When I was a kid, the choice of peanut butter was between Skippy or Jif and maybe some supermarket brand that no one ever bought. Then years later I remember going to a health food store in my neighborhood where you could watch your own peanut butter being made fresh. You would scoop the peanuts and then pour them into a gargantuan machine where the peanuts would be pulverized right before your eyes. No additives, no sugar. Yummm fresh peanut butter- what could be better? Other than the fact that it didn’t last more than a few days?
Fast forward to the present day and there are apparently a plethora of peanut butter options that are a heck of a lot healthier than what we ate growing up. A walk down the aisle of a regular super market will give you the old standards like Skippy and Jif, yet these days you will find low fat and chocolate flavored options along with Smuckers “natural” peanut butter. Some supermarkets carry almond butter- peanut butter made with almonds, not peanuts.
Health food stores and stores such as Whole foods or Trader Joes stock a variety of these new and improved, healthier peanut butter alternatives. My local Whole Foods sells almond butter, sunbutter, cashew butter, soynut butter and even powdered peanut butter. “Just Great Stuff” is powdered organic peanut butter which when mixed with water has a smooth consistency and contains a fraction of the fat than in all of the butters just listed. And it is very tasty!
So what’s all the fuss about these new “alternative” peanut butters? Are they really healthier than our old peanut butter? What about the taste? What do the critics say?
Most of the consumer brands consist of Hydrogenated vegetable oil (to prevent oil separation), salt (to avoid spoiling), Dextros and artificial sweeteners (for taste). As an alternative to making your own nut butter (see my recipe below), I found a few healthy and delicious peanut butter alternatives in my local stores.
Almond butter is made by grinding and smoothing almonds into a paste. By eating almonds or almond butter, you get fiber, protein, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, iron, calcium and phosphorus. Both almond butter and peanut butter are high in monounsaturated fats, however, almond butter is a slightly better nutritional choice with 5 grams per tablespoon versus 3.3 grams per tablespoon in peanut butter. Foods rich in monounsaturated fats may help to lower cholesterol. Almond butter is also a slightly better source of fiber and has four times more vitamin E than peanut butter. Vitamin E is known for its anti-oxidant properties and may help to prevent heart disease and cancer.
Soynut butter is made from roasted soybeans. Soynut butter is ideal for people with allergies to peanuts and tree nuts. Soynut butter is also gluten-free and dairy-free. Nutritionally, soynut butter is slightly better for you than peanut butter. In a 2 tablespoon serving, soynut butter contains 170 calories per serving, while peanut butter has 190 calories. Soynut butter has 100 calories from fat while peanut butter has 130. Both soynut butter and peanut butter are high in protein. Yet peanut butter contains more vitamins and minerals than soynut butter.
Unlike many other nuts, cashews and cashew butter do not contain omega-3 fatty acids which may reduce the risk of heart disease and prevent high blood pressure. However, cashew butter does contain high amounts of other heart-healthy fats and essential minerals and is a good low-carbohydrate, high protein option.
Sunbutter or sunflower seed butter is peanut-free, tree-nut free and gluten-free. Followers of the Paleo diet usually opt for almond or sunflower butter. Sunflower seeds contain a number of essential vitamins and minerals. They supply B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, A, D, E and K and minerals such as calcium, potassium, zinc phosphorus, magnesium and selenium. Sunbutter is low in saturated fats, high in protein and low in sodium and has no cholesterol.
Personally, I think sunbutter is tastier than almond butter and soynut butter leaves me with a strange aftertaste. I also enjoy the taste of cashew butter, especially when it is homemade. This recipe for cashew butter is very easy to make and tastes delicious.
Homemade Cashew Butter
2 cups unsalted roasted cashews
2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
In a food processor or blender, combine cashews and 2 tablespoons of the oil (and salt and sugar, if desired). Process on high speed for 30 seconds and then scrape down the sides with a spatula. Continue to process until you reach desired smoothness, adding 1 teaspoon of oil at a time, depending on how smooth you want the cashew butter. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.