Nut butters are on my list of foods I eat every single day.
They’re not only insanely delicious, but they also contain both protein and healthy fats that our bodies digest slowly, meaning we end up staying satisfied for a longer period of time compared to eating foods made of fast-digesting carbohydrates. They also contain important vitamins and minerals in different amounts and combinations depending on the nut.
I regularly add nut butter to my smoothies, mix it into yogurt (if you haven’t tried PB&J yogurt, it’s time!), and add it to oatmeal. Or for a quick-and-easy snack, I’ll reach for a piece of fruit with nut butter.
But while the nut butter shelf at the grocery store used to only contain jars of peanut, there are now lots of options.
No matter which nut you pick, keep these tips in mind: Remember to choose natural and/or organic brands that are made with just nuts and salt. Ideally, you don’t want any extra sugar, hydrogenated oils or additives. And don’t go nuts: Nut butters are nutrient-dense but they’re high in calories, so a little goes a long way. Watch your portion size, that is, try not to eat mindlessly from the jar with a spoon.
With that in mind, here are some insights into the healthiest nut butters at the grocery store.
Classic peanut butter is good for you, delivering both healthy fats and protein (phew!). When compared to almond butter, it’s higher in protein and slightly lower in fat, and it tends to be the least expensive choice. Many people worry about aflatoxins, carcinogens that are linked to liver cancer and are produced by a fungus that often grows on peanut crops. The U.S. tests for them and doesn’t allow them in food at a level considered dangerous. You’ll likely still be exposed to them at very low levels in peanut butter, but they’re unlikely to affect your health in that amount.
The other issue is allergies.
Since so many people are allergic to peanuts, you may need to choose another option to put in your child’s lunchbox.
As mentioned, almond has slightly less protein than peanut and a little more fat, but it’s a great source of both. It also contains more calcium and iron, two important nutrients people often need more of in their diets. The taste is a little more polarizing than peanut — while some people love it, it doesn’t quite have mass appeal. Bonus: If you’re following a paleo diet, which focuses on foods proponents believe our early ancestors likely consumed, almond butter is approved (as are cashew and walnut); peanut butter is not paleo since peanuts are technically legumes.
Cashew butter started showing up everywhere in the last year, probably because it’s so creamy and delicious. Its biggest nutritional differentiator is that it’s much lower in protein than the other nut butters, so think of it more as a light snack, not a post-workout muscle builder. It is also a good source of iron and magnesium. One major benefit: Cashews are naturally sweeter than other nuts, so it can be easier to find jars of cashew butter with no sugar added.
Walnut butter is rarer, but in the midst of this nut butter boom, it’ll probably keep showing up on shelves more and more. Like cashew, it’s much lower in protein than peanut and almond butters. But walnuts are especially high in those special omega-3 fatty acids, and they’re also packed with powerful antioxidants called polyphenols.
Which brings me to an important conclusion: All nuts (and therefore nut butters!) are amazing sources of antioxidants, which fight free radicals in the body to prevent disease. They’re also linked to all kinds of heart-health benefits, like lower cholesterol levels. So choose your favorite based on your specific taste and nutritional needs, and then grab a knife and start spreading.