The Skinny on Nut ButterArticle posted in: Nutrition
Before we chew on nut butter, we’ve got to start with the fat. Do you know the difference between saturated and unsaturated fat? The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) explains it like this: saturated fats are sometimes called solid fats because they stay solid at room temperature. Think butter or margarine or the fat inside and around meat. Unsaturated fats (there are two types: mono- and polyunsaturated fats) move and flow. They’re liquid at room temperature and often come from plant-based foods or many kinds of oily fish.
According to the American Heart Association, saturated fats are the “bad” fats that lead to heart disease and stroke and raise bad cholesterol levels. Monounsaturated fats are the “good,” reducing bad cholesterol levels (which can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke) and offering Vitamin E plus nutrients to maintain the body’s cells. Polyunsaturated fats provide the same benefits and also contain omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.
Okay, so how does this tie into nut butter and whether or not you should eat it? Well, nearly half of the fat in peanut and cashew butter is, and the majority of fat in almond butter is, monounsaturated. Seed butters, too, contain mostly monounsaturated fat, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Diatetics. Therefore, you can and should enjoy nut butter (in moderation).
Where things get tricky is that nut butters also contain saturated fats (although peanut butter is the highest). But you must look at peanut butter as a whole nutrition package. A typical two-tablespoon serving has 3.3 grams of saturated fat and 12.3 grams of unsaturated fat. Fiber, vitamins and minerals also accompany each serving and unsalted peanut butter has a high potassium-to-sodium ratio, which counters the harmful cardiovascular effects of eating too much salt, says Harvard Health. Even salted peanut butter has nearly twice as much potassium as sodium.
Things get even more complicated when manufacturers tamper with nut butters, adding sugar, salt and hydrogenated (saturated) fat to keep the product from separating. While it’s tempting to purchase low-fat nut butters to get the protein, fiber, potassium, and other vitamins and minerals without the fat, don’t do it. Reduced-fat peanut butters often contain virtually the same number of calories and add more added sugar for flavor and texture.
To make sure your pantry staple is the healthiest it can be, choose a natural butter that contains only ground nuts and maybe a pinch of salt. Better yet, make your own nut butter with a powerful blender. You add one ingredient: Nuts. Store your creation in the fridge or a cool, dark place for a longer shelf life and remember that separation is normal. There are no emulsifiers to keep peanut butter blended, according to Healthline. All of the liquid that accumulates throughout and at the top of the jar is heart-healthy unsaturated fat goodness. Mix it in!