Nut Butters - The Low Down

01/02/2017 15:46 GMT | Updated 01/02/2017 15:46 GMT

Not that long ago, the only choice when it came to nut butters was smooth or crunchy peanut butter. Now the preserves shelves in health food shops are offering a choice of almond, cashew and brazil alternatives - but what are the health benefits?

While nuts may contain a seemingly high amount of calories and fat - they can play a role (in the right portions!) in a well-balanced, healthy diet. Most of the fat in nuts is the healthy unsaturated type, plus they are a fabulously well-rounded source of protein, vitamins E and B group, minerals including copper, zinc and magnesium and fibre. They are a great on-the-go snack with a low glycaemic index to help you feel fuller for longer and help suppress appetite. You can easily make your own, just by blitzing nuts (pre-roast for a few minutes if you like) in a food processor until the natural oils are released to form a buttery texture. But if you go for shop-bought, check the label to find one that has no hidden nasties like sugar or palm oil.

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Here's our breakdown of the pros and cons of the nut butter aisle:

Peanut (not a true nut, but a legume, we have included it here as it is conventionally grouped with other tree nuts to consumers):

Pros: A good source of protein; highest folic acid content (useful during pregnancy) as well as being high in healthy monounsaturated fats and vitamin E.

Cons: Some brands have a little added sugar but these days many have none added.

Cashew:

Pros: Highest in zinc, copper and iron - naturally sweeter than many other nut butters.

Cons: Less protein than other nuts.

Almonds:

Pros: One of the lowest in calories and the highest in protein, fibre and calcium.

Cons: Relatively few, although some brands can have a bitter aftertaste.

Brazil:

Pros: Good for men, as 1-2 nuts nut delivers your recommended daily intake of the mineral selenium, which may help protect against prostate cancer and heart disease.

Cons: The most expensive option when it comes to nut butters.

Walnut:

Pros: One of the few vegetarian sources of the omega-3 fatty acid, ALA some of which can be converted to long chain omega 3 known to be involved in heart health.

Cons: Bitter aftertaste, slightly lower protein and slightly higher in fat than some other nut butters.

Hazelnut:

Pros: One of the lowest percentages of saturated fat (along with pine nuts and almonds); highest proanthocyanidins (PACs) content of all nut butters. The antioxidant capabilities of PACs are likely to be 20 times more potent than vitamin C and 50 times more potent than Vitamin E.

Cons: Often found to be coupled with chocolate spreads so read the label carefully!

TIP: Most nut butters characteristically separate when stored, this doesn't affect their nutritional value, simply stir to combine before eating.

3 nut butter serving suggestions

• Add a teaspoonful to your morning smoothie for added protein, to help you feel fuller longer.

• Spread a teaspoonful thinly on slices of apple or pear - the fibre in nut butter helps to slow down digestion and absorption of sugars from the fruit.

• Wholegrain toast spread with a thin spread of peanut butter and topped with a sliced banana is a great breakfast or why not try this as a sandwich filling?.

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