Continuing with this week's theme about nutrition. Today we are going to have a bit of a focus on Nut butters There's no denying that nut butters are delicious. But sadly, most people you speak to have never stepped out of the confines of plain old peanut butter.
Well help is at hand. Not only are you no longer going to miss out on trying an amazing range of flavours and textures, we are also going to appraise you as to their wide range of health benefits the various other nut (and seed) butters have to offer.
If that applies to you, it's time to up your nut butter game. Here is a guide to the very best nut and seed butters, how to use them, and the (highly impressive) health benefits that they offer.
Pros: Cheap, delicious, versatile
Cons: High in phytate and lectins
Peanut butter is tasty, versatile, and a great high calorie food for those looking to bulk up. It's also the cheapest nut butter around, and the easiest to find. Providing you're not allergic, peanut butter can be a good addition to the diet of an athlete - but you do have to be careful.
This is because peanuts are high in phytic acid, a mineral inhibitor that binds to important minerals in the digestive system including zinc, magnesium and calcium. Phytic acid draws these out of the digestive tract before they can be absorbed, meaning too much phytic acid can put you at risk of mineral deficiencies.
Peanuts are also high in lectins, which can irritate the lining of the gut and contribute to digestive complaints such as IBS. If you struggle with poor gut health as it is, it's probably in your best interests to limit your consumption of peanuts.
All that said, small amounts of peanuts won't harm you and can actually be fairly beneficial, particularly for those struggling to up their calorie intake. We recommend keeping your servings of peanut butter to once or twice per week, max, and don't overdo it. Also look for peanut butter made from 100% peanuts, with no added oils or sugars.
Recommended choice: Pip & Nut Peanut Butter, £2.29.
Pros: High in protein and vitamin E
Cons: High in omega 6
Almond butter is one of our favourite nut butters here at JHHF. If you ask us, it's one of the best tasting - rich, full flavoured, with hints of marzipan - but it also packs in some serious health benefits too.
Firstly, almond butter contains over 25% protein with a solid amino acid profile. It's also high in fibre, providing the whole nuts are used rather than blanched almonds. Almond butter is high in vitamin E, an antioxidant that is crucial for healthy skin, hair and nails, along with magnesium, which plays an important role in muscle recovery.
That's not a free pass to overdo it though - as almond butter is very high in calories, with over 140 per tablespoon. If you're still finishing off your summer shred, you're going to have to take it easy on the almond butter (or any nut butter, for that matter).
Almonds are also very high in omega 6, which is an essential fatty acid. However too much omega 6 and not enough omega 3 can cause chronic inflammation in the body, something that is in your best interests to avoid.
A tablespoon per day is certainly going to be more healthy than harmful. Just try and cap it at that, especially if you're not taking a fish oil supplement (the omega 3 helps to counteract the excess omega 6).
For an even creamier nut butter with added MCTs, try blending half almond butter with half Tagaloa coconut oil.
Recommended choice: Keen Nutrition Crunchy Almond Butter, £4.50
Pros: Milder taste, great source of essential minerals
Cons: Added sodium
Cashew nuts are mineral powerhouses, loaded with zinc, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, and manganese. Many of us are deficient in essential minerals, especially athletes with a high sweat rate, so cashew nuts can be a great way to keep your mineral stores topped up.
Cashew nuts are also a great source of oleic acid, which has been shown to help maintain a healthy heart. However, due to the mild taste, many brands add lots of salt to try and bring out the flavour more. When shopping for a cashew butter, look for a brand that uses little sodium, such as Pip & Nut, or an unsalted version such as Carley's Organic.
Cashew butter is great for salad dressings, mixed with rice wine vinegar and a little honey. It's also delicious as a spread or used in baked goods.
Recommended choice: Pip & Nut Honey, Cinnamon & Cashew Butter: £4.29
Pumpkin Seed Butter
Pros: High in protein and zinc
Cons: Not the tastiest
If you can find a way to make pumpkin seed butter palatable, we strongly suggest adding some to your diet. This is because it has the highest protein content of any nut or seed butter (over 30% protein content) and is also an excellent source of zinc, which is crucial for testosterone production.
Pumpkin seed butter is also relatively cheap, ranging at between £2 to £3 per jar. However, it is certainly an acquired taste, meaning that many people struggle to find ways to incorporate it into their diets.
One of the best ways to use pumpkin seed butter is to mix it with a little raw honey before spreading. This takes away the slightly bitter aftertaste and also gives a creamier texture.
Pumpkin seed butter is also a great addition to homemade protein / energy balls - as long as you don't mind the green colour!
Recommended choice: Meridian Pumpkin Seed Butter, £2.50
Sunflower Seed Butter
Pros: Cheap, closest flavour to peanut butter, high vitamin E
Cons: High omega 6
Interestingly, sunflower seeds have a very similar nutritional profile to almonds - that is, they pack a decent amount of protein per serving, and are a great source of vitamin E and magnesium. And, just like almonds, they are very high in omega 6.
Just like almond butter, all this means is that you should limit your consumption to one or two tablespoons per day, max. Sunflower Seed Butter is the closest tasting butter to peanut butter, so is a great alternative for spreading and baking. Sunflower seed are, for the most part, hypoallergenic; so are ideal for those with nut allergies.
Recommended choice: Meridian Sunflower Seed Butter, £2.50
Macadamia Nut Butter
Pros: Delicious, creamy, high in monounsaturated fat
The creamiest nut butter of them all, macadamia nut butter is the perfect choice for smoothies or dolloping on top of porridge. It's lower in protein than other nut butters, but it also has a much better fat content, which the majority of the fats being monounsaturated. These are the same healthy fats that are found in olive oil, which are extremely beneficial for the heart, brain and skin.
The only downside to macadamia nut butter is the cost! Expect to pay anywhere between £7 - £10 for a small jar, and that's on a good day. For that reason we recommend using this one sparingly, rather than spooning it straight from the jar.
Recommended choice: Wholegood Organic Raw Macadamia Butter, £7.99
Brazil Nut Butter
Pros: High in selenium
Cons: You can overdo it
Selenium is a crucial mineral for maintaining a healthy immune system, hormonal balance and metabolism. Many of us don't get enough, which is where brazil nuts, the richest source of selenium on the planet, come in.
Just three brazil nuts (women) or four (men) are enough to get your RDA of selenium. This is the equivalent to just over a teaspoon of brazil nut butter. A small dollop on your stack of protein pancakes is plenty - because you can have too much of a good thing.
Too much selenium may lead to selenium toxicity, which can cause digestive problems and brittle hair and nails. This does happen at fairly high doses, but given that you can also get selenium from other sources, we recommend capping your brazil nut butter intake at a couple of teaspoons per day, max.
Recommended choice: Wholegood Organic Brazil Nut Butter, £4.99
Which is best?
Perhaps the biggest take home message from this article is that all nut and seed butters can be healthy, albeit in very different ways.
For this reason, we recommend rotating your nut and seed butters to get different health benefits. Keep your cupboards stocked up with two or three at a time, and enjoy them in different ways!
Lastly, don't go over a couple of tablespoons per day, as you can definitely have too much of a good thing. The healthfulness of nut butters can be enjoyed in small doses, and overdoing it may counteract this healthfulness - which no one wants!
What's your favourite nut butter and why? Let us know in the comments section below.
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