What’s the best nut butter?

almond, sesame and peanut butters

I’ve been thinking about nut butters recently because some almond butter appeared in my pantry. It was an ingredient for a particular recipe, but of course I had to have a spoonful. Yum! It’s got a lovely mild/sweet flavor, and I wondered why I haven’t been buying it more often. I am now.

All of which also made me think of the nutrition aspects of nut butters. In their natural form, nut butters are very similar to each other. They have decent protein and healthy fats. They’re a great addition to anyone’s diet, but are especially useful for vegetarians and vegans for the protein.

These days we’ve got lots of nut butter options in the average grocery store. You can find them in jars, and some stores have machines so you can have fresh ground nut butter. That way you know you’re just getting ground nuts, no additives.

Unfortunately, many nut butters are doctored up to keep the oil from separating or to add sweeteners. Some have added oil to make them more spreadable. Walnut butter seems particularly likely to include added fats and sweeteners.

Here’s the breakdown for 2 TB of some common nut butters you can find at most grocery stores. The values are for natural versions of these butters. In other words, no added sugar or texturizers or other stuff like (gah!) palm oil. Added sugar would change the carbohydrate and calorie content. Added fat would dilute (reduce) the amount of protein and carbs, although not significantly.

Nut Butter Nutrition

Nut Buttercaloriesprotein grfat gramscarb grams
sesame (tahini)2108183

Nut butters are also good sources of iron, potassium, zinc, magnesium and vitamin E.

In my opinion, “best” isn’t defined by the type of nut. It’s defined by “natural”. No added palm oil (gah!), coconut oil (ugh!), sweeteners or other additives. Just nuts, perhaps salt. So check the label before buying. Other than that, choose the nut butter that fits your needs and taste preferences. Here are some uses:

  • They’re all great spread on toast, pita or bagels.
  • Make nut butter sandwiches. Add honey, jam, fresh fruit slices (banana, apples, pears) or thin sliced cucumber or shredded sweet pepper.
  • Wrap up a tortilla with nut butter and perhaps some fresh chopped vegetables like cucumbers or grated carrots, or dried fruit or just plain. Figs and almond butter… hmmm.
  • Peanut butter is especially good for Asian style peanut sauce, used on noodles or tofu or vegetables. Tahini is an essential ingredient for hummus.
  • Use as a dip for raw vegetables
  • Spread on crackers for a snack
  • Use to make a salad dressing. Tahini dressing is one example.
  • Make cookies! Peanut butter cookies are well known, but try using almond butter instead.
  • Here’s another idea: include 2 or 3 different nut butters in a gift basket.

To sum it up, nut butters are a great source of protein, healthy fats and other nutrients for vegan and vegetarian diets. Even better, they’re delicious and versatile. Anyone moving towards a more plant-based diet should include one or more nut butters in their food repertoire.

podcast originally published Jan 2016.

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