They're 'good fats' but how healthy are the various nut butters? Dietitian Melanie McGrice debunks the spreads.
“Nut butters are a good source of protein and good fats, some better than others! Try and pick a nut butter without too much oil, salt or sugar added,” says McGrice. “Many people use nut butter and butter together; it’s better to use one or the other.”
Raw vs roasted
Roasting nuts changes their flavour, but apparently not their nutrition. Raw nuts tend to have slightly less rich and toasty flavours than roasted nuts, so many commercial nut butters use a roasted product. “Roasting doesn’t affect the nuts themselves, but when they roast the nuts, they are often roasted in oil, increasing the fat content,” says McGrice. According to Nutrition Australia, nuts are capable of absorbing two to five per cent of the oil they are cooked in. Roasting nuts also takes out some moisture content, concentrating the nutrients.
‘No added’ vs natural
While both ‘no added’ and natural nut butters are better for you than traditional nut butters, a ‘natural’ label implies that your nut butter is free from preservatives, stabilisers, sugar and salt – i.e. it’s literally 100 per cent nuts. Whereas a ‘no added’ nut butter means you still get peanuts, vegetables oils and preservatives, sans the sugar and salt.
Peanuts are higher in protein than most nuts and a source of vitamin E and good fats. Traditional peanut butters have a paste-like texture and a rich, sweet and salty flavour. Natural, or pure state, nut butters tend to be drier than commercial butters.
Almonds are low in cholesterol and a good source of magnesium, manganese and good fats. They are also rich in calcium and vitamin E. Almond butter tends to have a more mellow and fresh taste than peanut butters, and their consistency tends to be looser and coarser.
Macadamias are quite low in protein compared to most nuts, but are uniquely high in monounsaturated fats (the most of all nuts). They can lower cholesterol and contain thiamine and manganese. Macadamia butter tends to be thinner and oiler than peanut butter, and has a rich and almost fruity taste.
Cashews are a good source of iron and magnesium and also have a low glycaemic index. Cashew butters usually have a pasty texture and a sweet and rich flavour.
Walnuts have been proven to boost brain function and reduce cholesterol. They contain omega-3 fats as well as folate and fibre. Walnut butter tends to be crumbly and less soft and spreadable than other nut butters. It can have an intense woody or ‘green’ taste.
Clean eating uber-star coconut butter can be subbed in for butter as a spread and used in stir-fries. While the dietetic jury’s hung on just where it ranks in the health stakes, it was recently found to be preferable to polyunsaturated soybean oil despite being saturated fat. A University of California study found that replacing coconut oil with soybean oil caused more weight gain, adiposity, diabetes and insulin resistance.
NEXT: Check more healthy fats to include in your healthy eating regime.