabetics, as it’s been found to positively impact blood glucose levels and reduce the likelihood of glucose spikes. Pistachios are beneficial for cardiovascular health and are associated with decreased levels of bad cholesterol and triglycerides as well as increased levels of good cholesterol. They’re also a great source of copper, vitamin B6, manganese, phosphorus, fiber, potassium and thiamin.

Compared to other nut butters, pistachio butter has the added benefit of being high in lutein, an antioxidant found in leafy green vegetables. Lutein protects against free radical oxidation of cholesterol, which is the process of reducing inflammation and arterial plaque buildup.

Walnut butter

Believe it or not, walnuts are one of the best vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids out there. Walnut butter also touts many antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that can improve blood vessel health and reduce inflammation. Despite its high levels of omega-3, walnut butter is low in protein and high in saturated fat, so it’s a good idea to limit your serving size and get protein from another source. Walnut butter is hard to find in grocery stores, but can usually be found online or easily made at home.

Nut allergy considerations

Allergic to tree nuts or peanuts? Seed butters are a great alternative to the nutty varieties and are typically allowed in schools that ban nut butters. Like nuts, seeds are generally high in fiber and protein and are rich in essential fatty acids. Here are some seed butter options to consider next time you have a craving for something sweet.

Soy butter

Soy butter, made from roasted soybeans, is a great source of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids and offers more protein than peanut butter. Soy butter also contains all 20 essential amino acids and isoflavones, which help prevent heart disease and cancer. You may notice that soy butter has a different texture than nut butters. Its grainy quality is due to the lack of oils in soybeans.

Sun butter

Sun butter, made from sunflower seeds, provides more fiber, magnesium and vitamin E than most nut butters. It’s also a good source of protein, vitamin B, folic acid, niacin and selenium that help give it its anti-inflammatory properties. Sun butter is also known to prevent cancer and heart disease. Unlike soy butter, sun butter has a more traditional, creamy texture.

Tahini butter

Tahini butter is made from ground sesame seeds and contains no natural sugars, making it a more savory option than other seed or nut butters. It’s traditionally used in sauces, dressings and is one of the main ingredients in hummus, but can also be used as a peanut butter substitute on sandwiches or other sweeter foods.

Tahini butter contains healthy doses of unsaturated fats as well as magnesium and iron. It also boasts high levels of sesamin and sesamol, two lignans shown to lower cholesterol. However, studies have shown that allergies to sesame seeds and tahini increasingly overlap with allergies to peanuts, so consult your doctor before trying tahini if you have peanut allergies.

nut butter infographic