This week we’re holding the magnifying glass up to another frequent visitor in the grocery cart…nut butters!
Nowadays manufacturers are grinding up all sorts of nuts into butters, which makes it more confusing for the consumer. Is plain ol’ peanut butter good enough? Or should I spring for the more expensive and trendy almond butter, cashew butter, brazil nut butter, and what have you??
Well when I’m shopping for a nut butter, I’m looking for two things, nutrition-wise.
1. Number of ingredients – There really shouldn’t be more than one…the nut. Many companies add salt and sugar for flavor and oil for spreadability.
2. Macro- and micronutrient profile – If you’re lucky enough not to have an allergy or intolerance to any nuts or seeds and don’t mind shelling out a few more bucks for a different kind of nut butter than peanut, then you can start evaluating the nutrient profile of various nuts. Are you wanting to use your nut butter primarily as an additional source of protein? A good source of healthy fats? A boost to your calcium intake?
While peanuts are higher in protein, folate, selenium, and polyunsaturated fatty acids than almonds, almonds are higher in fiber, calcium, magnesium, vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, and monounsaturated fats as well as being lower in saturated fats. Sunflower seeds may be lower in protein and fiber than both almonds and peanuts, but they are higher than both in selenium, folate, magnesium, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids. (1, 2, 3)
If you can tolerate them all…why not alternate? Your tastebuds and body will enjoy the variety.
Same as in my yogurt post, I’m categorizing into 1) Put back or enjoy occasionally, 2) Good Choices, and 3) Best Choices.
FIY the serving size is listed as 2 tbsp for all of these.
Put Back or Enjoy Occasionally
It hurts a little to say this because I live not 2 miles from a Jif plant and often walk out of my house to the smell of roasting peanuts. But I would leave Jif’s peanut butters on the shelf. All of them. Even Simply Jif, Jif Reduced Fat, and Jif Natural. (Keep reading to find a redeeming quality in one of their other more trendy products!)
Some of the extra ingredients found in Jif’s products are sugar, molasses (more sugar), corn syrup solids (even more sugar), fully hydrogenated vegetable oils, mono and diglycerides, and salt.
While FULLY hydrogenated oils contain significantly less trans fat than PARTIALLY hydrogenated oils, they are unsaturated fats (oils) chemically transformed into saturated fats (solids like shortening, margarine). Not ideal. I could go into the science of this transformation…but I tried that on my hubby and I think he got a little bored. 🙂 The reason they hydrogenate oils is to make products more solid and shelf stable.
The mono- and diglycerides are in there so consumers don’t have to use their muscles to stir up the separated oils. You might see these added to foods as emulsifiers more and more now that partially hydrogenated oils are banned, due to their trans fat content. However, mono and diglycerides likely also contain trans fat, just in a much smaller amount. (4)
But the label says 0g trans fat, you say? Well, have you noticed that fat content is in 0.5g increments? This is because food manufacturers round. If there is less than 0.5g trans fat in one serving of a product, they can legally state 0g trans fat (5). According to the FDA, mono- and diglycerides are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) (6). So you decide.
If you’re interested in reading further on which foods contain trans fat, check out this report from the Environmental Working Group.
One last thing to point out is that Jif Reduced Fat had the highest sodium and sugar content of any peanut butter I reviewed. Prime example of how when a product is altered to remove fat, salt and sugar are usually added to keep it palatable.
2. Kroger Brand (Regular)
I recommend leaving Kroger’s regular brand on the shelf since it also contains hydrogenated oils.
3. Smart Balance
While this peanut butter does have less total fat than usual, it still contains 3g saturated fat per serving. I didn’t find any other peanut butters higher than that! It also contains added sugar. Also, plain old peanuts contain a good amount of fiber…so I’m not sure how they got the fiber content all the way down to 0!
Smart Balance is a great example of the fact that the more health claims a product makes on the label, the more suspicious you should be of it.
4. Earth Balance Peanut Butter with Flaxseed
Valiant effort. But still essentially the same macronutrient amounts as regular peanut butter plus it has added sugar (yes, agave syrup I see you), peanut and palm oil, and whole flaxseeds. Alright, let me tell you something. Flaxseeds are great, but the human digestive system can’t break them down too well unless they’re already ground up or very well chewed (7).
Most of the nut butters I looked at fell into this category.
1. Kroger Brand Natural
Just peanuts and salt. 8g protein per serving (as opposed to 7g for all the peanut butters already listed) because there’s no extra ingredients taking up space! At 125 mg sodium per serving, it’s a decent option…and affordable too!
2. Wild Friends Peanut Butter and Almond Butter
Love this brand. The only thing in these besides nuts is sea salt.
I sometimes get asked if sea salt is better. Sea salt contains the same amount of sodium by weight as table salt, but if you’re using it in cooking you might incidently use less if the crystals are bigger, leaving more air pockets in your measuring spoon (8).
3. Justin’s Almond Butter
Let’s address this added palm oil. Like coconut oil, it is high in saturated fats, making it semi-solid. If you make decisions based on environmental concerns, you may also want to check this out. I try to avoid it when I can.
4. Nuttzo PowerFuel
Gotta love that name. This nut butter contains four different nuts and three types of seeds. If you like the taste, I say go for it! It’s on the lower end of the protein spectrum, but despite the added salt its sodium content is quite low at 30 mg.
5. Naturally More Almond Butter with Probiotics and Flax
Whoa this one threw me for a loop. Peanut butter…with probiotics? It even has the exact strain on there! (Bacillus coagulans GBI-30 6086) If you’re not big on yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, or other fermented foods…this might be something to try.
However, if you have IBS or tend to have a sensitive gut, you may want to pass this one up. It contains inulin, a good source of fiber but irritating to some folks intestines (9).
6. Woodstock Cashew Unsalted
This has added sunflower oil, likely to make it creamier. It you like the taste, go for it. It’s on-par with the healthiness of other nut butters in this category.
1. Best Peanut Butter: Crazy Richard’s 100%
When they’ve run out of peanuts at the “grind-it-yourself” station, this is what I buy. Because there is nothing else diluting it, it has 8g protein per serving. And no added salt means 0g sodium.
2. Best Almond Butter: Crazy Richard’s 100%
7g protein and 0g sodium per serving.
3. Best Non-nut Butter: Sunbutter Natural
This was a tough one. I compared it to Woodstock’s sunflower seed butter and they both have added sugar and salt. Woodstock only has 170 calories per serving, but it also only has 5g protein. It also has added oils. Sunbutter Natural has 200 calories per tablespoon, but those extra calories are coming from 2 more grams of healthy fats and 2 more grams of protein. So it got the blue ribbon.
4. Best Powdered Peanut Butter: Jif or PB+ Me No Sugar Added
Remember how I said Jif would redeem itself? If you’re shopping for powdered peanut butter, look no further than Jif. The only ingredient is peanuts. This was the only product I found that listed 3 tbsp as a serving…but even if you only had 2 its calorie and protein content is almost identical to other peanut powders. No added salt or sugar.
PB+Me would tie with Jif’s peanut powder, but I could only find their almond powder at my grocery store.
5. Best Powdered Almond Butter: PB+Me No Sugar Added
Again, the only ingredient is almonds! Just make sure you grab the one that says “No Sugar Added.”
Before I sign off, let’s take a second to talk powdered nut butters. They are made by extracting all of the natural oils, hence lowering the calorie and fat content. But with that, you lose the healthy unsaturated fats as well as fat-soluble vitamins. If you just want that nut flavor in your smoothie, these may be a good way to go if you’ve also got some satisfying fats from yogurt or milk in there. Otherwise, stick to the real thing when you can for maximum satiety.
Of course, there are several more brands out there. But with your new knowledge, you should be able to conquer the nut butter section the next time you find yourself scraping the bottom of whatever jar you currently have in your fridge.
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(Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. All opinions are my own.)