A Happy, Healthy Family


A Nut Butter Primer

For many of us, peanut butter is a daily food. We might eat it on toast or waffles in the morning, with pretzels, bananas, apples, or pita for a snack, or stirred into a recipe for a rich dessert. Many people add it to smoothies and shakes, and some eat it right out of the jar.

But not all peanut butters are created equally, and now there are several other nut butters and nut butter alternatives to choose from in stores.

The "right" nut butter can be a nutritionally beneficial food, whereas the "wrong" one can just load you up with hydrogenated oil and sugar. Read on to find out how your favorite stacks up against the competition.

Ditch the Processed Butters!
Let's start with the most basic rule about nut butters--go for natural. Yes, I understand that most of us were not raised on natural nut butters (did they even exist when we were kids?) and that the idea of having to stir the oil may make you cringe (as it did me for several years), and the thought of putting peanut butter in the refrigerator just seems wrong, but if you are devoted to the peanut butter of your youth, take a second to read the ingredient list. Peanut butter should be peanuts and maybe a tiny bit of salt. That's it! No sugar, no other oils added. Peanuts already have tons of oil, so why in the world would you need more?? Here's why you DON'T--the extra oil (often soybean oil, by the way), is how super-processed peanut butter gets so smooth. Adding that extra oil is like stirring Crisco into your peanut butter, so a food that is already high in (albeit healthy) fat becomes extremely unhealthy. If you have to, go in stages--first try to find a nut butter without added sugar, and then graduate to one without added oil (this is probably where the stirring will come in). After a while, you'll get used to the taste, and you won't be spreading nut-flavored Crisco on your toast.

Peanut Butter
Peanut butter is a classic, and the varieties are seemingly endless. However, most of those varieties contain the added oil, sugar, and salt, which is probably why peanut butter sometimes gets a bad reputation. That, and the fact that many people eat it by the spoonful. All nut butters are going to be relatively high in fat, but the portion sizes are also small (2 T, usually), so as long as you watch how much you're eating, peanut butter can be good for you. It's high in protein, potassium, antioxidants, and selenium. However, peanuts have been known to grow a carcinogenic mold called aflatoxin. For more on that, click here.

Almond Butter
Almond butter is popular, although its nutritional profile isn't that different than peanut butter. It is, however, much higher in calcium and fiber and also boasts high levels of vitamin E and iron.

Other Nut Butters
You may also see cashew, macadamia, and hazelnut butters on the store shelves, although they're much less common and offer fewer nutrients than peanut or almond butters. Macadamia nut butter is very high in fat and is best left to rich treats instead of everyday sandwiches.

Soy Nut Butter
Soy nut butter is one of a few nut-free alternatives for those who are allergic to nuts or at a nut-free school. Soy is high in protein and calcium, but there are also many people who avoid soy due to the GMO risks associated with the crop.

Sunflower Seed Butter
Sunflower seed butter is another nut-free alternative good for those with allergies. It is slightly lower in fat than nut butters but is also lower in protein and offers no calcium.

Learn More
For an excellent article and infographic on nut butters and nut butter alternatives, click here.
For an article explaining how nut and seed butters can be part of a healthy diet, click here.


  1. They definitely did have the natural peanut butter when we were kids...my mom bought it and broke a mixer stirring it. I didn't appreciate it then, but I do now! Love your blog, Allison! Great stuff here. ~Christianna

    1. Thanks, Christianna! That is so funny about your mom! I don't remember seeing it until my mom bought some about 10-15 years ago, and I was so grossed out by the oil. Ha!