Years ago, peanut butter was the king of nut butters and pretty much the only nut butter you would find in most conventional grocery stores.
However, as more and more research has found the benefits of eating nuts, the nut butter market has exploded with all sorts of healthy nut butter options.
But, what are the healthiest and least healthy nut butters on the market? What qualities determine a nut butter ranking from most healthy to least healthy? And what is the best nut butter?
In this article, we will discuss whether nut butters are healthy, what to look for when trying to pick the healthiest nut butter, what ingredients to avoid in the least healthy nut butters, and a list of the healthy nut butters and unhealthy nut butters ranked to help you decide which to buy.
We will look at:
- Is Nut Butter Healthy?
- What Are the Healthiest Nut Butters?
- What Are the Least Healthy Nut Butters?
Let’s get started!
Is Nut Butter Healthy?
Many people ask questions like:
What is the healthiest nut butter? Is peanut butter healthier than almond butter? Should I eat almond butter instead of peanut butter? What is the lowest-calorie nut butter? Is there a good low-fat nut butter? Which nut butter has the most protein?
Ultimately, there isn’t a definitive ranking of the healthiest nut butters because what determines whether a nut butter is “healthy” for one person may differ from the healthiest nut butter for another person based on differing nutritional goals and dietary needs.
For example, some consider the healthiest nut butters to be the most natural and organic, with unprocessed ingredients, natural fats in oils, and minimal processing, without worrying about the calories per serving, grams of fat, or even the protein and fiber in the nut butter.
Most nut and seed butters contain about 160 to 200 calories per 2-tablespoon serving and 12 to 16 g of fat, most of which is unsaturated fat. The healthiest nut butters do not contain any added sugars.
Studies have found that nut butter can help prevent diabetes, certain cancers, and heart disease and may even support weight loss.
However, while a case can certainly be made that organic, natural nut butters are among the healthiest nut butters, someone who is trying to lose weight or reduce fat intake might find that the healthiest nut butter for their nutritional needs is the lowest calorie not butter or the lowest fat nut butter.
Some amount of processing is definitely going to go into making a low-fat nut butter.
Therefore, picking the healthiest low-fat nut butter will become a matter of looking at the ingredients to ensure that there are no artificial ingredients, added sweeteners, excess sodium, stabilizing agents, or other additives that help provide creaminess, texture, taste, or shelf stability in place of the natural fats and oils found in healthy natural nut butters.
As can be seen, the list of healthy nut butters for one individual may differ from that of another, but there are some overarching qualities of the healthiest nut butters.
By and large, the healthiest nut butters have the fewest ingredients on the label, minimal processing, and avoid adding sweeteners, artificial sweeteners, excess sodium, hydrogenated oils, stabilizers, or other fillers.
Organic nut butters also tend to be healthier because they are free from any pesticides used while growing the nuts or seeds.
In some cases, certain healthy nut butters do have added omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, vitamin D, or other plant-based oils, which can be helpful for those following a vegan or plant-based diet who would otherwise have difficulty getting these nutritious ingredients in.
What Are the Healthiest Nut Butters?
Much like trying to rank the “healthiest vegetables in the world,” a definitive ranking of the healthiest nut butters list is virtually impossible as almost all of the organic, natural, minimally processed nut butters are quite healthy and offer a fairly similar nutritional profile.
Thus, choosing the healthiest nut butter for your diet is a matter of picking which nut butter flavor profile you prefer most, which nut butter fits best into your budget, avoiding nut butters that contain that you are allergic to, or selecting a low-fat healthy nut butter alternative if you are trying to lose weight and cut calories.
With that in mind, here is a list of some of the healthiest nut butters to choose from:
#1: Almond Butter
Almond butter is often considered the healthiest alternative to peanut butter and the healthiest and best nut butter overall.
Even though it is higher in total fat than peanut butter and subsequently tends to be slightly higher in calories, it is the nut butter that is lowest in saturated fat.
Although the dangers of saturated fat do not seem to be as concerning as we once thought, the American Heart Association still recommends limiting total daily saturated fat intake to 5 to 6% of your caloric intake per day.
This is extremely low, so choosing almond butter vs. peanut butter can save you some grams of saturated fat.
Almonds are also very high in vitamin E and magnesium. They also contain protein, antioxidants, and polyphenols, all of which can support heart health, lower inflammation, and potentially improve immune support.
Almonds are also a good source of fiber, and the combined effects of the protein and healthy fats can help promote satiety.
#2: Walnut Butter
Walnut butter is one of the healthiest nut butters because it is the nut butter that is highest in omega-3 fatty acids, the particular type of fats that have been found to confer the most potent anti-inflammatory benefits in the body.
Omega-3 fatty acids are the same types of fatty acids found in fish oil and fatty fish. These oils can help improve heart health and brain function and reduce chronic inflammation.
Omega-3 fatty acids can also help lower LDL cholesterol, which is considered “bad cholesterol, “ and raise HDL cholesterol, which is considered “good cholesterol.”
Walnut butter is also very high in vitamin E and polyphenols, both of which can also reduce inflammation and support heart health.
The only real downside to walnut butter as a healthy nut butter choice is it tends to be quite expensive.
#3: Cashew Butter
One of the benefits of choosing cashew butter as one of the healthiest nut butter options is that cashews have a mild, creamy taste with natural sweetness.
Thus, even unsweetened, natural cashew butter will have more of a sweeter taste without any of the added sugars you often find in commercial peanut butter products that are much less healthy.
However, cashew butter tends to be higher in carbs and lower in protein than some of the other nut butters.
#4: Peanut Butter
Given the rise in peanut allergies over the past several decades, peanut butter has been somewhat demonized and is often banned from schools and other public establishments due to the very serious nature of peanut allergies.
However, if you are able to eat peanut butter, peanut butter remains one of the healthiest nut butter choices. Peanuts are technically a legume, along with foods like beans and lentils, but are still grouped in with nuts and nut butters.
One benefit of peanut butter is that it is the nut butter that is highest in protein, with 8 grams of protein per serving, which is as much protein as is found in a glass of skim milk.
However, you need to read the labels on peanut butter carefully.
Some of the least healthy nut butters are peanut butter products that have all sorts of added hydrogenated oils, sugars, sodium, high-fructose corn syrup, and other flavorings like cinnamon syrup, fake honey, chocolate, corn solids, and other kid-friendly, palate-appealing flavors.
Look for natural, unsalted peanut butter.
The healthiest peanut butters often have the oil separated on top, and you need to mix it in.
Otherwise, you can look for the machines that have peanuts in them, and you can grind your own fresh ground peanut butter right in the store. These products have no additives and are almost definitely the healthiest peanut butter option.
However, read the label because a lot of peanut butters have quite a bit of added salt. Mostly, you want to avoid any hydrogenated oils and added sugars in peanut butter.
The peanut butter should be all-natural and contain nothing but peanuts, if possible, or peanuts in a little bit of salt.
What Are the Least Healthy Nut Butters?
While natural nut butters and minimally-processed nut butters are generally considered to be quite healthy, there are also some unhealthy nut butters.
In fact, some nut butter products are almost a hybrid of frosting and peanut butter or other nut butter alternative masquerading as a healthy nut butter product.
Some nut butters have many grams of added sugar, potentially even high fructose corn syrup, corn solids, hydrogenated oils to improve shelf stability, chocolate syrups or spreads, lots of sodium, or even things like chocolate chips, jelly, marshmallows, synthetic honey, artificial sweeteners, and other highly processed ingredients.
Some of the least healthy nut butters are actually marketed as healthier peanut butter alternatives because they are said to be low-fat peanut butter options.
However, in order to compensate for the lack of creaminess and smoothness, which is lost when some of the natural oils are removed, sugar, salt, and other fillers are added to stabilize the low-fat peanut butter alternative.
This makes the processed low-fat peanut butter or low-fat nut butter actually worse for your health, less filling overall, and higher in added sugar, which has been shown to cause a host of adverse health effects.
For example, while you will save 4 grams of fat and 20 calories by choosing Snicker’s Reduced Fat Peanut Butter (2 TBSP: 180 calories, 12 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 115 mg sodium, 13 g carbs (3 g fiber, 2 g sugar), 8 G protein), the product has maltodextrin, a sugar substitute, to compensate for the change in flavor that is lost by taking away some of the fat.
And, if you think about it, saving just 20 calories and 4 g of fat but adding more total carbs, total sugar, and maltodextrin in place of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats in peanut butter just isn’t worth such a minute calorie and fat savings.
You are much better off by having the regular Smucker’s Natural Creamy Peanut Butter, which only contains peanuts and salt.
Similarly, the Skippy Reduced Fat Peanut Butter only contains four fewer grams of fat per serving and just ten fewer calories compared to the Skippy Regular Peanuts Butter (which still isn’t good) or the better Skippy Natural Peanut Butter.
Plus, this reduced-fat peanut butter spread contains 4 grams of corn syrup solids and sugar.
Skippy also compensates for lower amounts of peanut butter protein by adding low-fat soy protein concentrate, which is another processed ingredient and is generally considered not as good for your health.
Products like Reese’s Creamy Peanut Butter spread contain hydrogenated oils, and the Jif Reduced Fat Peanut Butter it’s actually only 60% peanuts!
In summary, it is essential to read the ingredients labels on any nut butter, particularly those that are low-fat nut butter products, flavored nut butter products, or sweetened peanut butters.
If you want the healthiest low-fat peanut butter or low-fat almond butter, the best option is to choose powdered peanut butter or powdered almond butter such as PB2.
These low-calorie peanut butter alternatives are made from defatted peanuts or defatted almonds.
You simply add water and make a low-fat, low-calorie peanut butter spread or low-fat almond butter spread. You won’t get the creaminess or the heart-healthy oils and vitamin E, but you will save on calories.
Some of these powdered peanut butters do have added sugars and salt, so it is still important to look at the ingredient labels.
Looking for healthy butter substitutes? Click here for our guide.