Cedars-Sinai Blog

Nut Butters: Which One Is Healthiest?

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Once reserved for peanuts and only used as sandwich filler, nut butters are increasingly replacing mayonnaise, cream cheese, and other tasty spreads that typically grace your favorite bread—and for good reason. 

"Nut butters contain a mix of nutrients including fiber, protein, B vitamins, phosphorous, zinc, and vitamin E," explains Andrea Hasson, a registered dietitian at the Cedars-Sinai Nutrition Counseling Services.

"If the product says, 'no stir,' it's likely the manufacturer added rapeseed oil or palm oil for easy spreading. It's those hydrogenated oils that aren't good for us and can increase bad cholesterol levels."

Nut butters are loaded with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. These fats help increase HDL cholesterol—the good kind—while keeping LDL cholesterol—the bad kind—in check. 

Breaking down nut butters

Most nut and seed butters have between 80-100 calories per tablespoon, and 7-10 grams of mostly unsaturated fat.

They also contain protein and fiber and can help you feel full for longer periods.

"Just watch your portions," Andrea says. A tablespoon of nut butter may not seem like a lot when you're spreading it on a bagel or toast.

Here's a quick guide to the nutritional punch of 2 tablespoons of some popular nut butters.

Almond nut butter

With 200 calories, nearly 19 grams of fat, and almost 5 grams of protein, almond butter can help you bridge the gap between meals when you're hungry.

It contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fats as well as vitamins and minerals, including vitamin E, magnesium, and calcium.

Stir almond butter into oatmeal and ice cream or use it as a base for muffin, cake, and cookie batter. 

Walnut butter

"Of all the nut butters, walnut butter has the most omega-3 fatty acids," Andrea says. The healthful fat ratio helps lower LDL cholesterol, increase HDL cholesterol, and reduce inflammation.

The hitch: Walnut butter is lower in protein and fiber than other nut butters.

Use walnut butter as a base for smoothies or spread it on cranberry walnut toast.

Peanut butter

Peanut butter is among the most affordable nut butters and it's a good bang for your buck—it has the highest amount of protein per serving of all nut butters (about 8 grams).

It's also rich in antioxidants.

Pair it with apples, celery, or bananas for additional nutrient punch or stir it into sauces for added thickness and flavor.

Cashew butter

One of the creamiest nut butters available, cashew butter can take the place of dairy in recipes that require milk or cream.

It's also a higher-carb and lower-proteincompared to other nut butters.

Dab cashew butter on Chinese noodles, broccoli, and chicken for added nutrients.

Sunflower seed butter

A great alternative for people who are allergic to peanut and tree nuts, sunflower seed butter has a similar nutrient profile as other nut butters.

Just one tablespoon of sunflower seed butter supplies nearly a quarter of your body's daily requirement for vitamin E. Sunflower seed butter is also a great source of protein, healthy fats, and magnesium.

Spread it on toast, drizzle it on pancakes or waffles, or add a spoonful to oatmeal or a smoothie.

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Picking a nut butter

There's no doubt that the number of nut butters appearing on grocery shelves is ballooning. But more important than the type of nut butter you choose is what appears on the ingredients list. 

"Choose products that have only one ingredient—your nut of choice—and skip butters that contain excess salt and sugar as well as partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oils," Andrea says.

"If the product says, 'no stir,' it's likely the manufacturer added rapeseed oil or palm oil for easy spreading. It's those hydrogenated oils that aren't good for us and can increase bad cholesterol levels." 

The bottom line: Eat the butter you like, as long as you choose a natural butter that requires stirring.