Go Nuts for Nut and Seed Butters!
What can beat that classic jar of peanut butter, for nutrition, taste, and all around versatility? The answer is a lot these days, thanks to the ever-widening nut and seed butter aisle in supermarkets and natural food stores. It seems that nut and seed butters are poised to be the next big thing, as more nuts, seeds, and ingredients are turning up in the jar, and with more artisanal brands coming to market too. You can even find hand-churned nut and seed butters at farmers markets. The truth is that making nut and seed butters isn’t that difficult—you can make your own custom blend at home with a food processor. Just whiz up your favorite combination of nuts and seeds with a spoonful of healthy unrefined nut or olive oil, and your favorite additions, such as cocoa powder and sea salt, and you can create your own nut and seed spread in a jiffy.
A Few Facts on Nut and Seed Butters
No matter what nut or seed butter you choose to spread your bread, here are a few facts. Peanuts and tree nuts, including almonds, walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, macadamias, pine nuts, and pecans, are good for your heart. The US FDA approved a qualified health claim that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts as part of a healthy diet may reduce the risk of heart disease. Note that coconut does not enjoy the same heart-health benefits as tree nuts, so it is not included on the list due to its high saturated fat content. The serving size for nut and seed butters is considered 2 tablespoons.
One of the main health benefits of tree nuts is that they are filled with unsaturated fats, as well as vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals (plant compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities). Seeds, such as flax, pumpkin, sesame, sunflower, hemp and chia, may not have as much recognition in the scientific community for health benefits yet, but these tiny kernels are packed with some of the same nutritional properties as nuts.
In fact, nuts are technically seeds themselves—the definition of a tree nut is a fruit composed of an inedible hard shell and an edible seed. Nature bestows unique nutrition properties on nuts and seeds; essentially these are tiny embryos, which come packed with a rich food supply to help the new plant complete the miraculous reproductive cycle of a plant. That’s why nuts and seeds offer dense supplies of nutrition—all wrapped up in a tiny package.
Nut and seed butters are rich in fat (the healthy variety), thus, it is concentrated in calories. So, a little goes a long way. Most nut butters provide around 180-190 calories per 2 tablespoon serving. So, sitting down with a spoon and an open jar may not be the best way to enjoy these butters. Instead, spread them on breads, use them as a fat source in baking, and stir them in sauces and vinaigrettes. And remember that nut and seed butters can offer a plant-based protein option for reducing meat consumption—a healthful and sustainable eating strategy.
This humble legume has many benefits. Besides its fabulous price point, peanut butter is rich in protein (8 g per serving), vitamin E, niacin, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese. In addition, peanuts have arginine—an amino acid that can help improve blood flow in your arteries, and resveratrol—the same antioxidant compound found in red wine. For extra credit, grind the papery red skins of peanuts into your peanut butter, as these are rich in bioactive compounds. Beyond the classic PBJ, add peanut butter to bars and cookies, and a flavorful Thai stir-fry.
Almond butter is gaining popularity for it’s mildly nutty, sweet taste. It’s also rich in protein (5 g per serving), riboflavin, vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese. Almond butter is uniquely rich in calcium, providing 8% of the Daily Value per serving. Try almond butter spread on sandwiches, as well as a dip for fruit and veggies, and an addition to baked goods, such as cookies and quick breads.
That unique nutty-bitter taste of walnuts is a calling card for its rich phytochemical compounds linked with health advantages. But walnuts also have something else unique in the nut world: omega-3 fatty acids, and a lot of them. That’s why research links walnuts with heart health, as well as healthy aging and reproductive health. In addition, walnut butter is rich in magnesium, phosphorus, copper, and manganese. Try walnut butter in sauces to accent savory foods, as well as wraps, and toasted raisin bread.
The unique quality of pistachio butter may be observed at first sight: the butter is a lovely shade of green! That green hue comes from lutein, which has antioxidant action and helps fight chronic disease. Pistachios have been linked with heart health, as well as weight control. Pistachio butter is also rich in protein (6 g per serving), fiber, thiamin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, copper, and manganese. Try pistachio butter in vinaigrettes, biscotti dough, and muffins.
Sunflower Seed Butter
The sweet, golden butter from sunflower seeds is a great alternative for those who might be allergic to tree nuts or peanuts. Plus, it’s packed with a cache of nutrients, including protein (6 g), fiber, vitamins E and B6, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium. Spread sunflower seed butter on banana sandwiches, fill dates with it, and stir it into creamy soups.
Tahini (Sesame Seed Paste)
Sesame seed butter (tahini) is what gives hummus that earthy-nutty taste. But it’s also delicious and nutritious on its own right. Pale in color, tahini is bold in nutrition, packing in protein (5 g per serving), fiber, thiamin, vitamin B6, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, and manganese. Try using tahini as a dip for falafels, as a spread in pita sandwiches, and as an addition to cookies.
For some of my favorite recipes featuring nut and seed butters, check out the following: