You Might Want To Spring For The Organic Peanut Butter Next Time
If you’re anything like me, you basically consider nut butter its own food group. (Thank goodness fat is in again, amirite?) Now that nut butters like almond butter are so popular, though, people seem to be hating on my OG peanut butter—and I have to wonder which nut butter option is actually better for you.
Like many of the other higher-fat plant-based foods keto has shown a spotlight on, nut butters contain healthy unsaturated fats, specifically polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs and MUFAs, for short), according to dietitian Lauren Minchen, MPH, RDN.
“Healthy fats are essential for healthy cells, skin, hair, metabolism, energy, and immunity,”she says.
Because of its healthy fat content (and super reasonable price tag), peanut butter has long been considered a healthy staple. (Do I even need to remind you how good it tastes on a banana or toast?)
So, why are people acting like it’s less worthy than the “holy grail” almond butter? I had to find out.
Why do people think almond butter is healthier than peanut butter?
From a healthy fats perspective, PB and AB aren’t exactly identical. “Peanut butter and almond butter contain different types of healthy fats,” Minchen says. “Peanut butter is known for its PUFAs, while almond butter is known for its MUFAs.”
Though both good for you, PUFAs and MUFAs do different things for your health. MUFAs, in particular, have been getting lots of love from the wellness community recently.
Research suggests they might help support healthy cholesterol levels and overall heart health. Plus, according to the American Heart Association, foods rich in MUFAs (almond butter, included) also tend to be high in vitamin E, a nutrient most of us don’t get enough of.
Plus, some people have concerns about good ol’ PB.
Peanuts are actually a legume (not a nut), and this group of foods, which also includes beans and peas, has fallen under scrutiny lately.
Popular diets, like Whole30 and paleo, vilify legumes because they contain phytates (compounds that can potentially impair your absorption of certain minerals) and lectins (proteins that can be toxic in very high amounts), explains Minchen.
Thing is, science doesn’t really back up this claim. “Legumes are perfectly healthy as long as you don’t have a sensitivity or allergy to them,” Minchen says. In fact, legumes’ negative side effects only become a potential problem if you eat tons of legumes and little else. Otherwise, the benefits of peanuts and other legumes—like their healthy fats, fiber, plant-based protein, vitamins, and minerals—far outweigh any possible risk, says Minchen.
Another reason some people are giving PB the boot: fear of aflatoxins, a cancer-causing toxin that can contaminate certain crops, including peanuts.
This one is a little more complicated to suss out. For one thing, though aflatoxins are often associated with peanuts, they can affect tree nuts (like almonds), too, per the National Cancer Institute (NCI)—so trading your peanut butter for almond butter won’t necessarily reduce your risk.
Plus, according to the NCI, “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tests foods that may contain aflatoxins, such as peanuts and peanut butter. To date, no outbreak of human illness caused by aflatoxins has been reported in the United States, but such outbreaks have occurred in some developing countries.”
Still, some people play it extra, extra safe by avoiding the stuff.
That said, yes, almond butter is very nutritious.
Regardless of the he-said-she-said about peanuts being no bueno, almond butter does deserve the hype.
Here’s what you’ll get in every tablespoon of almond butter, according to the USDA Nutrient Database:
- 98 calories
- 8.9 g fat (5.2 g monounsaturated, 2.2 g polyunsaturated, 1.1 g saturated)
- 3 g carbs
- 1.7 g fiber
- 1 g sugar
- 3.4 g protein
- 44.6 mg magnesium
- 0.6 mg iron
- 3.87 mg vitamin E
- 0.2 mg riboflavin
- 55.5 mg calcium
“Almond butter is known for its magnesium, iron, vitamin E, riboflavin, and calcium,” Minchen says. In fact, it contains several times as much of these nutrients as peanut butter. It’s also high in those aforementioned heart-healthy MUFAs.
Peanut butter is also packed with good-for-you nutrition, though.
For comparison, here’s what you’ll get in a tablespoon of peanut butter, according to the USDA Nutrient Database:
- 96 calories
- 8.2 g fat (4.2 g monounsaturated, 2 g polyunsaturated, 1.7 g saturated)
- 3.6 g carbs
- 1 g fiber
- 1.7 g sugar
- 3.6 g protein
- 26.9 mg magnesium
- 0.3 g iron
- 1.5 mg vitamin E
- 0 mg riboflavin
- 7.9 mg calcium
Although peanut butter does not contain significant amounts of the vitamins and minerals almond butter delivers on, it’s actually not that much lower in MUFAs than almond butter. (While peanut butter is slightly higher in saturated fat, the difference isn’t really big enough to matter.)
Another perk: Peanut butter is slightly higher in protein.
So basically, both peanut and almond butter are healthy.
Though almond butter is slightly higher in MUFAs and certain micronutrients, peanut butter is still a great source of healthy fats. Plus, it’s considerably cheaper than almond butter.
But wait, does it matter whether I buy natural or organic?
Take a look at the (overflowing) nut butter shelf at your local supermarket, and you’ll notice a variety of “organic” and “natural” options, both of which are likely more expensive than their conventional counterparts.
If you can swing the price tag, opting for organic might be well-worth-it. “Buying organic means reducing your exposure to pesticides in both nut butters,” Minchen says. “I always recommend organic when possible.”
That organic label is especially helpful if you’re going for PB, because peanuts tend to be heavily sprayed with pesticides, Minchen adds. Buying in bulk can help you get more bang for your nut butter buck.
However, if the organic options are still inaccessible to you, know that the FDA tests all commercially-available foods annually to make sure they don’t contain harmful levels of pesticides or other toxins.
That “natural” label, on the other hand, is never worth paying extra for. Unlike “organic,” the term isn’t regulated, so food companies can define and use it however they like.
Got it. So when should I use almond butter versus peanut butter?
Luckily, almond butter and peanut butter are pretty much interchangeable in the kitchen. Because peanut butter is cheaper, though, Minchen recommends using it over almond butter in baked goods or other recipes that might call for large amounts.
Otherwise, it all comes down to preference. Minchen likes stirring almond butter into smoothies—and both AB and PB make excellent toast, fruit, or oatmeal toppers, and blend well into Greek yogurt.
The bottom line: Yes, both almond butter and peanut butter are healthy. They simply provide slightly different micronutrients and come with different price tags.
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