There was a time where the only “nut butter” you saw on the grocery store shelves was peanut butter—of varying quality and nutritional benefit. Today, when you walk down the nut butter aisle in most grocery and health food stores, you will find a variety of nut butters, seed butters, and delightful combinations of the two.
Nut and seed butters are a great way to integrate the health benefits of nuts and seeds into your diet Nut butters are good sources of protein, fat, and a vast amount of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and phytochemicals, making them a healthful addition to your diet.
Many nuts and seeds have been shown to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. One study found that women who rarely ate nuts had a greater weight gain over an eight-year period than women who consumed nuts two or more times a week.
While each of these nutritious and delicious spreads come with their own set of health facts, flavors, and preferred uses, eating nuts and seeds have clear benefits for your overall health.
1. Almond Butter
Often called one of the healthiest nuts, almonds are actually small stone fruits related to other small stone fruits such as cherries and plums. Almond butter, the most common of the alternative nut butters, is high in fiber, calcium, magnesium, manganese, and iron. Many studies have been done on the health benefits of almonds and the results are clear—from improved blood sugar to increased energy and enhanced heart health to better brain function, almond butter gives you a bang for your bite.
How to enjoy: Almond butter is a delicious spread to have around for fruit, toast, carrots, and celery. Almond butter also makes a great substitution for peanut butter in sauces such as spicy peanut sauce. Try the convenient and portable almond butter packets for an on-the-go boost.
2. Sunflower Butter
Sunflower (seed) butter is the most inexpensive of the nut and seed butters next to peanut butter. A rich source of vitamin E, sunflower seeds are also known to be hypoallergenic (since they are a seed rather than a nut). This makes sunflower butter a great alternative for those with nut allergies.
How to enjoy: Use as a replacement in a classic PB&J for those with peanut allergies, spread atop your favorite muffin, or make into a Thai dipping sauce for spring rolls (instead of using the traditional peanut butter).
3. Cashew Butter
Cashew butter is a popular nut butter you will find in many grocery stores and restaurants. Known for its super creamy texture and high amounts of calcium, cashews and cashew butter are often used to make dairy-free milks and sauces. Cashew butter is a frequent ingredient in many vegetarian and vegan recipes.
How to enjoy: Try making your pad Thai sauce with cashew butter, use as a thickener in a delicious curry or blended vegetable soup, or blend with nutritional yeast, lemon, garlic, salt, and water for a delicious vegan cheese sauce.
4. Macadamia Nut Butter
Once suspected as being unhealthy for their high fat content, macadamia nuts (and hence macadamia nut butter) have made a comeback in recent health trends. Macadamia nut butter is high in monounsaturated fat—a healthy fat–making it a great way to boost healthy fats in your diet. One study showed that a boost in monounsaturated fat can lower LDL (bad cholesterol) and raise HDL (good cholesterol) cholesterol levels.
Macadamia nut butter is a good source of iron. Uniquely, macadamia nuts are one of the only plant sources that contain palmitoleic acid—a type of monounsaturated fatty acid that is known for speeding up fat metabolism, therefore decreasing the body’s tendency to store fat. Macadamia nut butter is the creamiest of all nut butters and a healthful addition to your nut butter repertoire.
How to enjoy: Try adding macadamia nut butter in place of peanut butter in your peanut butter cookies, use as a creamy fruit dip, or mix with a little bit of maple syrup and drizzle over your pancakes or waffles for a little extra protein and fat.
5. Walnut Butter
Since walnuts are one of the highest sources of omega-3 oils (in the form of alpha-linolenic acid) of all the nuts, walnut butter is some good food for your mood, supporting brain function and overall mood. The rich protein and fats that make up walnuts, make walnut butter a satiating and blood-sugar stabilizing snack.
How to enjoy: Try using walnut butter in an old-fashioned maple and walnut fudge. Use walnut butter in a pesto (instead of pine nuts) and drizzle over steamed vegetables or zoodles. Or simply put a dollop atop your smoothie for an extra boost of good fat and protein.
6. Coconut Butter
Coconut butter (not to be confused with coconut oil) is straight up ground coconut meat. With a delicious and natural sweet flavor and texture, you may find yourself snacking on it right off the spoon. Coconut butter is chock full of fiber and healthy fats. Hence, when added to various recipes, it will help to keep you satiated longer.
How to enjoy: While coconut butter is great for snacking right out of the jar, it also goes well in smoothies, vegan fudge or truffles, stuffed into dates, or added to your oatmeal or chia pudding.
Tahini most likely got its fame from the well-known Mediterranean dips such as hummus and baba ghanoush. Tahini, or ground sesame seed butter, is rich in essential trace minerals such as iron and calcium. One study showed that tahini (and sesame seeds) boost nutrient absorption of vitamin E.
How to enjoy: While hummus is a great way to include tahini in your diet, there are also many other ways you might enjoy it. Tahini is versatile in sauces, dips, and dressings in North African, Turkish, Greek, and Israeli cuisine. Try a tahini-based salad dressing or try a piece of toast with tahini and a drizzle of honey for a dessert-like treat.
8. Cacao Butter
Cacao (otherwise known as raw chocolate) has been known throughout as food for the gods. When making chocolate, the peeled cacao seeds are crushed into nibs, and then pressed and ground with high pressure. This process creates two products: 1) the brown, powdery cacao known as cacao powder, and 2) the pure cacao oil known as cacao butter. Cacao butter retains its healthy fats (similar to coconut oil), , and nutrients, as it is not heated at high temperatures during the extraction process. Cacao butter is often mixed with other nut butters for flavor and texture.
You may be surprised that cacao butter is a creamy-colored solid at room temperature, and a golden liquid when easily melted over low heat. Cacao butter has been known to have anti-inflammatory properties and will add wonderful flavor and texture to your recipes.
How to enjoy: Replace butter or oil with cacao butter in any recipe. Try as an oil or butter replacement in fudge, truffles, or brittles. Use small amounts melted into your coffee or latte for an extra creamy texture and chocolaty flavor.
If you have trouble digesting nuts or seeds, take note: Raw nuts and raw seeds contain phytic acid (a phosphorus storage compound found in most nuts, seeds, and grains), which are enzyme inhibitors in humans. Phytic acid is biologically necessary for the plant, as it helps safeguard the nut or seed until proper growing conditions are present when germination can occur. These enzyme inhibitors prevent the seed from sprouting prematurely but can also irritate the digestive system in humans. If you have trouble digesting nuts or seeds, see the recipe below for instructions on how to soak your nuts and make your own nut butter.
Make Your Own Nut Butter
Follow these steps to make your own simple soaked nut butter.
- Soak 2 cups nuts or seeds overnight in warm water (optional—add a bit of sea salt). You will notice the water turns a brownish color with most nuts and seeds.
- The next day, drain this brownish water and rinse your nuts or seeds.
- On a baking sheet, roast or dehydrate the nuts or seeds on the lowest temperature in your oven or dehydrator until crisp (approximately 8–10 hours).
- Place into food processor with 2 tablespoons of coconut oil (or your oil of choice).
- Blend for 2 minutes, and scrape sides of food processor into center.
- Blend again until smooth and creamy.
- Add flavors of choice such as sea salt, cinnamon, vanilla, honey, or maple.
- Blend one last time.
- Store in a mason jar in the refrigerator and use as needed.
Nut butters are a very versatile and tasty food to explore, to get creative with, and to enjoy. There are many variations, combinations, and recipes that nut butters enhance and uplift.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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