It wasn’t too long ago that peanut butter was the only option available in stores and occupying kitchen shelves. Today though, peanuts no longer rule, as there are now multiple varieties of nut and seed butters available.
Walnut, hazelnut, almond and cashew, sesame, sunflower and seed butters are just some of the many options. My personal favourite is the commercial almond hazelnut butter. It tastes just like Nutella, minus all the saturated fat and sugar. If you haven’t tried any different nut butters aside from peanut, there’s no butter time to start than February, the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Heart Month.
Nut and seed butters do contain a significant amount of fat, but it is the kind of fat that benefits the heart. Fats in nut and seed butters are rich in mono- and polyunsaturated fats, both known to decrease bad cholesterol and triglycerides (another undesirable blood fat) and lower risk for type two diabetes, heart disease and metabolic syndrome (a cluster of conditions like high cholesterol, excess weight, or high blood pressure, which put you at risk for disease).
Good fats aren’t the only benefits to nuts and their seeds, however.
Nut and seed butters are also higher in fibre and protein, two nutrients which help to promote fullness and aid in managing weight.
When choosing a spread you really want to go for one which has the fewest ingredients possible.
Try to skip the added oils and sugars, as well.
Many brands have done well to take out the trans fats in nut butters, but too often they are still lurking with hydrogenated oils, which do help with spreadibility, but come with a higher pricetag for saturated fats.
Some ‘natural’ nut butters will swap out the hydrogenated oils for palm oil.
However don’t be fooled, as this is also a saturated fat.
You’ll really want to look at the ingredient list, in addition to the nutrition facts table to find the harmful trans fats.
Labelling laws here in Canada allow a product to state ‘0’ trans fats, or ‘trans-fat free’ when the trans fat content is 0.2 grams or less.
Keep in mind this is also referring to 0.2g of fat or less per stated serving size. Stated serving size on nutrition facts tables is not a regulated amount, therefore manufacturers can denote various serving sizes, and in reality this may be much smaller than what you actually consume.
Trans fats are a nutrients you’ll want to minimize in nut butters and all foods essentially. Look to the ingredient list for words like: hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated or shortening, to determine if the product has trans fats.
Perhaps you are looking for maximize or minimize others nutrients in your diet as well. If you are looking for less saturated fat in your nut butter, try choosing almond, sunflower or sunflower seed butters, as they contain slightly less than peanut butter.
For maximum protein content, choose peanuts. For more omega 3 fats or antioxidants, choose walnuts. For more calcium, iron or fiber, choose sesame butter, also known as tahini.
Some natural nut and seed butters may be a better choice when it comes to limiting ingredients, but again you’ll still want to refer to the label. If you are turned off by the fact that many of the more natural butter oils separate and need some stirring before use, try storing the jar upside down when not in use.
Aside from store-bought butters, another option is to make your own.
You’ll need a food processor or blender, and nut or seed of choice.
Blend on high to form a flour-like consistency, and then turn down to medium speed until this becomes creamy and buttery. It’s really that simple. Once you get the hang of it you can be a bit more creative and add extra flavors like cinnamon, vanilla or even a drop of honey, minus many of the extra ingredients you’ll find in some big brand names.
Nut and seed butters aren’t just for bagels and toast.
Try them as a dip for fruits, or add a tablespoon or two into hot breakfast cereals or smoothies.
Include butters in breakfast baked goods like muffins, pancakes and waffles.
Nut and seed butters can also compliment lunch and supper meals, too. Try them in stirfries as the main sauce ingredient.
Peanut, cashew or sesame seed butters work well for an Asian flare. Add nuts, seeds or their butters to greens cooked greens, like broccoli, peas, or beans as a supper time side dish.
Amanda O’Brien is a registered dietitian in
St. John’s. Contact her through the website: www.recipeforhealth.ca.