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Nut Butters

Nut butters are a great way to eat healthfully. They contain all the nutritional value of their whole-nut counterparts but in a concentrated form. For instance, an eight-ounce container of organic dry-roasted peanuts from our bulk aisle weighs roughly half a pound, whereas the same nut ground into smooth peanut butter weighs about three-quarters of a pound. That’s 50 percent more than the un-ground peanuts! While this makes nut butters a more efficient source of vitamins, minerals, and protein compared to whole nuts, the flip side is concentrated fat levels. Fortunately, in addition to being cholesterol-free, nuts contain healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that may actually lower cholesterol and reduce heart disease. (For the purposes of this article, the term “nut butter” also refers to seed butters and peanut butter [as every know-it-owl will tell ya, peanuts are a legume].)

Another benefit of nut butters is their low glycemic index. Astudy published in the November 27, 2002 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that eating 140 grams of nuts (they’re including peanuts) a week can reduce the risk of type II diabetes by a third. At two tablespoons per serving, that’s an easy five nut butter sandwiches a week.

As I mentioned above, nut butters contain healthy polyunsaturated fats. Supreme among these is omega-3 fatty acid, an essential nutrient our bodies can’t synthesize. Not all nut butters are equal when it comes to omega-3s, but at the top of the list are walnut and hempseed butter (the latter of which also contains good amounts of omega-6 fatty acids). Omega-3 fatty acids protect against a host of health issues including high blood pressure and heart disease and also contribute to brain function and health.

The health benefits of nut butters are best obtained from spreads made with just the nut or seed (we’ll also let a little salt slide every now and then), so avoid conventional products made with hydrogenated oils and preservatives if this is what you’re after. These natural nut butters are notorious for oil separation, but this is nothing a bit of stirring and mixing can’t solve. Also, because of the oils and lack of preservatives, it’s best to store natural nut butters in the fridge after opening unless you plan on using them within a week or two. Follow the directions on the label to be sure.

Deciding which nut butters are right for you comes down to a matter of taste and which specific health benefits you’re seeking. The Grocery department carries everything from ho-hum peanut butter to hot-dang cashew cocoa hempspread. Below are descriptions and benefits of some of the more exotic nut butters we carry. I’ve decided to skip the usual suspects like peanut and almond butter and talk about some of the spreads that might have fallen below your radar.

Pistachio butter is high in vitamin B6, thiamin, phosphorus, potassium and calcium. It is slightly sweet and not as oily as other nut butters. Futter’s is a good option for people with allergies, as they produce their nut and seed butters in a dedicated peanut-, gluten-, and dairy-free facility.

Wilderness Poets is a great company out of Oregon that makes a full line of hemp nutseed butters. Hemp is high in Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, Vitamin E, calcium and magnesium, iron, chlorophyll, phosphorus, and fiber, and contains all 9 essential amino acids. Look for four flavors of Wilderness Poets Hempspread in the aisle two Willy-pack cooler.

Sunbutter is my favorite nut butter (well, seed, at least). It’s salty and thick but sweeter and not as oily as peanut butter. Sunbutter is produced in a treenut- and gluten-free facility and is lower in saturated fat than peanut butter. If Agent Mulder were a hippie, he’d eat Sunbutter (Nerd Power!).

Hazelnuts are especially high in calcium, folic acid, and protein. Because Futter’s uses only one ingredient in their hazelnut butter (hazelnuts), I like to mix a little cocoa powder and honey with mine to create a healthier version of Nut-tella.

Cashew butter is another favorite of mine. It’s great on toast with jelly, or, when mixed with honey, as a filling for puff-pastry shells. Cashews are high in magnesium, but who cares?

The lazy writer in me wanted to end this piece with, “Go nuts!—spread the word about nut butters!” but my inner editor gave me a good face-pummeling to the contrary. So, I’ll just sign off by saying that my mom put a peanut butter sandwich in my sack lunch every day for six years of grade school. And though I resented her for it then, I’m thankful now for her consistency.