Peanut butter is the stuff of every kid’s lunch box days, but is it really healthy, and are there healthier alternatives you should try, such as almond butter?
First of all, let’s just recognize the fact that not all peanut butters are created equal. In fact, many of the top peanut butter brands could barely qualify as peanut butter anyway, with all the extra additives in their ingredient lists! “Low-fat” peanut butters are the worst – typically loaded with sugar, trans fats, and other ingredients which are not peanuts (which often make up only half of what’s in the jar). Often these supposedly “healthy” spreads contain almost as much fat as regular (natural) peanut butter anyway!
Bottom line: If you’re going for the healthiest peanut butter, choose the regular, all-natural kind (which should only contain peanuts with natural oil and salt).
But what about the other nut butters that are suddenly all the rage? Almond butter is one of the most popular, and although it typically costs more than peanut butter, are there healthy reasons why you should choose this instead?
Here is a rundown of the difference between these two popular nut butters in regards to their healthfulness:
Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins—they’re the building blocks of nutrition, and give you a general idea of how good for you that sandwich spread is. Where calories are concerned, almond defeats peanut butter, but not by much: When comparing two all-natural butters, one serving (two tablespoons) of almond butter weighs in at 190 calories, and the same amount of peanut butter clocks in at 210 calories.
Both nut butters are relatively low in carbohydrates, but almond has slightly fewer net carbs thanks to its higher fiber content. That means that both spreads are good options for low-carb diets. However, Paleo converts will want to steer clear of peanut butter—surprisingly, peanuts aren’t nuts and actually fall under the legume category, which means that anyone sticking to a primal diet should stay far, far away.
Winner: Almond butter, because it has more fiber
The majority of calories in nuts are derived from their high fat content—but that doesn’t mean you should avoid them. Both almonds and peanuts contain monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), which have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease… The USDA recommends that 25 percent of our daily calories come from MUFAs.
Winner: Tie, because both contain the good fats essential for heart health
Nuts are basically little nuggets of fat and protein—meaning they’re great for keeping you full and satisfied, even when ground into creamy, spreadable form. Some might be surprised to learn that a serving of peanut butter contains 7 grams of protein, more than you’ll find in an egg.
Winner: Peanut butter, by a smidge, with 7 grams of protein per serving versus almond butter’s 6 grams.
If macronutrients are the building blocks of nutrition, micronutrients are the glue that holds everything together. These are the vitamins, essential minerals, antioxidants, and good-for-you compounds that kick a food’s nutrient density up a notch.
Almonds are a health food staple for a reason—they’re really, really good for you. The brown skin is chock-full of protective antioxidants, and the flesh is packed with vitamin E, the fat-soluble antioxidant that protects cells from oxidative damage. Vitamin E has been linked to a reduced risk, and even prevention, of heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease—and a single ounce of almonds gives you 37 percent of the daily recommended value.
Almonds are also crazy-high in magnesium (one serving contains 20 percent of the daily value), an essential mineral that helps with 300 different enzymatic processes influencing everything from metabolic function to blood sugar.
Those nutrients plus the copper, vitamin B2, and phosphorus found in almonds make them one of the healthiest nuts out there.
Yet peanuts don’t exactly slouch when it comes to micronutrients either. Because they’re technically legumes, they’re more similar to garbanzos or soybeans than they are to almonds. Peanuts have some magnesium and a little vitamin E, but also contain trace amounts of nutrients that you’ll find in other legumes like calcium, iron, phosphorus, copper, potassium, selenium, and zinc. They’re also an impressive source of folate and biotin, two B vitamins important to prenatal health.
Winner: Tie. With varying nutrients, it’s difficult to compare the two here—but if you’re avoiding legumes, go for almond butter.
Today, three times as many children deal with a peanut allergy—most often fatal—as compared to 20 years ago. Some people with an allergy to peanuts need to avoid all tree nuts, but because peanuts are technically legumes, often other varieties of “true” nuts are perfectly fine to eat. (Of course, check with your doctor before trying other nuts if you have a peanut allergy.)
Winner: Probably almond butter. Peanut allergies are much more common than almond or tree nut allergies… But of course stay away from both if you have a severe reaction to nuts.
Pesticides and additives
At a regular grocery store, it can be difficult to find organic peanut butter—in fact, it can be a challenge to find it anywhere. That’s because the majority of peanut farmers use conventional farming practices (including using fungicides and other chemicals) to grow their crops. Peanuts are also plagued by aflatoxin, a fungus that naturally occurs in the type of soil the plants favor. Aflatoxin can harm humans and animals when ingested—causing everything from stomach aches and abdominal pain to coma and death—and was placed on a list of carcinogenic substances by the International Agency for Research on Cancer in 1988.
Peanuts have a soft shell that’s permeable to chemicals and toxins, which means the flesh is exposed to pesticides, mold, and fungi, too. Even organic peanuts sometimes have higher concentrations of aflatoxin because they haven’t been sprayed with an antifungal. Consumers are left wondering which is worse—the mold or the pesticides?
Conventional PB brands tend to include other additives, too. The oil in natural nut butters usually separates over time, so many brands add in binding agents to keep their product smooth and spreadable with zero “stirring” needed. And when it comes to flavored (chocolate peanut butter, anyone?) or low-fat varieties, it’s almost a guarantee that they’ll be loaded with excess sugar, other oils, and added sodium.
You might be hard-pressed to find an organic peanut butter brand without any fungi at your regular grocery store, but finding organic almond butter couldn’t be easier. Organic AB seems far more popular than its conventional counterpart—there are plenty of raw, organic, and non-GMO options available for discerning shoppers.
Because almonds have a hard exterior shell (which is usually removed before packaging), like walnuts or chestnuts, they’re protected from toxins and chemicals and far easier to grow organically.
Winner: Almond butter. It’s way easier to find an organic version, and even if you opt for conventional, you don’t need to worry as much about contamination.