It used to be that when it came to nut butter spreads, you only had two viable choices: creamy or crunchy peanut butter. Of course, there was a certain chocolaty hazelnut spread available, but that wasn’t something to be included in a diet geared toward clean eating. But now all sorts of nuts and seeds are being ground up into nutritious and delicious spreads, which may leave you standing in the supermarket somewhat dumbfounded at what might be the healthiest choice. That’s why we decided to send some of the most popular spreads to the ring to duke it out in hopes of crowning a nutritional champ. Let’s get ready to rumble.
- Peanut Butter
- Almond Butter
- Cashew Butter
- Walnut Butter
- Sunflower Seed Butter
The Champs: Cashew Butter and Peanut Butter
When you are trying to get lean, it’s important to be cognizant of how many overall calories you are consuming. And that means you might be on the hunt for a nut butter that doesn’t break the calorie bank. Serving up about 93 calories in a tablespoon serving, both cashew and peanut seem to be the skinniest spreads. But we are just splitting hairs because the other options ring in at roughly 100 calories a serving. Besides, studies show that nut and seed eaters tend to be slimmer despite the fairly lofty calorie counts they contain.
The Champ: Peanut Butter
Nut and seed butters are never going to compete with protein heavyweights like chicken, fish and yogurt, but they can add an extra dose of this muscle-building macronutrient to your daily diet. And if you want to slather the most protein onto your morning toast, consider going old school with peanut butter. Each tablespoon serving supplies at least 4 grams of protein, which is a gram or two more than its trendier counterparts. Heck, you can now find brands like P28 that blend in some whey if you are really looking to go nuts for protein.
The Champ: Sunflower Seed Butter
When it comes to sculpting a bikini-ready physique, it’s best not to skimp on dietary fiber. Beyond helping to improve blood sugar control, eating plenty of fiber can go a long way in putting the brakes on overeating by improving satiety. It accomplishes this by slowing down the digestion of the meals and snacks you eat.
Surprise, surprise, some popular brands of sunflower seed butter such as SunButter can deliver twice as much fiber — 2 grams in each tablespoon serving — as what is found in nut-based versions. Of course, that is a lot less than what you would find in beans, lentils, berries and whole grains, but when it comes to nailing your daily fiber needs, every little bit counts.
The Champ: Walnut Butter
In recent years, researchers have showed that omega-3 fatty acids are indeed mega-healthy by helping to reduce the risk of a number of maladies like heart disease, by improving skin health and perhaps making it easier to fend off the flab monster. And when it comes to this magic nutrient du jour, look no further than walnut butter. It’s hard to find accurate numbers with respect to the amount of omega-3 fats in walnut butter, but whole walnuts contain more than any other nut, so it’s fair to assume that the spread is also an omega powerhouse. Just keep in mind that the form of omega-3 fat in plant foods like walnuts is alpha-linolenic acid, which is not quite as potent as the longer chain omegas EPA and DHA present in fatty fish such as salmon and sardines. However, humans can convert some ALA to EPA and DHA in the body.
The Champ: Almond Butter
It’s now becoming clear that the pathway to a healthier body is not by adhering to a fat-free diet. For instance, a number of research papers suggest that seeking out foods that supply monounsaturated fat can show your heart some love. The affable fat does a stellar job at keeping cholesterol numbers in check. And when it comes to mono fat, almond butter leads the way. Roughly 65 percent of the fat calories in this nut spread hail from heart-chummy monounsaturated fat.
The Champ: Almond Butter
Considering that about 99 percent of the calcium in the body is found in bones, it should come as no surprise that you need a steady supply of this mineral to help build and maintain a sturdy skeleton. And when it comes to bone-building calcium, you can’t do better than sticking your knife into a jar of almond butter because it contains two to three times more than other spreads. Each tablespoon serving will give you roughly 44 milligrams of calcium, which is 4 percent of the Daily Value — so not nearly as much as what’s in a glass of moo juice but enough to contribute to overall daily needs.
The Champ: Cashew Butter and Sunflower Seed Butter
The gym is not the only place you should pump some iron. Necessary for the transport of oxygen in the body, including to working muscles, it’s best that active women don’t let their iron levels dip too low. A recent study in The Journal of Nutrition determined that women of reproductive age who improved their iron status also experienced an uptick in their exercise performance. Looking at the available nutrition information, it appears that cashew butter and the one made by blending up the seeds of the sun-worshipping plant have a slight edge with respect to iron. Each supplies an estimated 4 percent of the Daily Value for the energy-boosting mineral.
The Champ: Sunflower Seed Butter
This Renaissance man of minerals has been shown to reduce heart-disease risk, improve bone health and increase sensitivity to insulin and thereby lower blood sugar numbers. The latter benefit can cut Type 2 diabetes risk and also play a role in reducing body-fat storage. Sadly, nutrition surveys show that very few Americans are eating enough of this mineral. That’s why you may want to add sunflower seed butter to your shopping cart because it gives you more magnesium (about 15 percent of the daily requirement) than other spreads. Almond butter is a close second.
No one nut butter reigns supreme when it comes to nutritional greatness. So consider playing the field and including more than a single option in your diet. For instance, you could blend peanut butter into your post-gym shakes for an extra hit of protein and slather almond butter or sunflower seed butter on apple slices for a preworkout snack. Whisking walnut butter with oil and vinegar will give you a salad dressing with some omega oomph. As the old saw goes: “Variety is the spice of life.”