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Much ado about nut butters

KathyKolasa
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Kathy Kolasa

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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Q: I like to try new foods and heard that nut butters are better for you than peanut butter. Is that true? — J.K., Greenville

A: There are of choices of nut butters, and many are being marketed with what I would call exaggerated claims. Many of the butters will tout their micronutrient content. They can be a good source of riboflavin, magnesium, vitamin E, potassium, zinc and dietary fiber. But for most of us to stay within our calorie budget, the serving size is small, so it’s unlikely the nut butter will be the major source of these nutrients in your diet. Kathleen Ascanio, a dietetic intern who spent some time with us at ECU Family Medicine, shares the following information about Nutrition Facts for nut butters:

Nut butters are often referred to as any nut that is made into butter-like consistency that is not derived from peanuts. The most common forms of nut butters are almond, cashew, sunflower and soy (although soy is not a nut, but a legume). Nut butters have grown in popularity as a peanut butter alternative, especially for those who are allergic to peanuts.

People who are allergic to peanuts but are not usually allergic to tree nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, among others) can eat nut butters. People who are allergic to tree nuts and not allergic to peanuts might be able to eat peanut butter, but they probably need to avoid nut butters. If you can’t eat nuts, you might enjoy sunflower seed butter. Be sure to read the label to ensure that the product was processed in an allergen-free facility. If you are unsure if you are allergic to any foods, be sure to check with your family doctor before trying something new.

Nuts are a great snack and can be incorporated into a healthy, well-balanced diet. Nut butters can offer just as much nutrition, but in a different form. It is important to flip the jar over and read the Nutrition Facts and ingredient labels before selecting a nut butter. Some products have added oils and sugars that add unnecessary calories and little nutrition.

I compared different brands of nut butters and found that, like peanut butter, the suggested serving size is 2 tablespoons. Each nut butter had a calorie range from 190-200 calories per serving, about the same as most peanut butters. The grams of fat per serving of each brand of nut butter I looked at ranged from 15-19, again similar to the 16 grams of fat in peanut butter. The grams of protein ranges from 7-8 for nut butter, whereas peanut butter has 7 grams. The biggest difference between nut butters and peanut butter was in the amount of carbohydrates. The grams of carbohydrates in nut butters ranged from 4-8 per serving compared to the 8 grams in peanut butter. Since the butters all have about the same nutrient content, you would select a nut butter based on your taste preference and calories.

Nut butters taste like the nut they are made from. Almond butter for example, has a strong almond flavor with a grainy texture. Cashew butter has a smoother taste and texture than some of the other butters I tasted. Textures and tastes may vary depending on the brand. Some nut butters can come with added flavorings such as chocolate, which has more calories from added sugar and fat.

Nut butters can be used in various ways. Some healthy suggestions would be to pair it with fruit for a light snack, spread it on some whole-wheat toast with banana slices or put a bit in your smoothie. Nut butters can also be used in baking, just as you would use peanut butter.

Nut butters cost more than regular peanut butter. The price for nut butters I saw ranged from $4.99 to $12.99 for the same size as a $1.99 jar of store-brand peanut butter. Since the nutrient content is comparable to that of peanut butter, choose whichever works best for your budget and your preferences.

I didn’t see any nut butters at the Food Lion I visited. I bet it won’t be long until you’ll find all stores jumping on the growing popularity of nut butters and stocking them.

Professor emeritus Kathy Kolasa, a registered dietitian nutritionist and Ph.D., is an Affiliate Professor in the Brody School of Medicine at ECU. Contact her at kolasaka@ecu.edu.

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