Go Nuts for Nut Butters!

Peanut butter may be a household staple, but spreads made from other nuts and seeds can add nutrients and variety to your diet.

Peanut butter has that ideal balance between sweet and salty, making it the perfect companion for everything from whole grain toast to celery sticks. And it's an inexpensive source of protein and good-for-you monounsaturated fats. Generations of kids have gotten through the school day fueled by peanut-butter sandwiches and a carton of milk—you were probably one of them!

But did you know that there's more to nut butters than just plain peanut butter? How about spreads made from almonds, cashews, and even seeds like sunflower? As an alternative to the old standby, consider these other products most easily found in gourmet, natural and/or organic grocery stores.
Almond butter
Like peanuts, almonds are a source of monounsaturated fats.

Cashew, pistachio or hazelnut butter
Like the nuts themselves, these butters are rich and slightly sweet. They make good additions to Indian curries or Mediterranean dishes.

Macadamia nut butter
Also rich and sweet, this type of nut butter is typically used with chocolate or fruit spreads, in desserts, or sweet snacks.

Seed butters
Pumpkin and sunflower seeds can be ground into a smooth paste and used like nut butter; both contain beneficial nutrients like zinc, iron and potassium. Tahini, made of ground sesame seeds, is a common ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine.

As a kid, I was fanatically devoted to one—and only one—national peanut butter brand. As an adult, I’ve come to love the pure, unadulterated taste of natural nut butter. If taste alone isn’t enough to make you go au naturel, then consider the ingredients list: One major brand contains peanuts and sugar, plus small amounts of molasses, hydrogenated vegetable oils (i.e. trans fats), preservatives and salt. On the natural PB jar label? Peanuts and salt. Better yet, the fresh-ground version I buy at our local deli contains just dry-roasted peanuts. Buyer beware: Even jars labeled "natural" may contain added sugar and oil since the labeling term isn't regulated, so always read labels to see what you're really getting.

The flipside, ironically, is that truly natural butters are more expensive than most mainstream brands that contain additional ingredients (sweeteners, oils, etc). If you can find fresh-ground or grind-your-own nut butters (natural foods grocers carry them), you’ll find that the price per pound is somewhere in between major brands and natural, minimal-ingredient butters.

If you really want to cut the cost of buying nut or seed butter by the jar, consider making your own at home!
Homemade Nut Butter Recipe:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread 2 cups of nuts or seeds (your choice) on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 5 minutes, stirring often to prevent burning, until nuts are fragrant. Cool slightly, then place the nuts or seeds into a food processor fitted with the metal blade and process until a smooth paste forms. Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt per cup of nuts or seeds if you’d like (this enhances the flavor; omit if you’re watching your salt intake). Kept in an air-tight container in the fridge, your homemade butter will last for weeks!

Nutrition and Serving Sizes
Thanks to their healthy fats, all nut and seed butters are high in fat and calories. Regardless of nut variety (peanut, hazelnut, almond) and type (natural or regular), one 2-tablespoon serving has about 200 calories, 15% of your RDA for protein, and about a quarter of your daily allowance for fat. Watch your portions to keep your calories in check!

Type of Nut Butter (2 Tbs.) Calories Fat Protein Carbs
Peanut, no sugar added  190-210  16-17 g  7-8 g  6-7 g
Peanut, sugar added  190  16-17 g  7 g  6-7 g
Almond  190-200  18-19 g  5-7 g  6-7 g
Cashew  160-190  14-16 g  4-6 g  8-10 g
Hazelnut  180  17 g  4 g  5 g
Hemp  180  13 g  9 g  4 g
Macadamia  230  24 g  2 g  4 g
Pistachio  180-190  13-15 g  6-7 g  9-10 g
Pumpkin seed  160  13 g  10 g  4 g
Sesame tahini  190  17 g  6 g  7 g
Sunflower seed  180-220  12-20 g  6-9 g  5-9 g

Be sure to read labels to find the nutrition profile that fits your needs, especially if you eat a low-sugar or low-sodium diet.

New Ways to Enjoy Nut Butters
That ping-pong-ball-sized serving can be a healthful addition to sensible foods like whole grain bread, crackers or pita; fruits (apples, bananas) or vegetables (celery or even carrot sticks). You can’t beat the old PB & J sandwich, but there are plenty of other uses for peanut and other nut butters.
  • Spread nut butter on a slice of whole-grain toast and top with sliced strawberries or jam.

  • Spoon 1 Tbsp. of chocolate-hazelnut butter in a bowl of plain oatmeal and top with sliced bananas.

  • Spread almond butter on a whole-grain waffle.

  • Add 1 Tbsp. of nut butter to a smoothie for extra protein and thicker texture. Here's a great recipe to try.

  • Spread almond butter on sliced apple for a snack.

  • Use nut butter instead of the peanut butter when making your own granola or energy bars; this recipe includes almond butter, dried fruit, almonds and pumpkin seeds.

  • Spread a whole wheat tortilla or pita with almond butter, top with sliced apple and a drizzle of honey. Try this recipe.

  • Swap almond butter into your family’s favorite peanut-butter cookie recipe.

  • Substitute sunflower seed butter or other nut butters for peanut butter or marshmallows in crisped-rice treat bars.

  • Instead of using finely chopped nuts to top seafood or chicken, try using nut butter.

  • Substitute cashew butter for whole cashews in an Asian favorite, Cashew Chicken.

  • Top your favorite sandwich or salad with tahini dressing.

Great Online Sources for Nut Butters
Barney Butter
Futters Nut Butters
Justin's Nut Butter
Koeze Cream-Nut Peanut Butter
Krema Nut Co.
Naturally More
Naturally Nutty
Once Again Nut Butter

FDA nutrition info on almonds, from USDA.gov
Homemade Nut Butters, from CookingLight.com
Nut and seed butter nutrition info and uses, from FuttersNutButters.com