The Everything Guide To Nut Butters

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Back in the day, choosy mothers chose Jif — not that we can remember what the other options were, anyway. Now, we have plenty more choices: walnut, pecan, macadamia... If it’s a nut, legume, or seed, you can probably make it into a butter. But, which one is best? Do we buy raw or roasted? How important is organic, really? What's this whole "soaked and sprouted" thing? Ahead, we break down the butters — so you no longer have to spend 45 minutes taking up space in the grocery-store aisle while you try to decide.
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Almond: $7 - $18
Calories: 200
Fat: 18g
Fiber: 4g
Protein: 7g
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Definitely the most popular of the alternative nut butters, almond butter’s star quality is its vitamin E content — about 27% of your RDA in one tablespoon. This antioxidant helps protect against a multitude of evils, from cancer to crow’s-feet. Additionally, almond butter has a whopping 24% of your daily dose of magnesium, the wonders of which are seemingly endless, including helping your muscles relax, alleviating menstrual cramps, and dispelling everything from chocolate cravings to insomnia to stinky feet. Almond butter also ranks the highest in fiber and contains 64% monounsaturated fats, which may reduce your risk of heart disease and help lower "bad" LDL cholesterol levels, says Keri Gans, RDN and author of The Small Change Diet.
Cashew: $8 - $15
Calories: 160
Fat: 14g
Fiber: 1g
Protein: 5g
In culinary cases where you’re looking more for texture than flavor, cashews are your best bet, says Robin Robertson, author of The Nut Butter Cookbook: 100 Delicious Vegan Recipes Made Better with Nut Butter. These slightly soft nuts can be convincingly transformed into pretty much anything, most notability various forms of “cheese.” This multitasking ability has landed them the number-one spot in many a vegan heart. For every two tablespoons of ground cashews, you get 12% your RDV of zinc, which is a powerful, immune-system-supporting nutrient. It plays a critical role in reproductive health and fertility, wound healing, and protection against free-radical damage, says Shannon Reed, NTP and nutritional consultant for Purenola.
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Macadamia: $13 - $20
Calories: 195
Fat: 20g
Carbs: 4g
Fiber: 2g
Protein: 4g
One of the pricier butters, macademia nut butter is renowned for being creamy, slightly sweet, and pretty much the closest thing to heaven when accompanied by some coconut and a little dark chocolate. Along with being one of the tastiest nut butters, it contains 23% your RDV of thiamin, or B1, which helps our bodies use carbohydrates for energy, says Reed. It’s also the darling of the paleo world, thanks to the fact that macadamia nuts have the lowest content of omega 6 (a pro-inflammatory fatty acid) of all the nuts, at only 0.5g per quarter cup.
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Peanut: $4 - $7
Calories: 190
Fat: 16g
Carbs: 7g
Fiber: 3g
Protein: 8g
Although this is not technically a nut butter (peanuts are legumes), we'd be remiss to not discuss peanut butter. Cheap and cheerful, our childhood favorite has gotten a bad rap as of late thanks to peanut allergies and pesticides — peanuts are one of the most heavily sprayed crops — but this old faithful definitely has redeeming qualities. Peanut butter is lower in fat and calories and higher in protein than most of these nut butters. It also contains more niacin, or B3, which helps the body make sex and stress hormones, inhibits production of cholesterol, and helps break down fats.
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Pecan: $6 - $17
Calories: 213
Fat: 20g
Carbs: 5g
Fiber: 3g
Protein: 4g
One of the newer nut butters to hit the shelves, pecan butter brings back memories of Thanksgiving pies of yore while also delivering 64% of your RDV of manganese, which is critical for energy production and bone growth, says Reed.
Walnut: $11 - $17
Calories: 200
Fat: 19g
Carbs: 6g
Fiber: 2g
Protein: 5g
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Walnuts contain a number of neuro-protective compounds, including vitamin E, folate, melatonin, and anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats. Research has shown that eating walnuts can support brain health. But, be careful about overdoing it; walnuts also contain the worst omega 3:6 ratio of all the nuts, with pro-inflammatory omega 6 fats that could potentially outweigh the good omega 3s.
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Hazelnut: $7 - $18
Calories: 180
Fat: 15g
Carbs: 12g
Fiber: 3g
Protein: 6g
Most of the hazelnut butters you find are going to be of the Nutella persuasion, which will have some added sugar, cocoa, and potentially some artificial flavors, depending on the brand. Although this may not be the “purest” of all the nut butters, it is damn good, and it’s definitely better than squirting chocolate syrup into your mouth. Your average chocolate hazelnut spread gives you 21% your RDV of vitamin E (plus the antioxidants in the cocoa), a decent dose of B6 and folate, and nearly an entire day’s worth of manganese. So, go on, spoon it from the jar; it’s practically a superfood.
Sunflower Seed: $5 - $8
Calories: 200
Fat: 16g
Carbs: 7g
Fiber: 4g
Protein: 7g
This is also not technically a nut butter. But, we thought we’d throw sunflower-seed butter in the mix because it is a butter and pretty much a nutritional powerhouse. It packs 12% your RDV of B6, 18% folate, 30% magnesium, and 12% zinc — which is more than many nuts have to offer. Plus, sunflower-seed butter is a great option for those with nut allergies, says Robertson.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
How To Choose
The most important thing when choosing a nut butter is to look at the ingredients, says Gans. “The only ingredient that really should be listed is the nut itself.” She cautions to watch out for added sugars, which can be cleverly disguised ("evaporated cane juice") and hydrogenated oils, otherwise known as trans fats, which can cause free radical (i.e. cancerous) damage inside your body.
Roasted or raw?
According to Gans, there is no scientific evidence showing a nutritional difference between roasted and un-roasted nuts; it’s pretty much just a matter of personal taste. Roasted nuts are treated with heat (149-212°F) to bring out a richer, “toastier” flavor that some people prefer. However, some research has led experts to believe that the polyunsaturated fatty acid content of nuts could become oxidized during the roasting process, since polyunsaturated fats are extremely heat-sensitive. Additionally, raw-food enthusiasts claim that the heating process destroys certain enzymes, making nuts and nut butters less healthful and more difficult to digest. We’ll leave this one up to you, but if you’re worried about enzymes and inflammation, stick with the raw versions of nuts, which are higher in polyunsaturated fatty acids: sunflower seeds (66%), walnuts (47%), peanuts and pistachios (30%), and pecans (22%).
Does it have to be organic?
Going organic can mean a $5-$10 price jump — is it worth it? Well, unless the nuts are grown organically, chances are they have been sprayed with chemicals just like other non-organic crops. The big three to look out for are cashews, pistachios, and peanuts. Non-organic cashews are sprayed with endosulfan, a pesticide that has been shown to affect the central nervous system, causing damage to the kidneys, liver, and testes. Many pistachios are treated with phosmet, a Class II pesticide that has been shown to be carcinogenic. And, because peanuts are not actually nuts (they are legumes that grow underground), they have direct soil contact and can be even more affected by chemicals.
What about soaking and sprouting?
You may have seen the words “sprouted” on a bag of gnarly looking bread in your local health food store; the story behind soaking and sprouting is that nuts, grains, and legumes all contain phytic acid, which is not digestible to humans, says Reed. Phytic acid binds to all those lovely minerals (like zinc, iron, magnesium, calcium, chromium, and manganese) that are contained within the nut, grain, or legume. Once bound, our bodies can’t absorb these nutrients, and we wind up excreting them. This can result in mineral deficiencies. Phytic acid can be reduced and possibly eliminated by soaking, sprouting, and/or fermenting; additionally, soaking reduces enzyme inhibitors, which are present in the outer casing of the nut, says Reed. This makes the nuts more digestible and their nutrients more available. So, if you find yourself consuming mass quantities of nut butter on a daily basis, you might want to look into a brand that soaks.
There you have it: everything you need to know to buy your best butter. If you still can't decide, get yourself a food processor, grab a handful of each, and go nuts.
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