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Dr Sally Norton’s guide to Nut Butters…

Comment by Dr Sally Norton, NHS weight loss consultant surgeon.  UK health expert.  Founder of www.vavistalife.com 

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.

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.