Whether you’re adding it to smoothies and your oats or just enjoying a spoonful as part of your afternoon snack, nut butter is now a staple in our kitchen cupboards. And packed with protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals, it’s not hard to understand why. But with a high healthy fat content, should we be rethinking the amount of nut butter we’re eating? We asked nutritionist Cassandra Barns...
First things first – what are the health benefits of nut butter?
All nuts have slightly different properties and benefits; almonds, for example, are full of magnesium and vitamin B12, which help to keep your hair and nails strong and shiny, while hazelnuts are brimming with folate to boost cell and energy metabolism and are also rich in calcium, vitamin E and potassium. Cashew butters are chock-full of iron and zinc, making them an excellent source for vegans and vegetarians. Brazil nuts are brimming with selenium, a vital mineral for a healthy immune system as well as glowing skin and, while not technically a nut (they’re a legume), peanuts are a great source of protein and healthy fats.
What about calories?
Alongside being a powerhouse of nutrients, it’s common knowledge nuts – and by extension nut butters – are high in calories. Although eating enough ‘good’ fats is heart-healthy and can actually help to reduce cholesterol levels, fat packs a tonne of calories – nine calories per gram to be precise; in comparison, carbs and protein contain just four calories per gram.
A tablespoon of most nut butters will set you back around 100 calories and around 10g fat, although almond and cashew butters do come out slightly lower in calories and fat and higher in protein. On the flip side, walnut butter is a bit higher in calories and fat, and the highest are macadamia nut and pecan nut butters, which can contain over 700 calories and 75g of fat per 100g, compared to around 570 calories and 45g of fat per 100g for cashew butter.
But isn’t it all good fats?
Absolutely, but just be wary of your overall fat intake. As Barns explains, “The fats in nut butters are predominantly omega-6 fats, which are essential for our health, but getting too much of them alongside omega-3 fats, such as those found in oily fish, can lead to an excessive fat intake. Try limiting your nut butter intake to around 30-50g per day (maximum six rounded teaspoons) to keep your habits in check.”
If you’re an avid calorie counter, it’s also worth remembering that 100 calories of nut butter aren't equal to 100 calories of sweets – high levels of fibre, fat and protein found in nut butter will make you feel fuller for longer and provide you with sustained energy levels, unlike sugary treats.
Lastly – how can you make a nut butter habit healthier?
Barns says eating raw nut butters is the simplest way to keep your habit in check, no matter what nut it is. Heating the delicate oils in nuts to high temperatures makes them less beneficial for our health, she explains. But, as it’s a legume not a nut, raw peanut butter isn’t an option. And if you’re struggling to keep your portions in check, try buying snack-sized, individual sachets. We love Pip & Nut’s sachets, available nationwide.