If you were to search in the cupboard or fridge of any home in the US, chances are really good that you’d find a jar of peanut butter. Americans love the stuff. 90% of households keep peanut butter around. It’s been estimated that by the time high school graduation rolls around, the average American child will have eaten 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Interesting that we call it peanut butter, though, since peanuts aren’t nuts at all—they’re actually beans (so are soy “nuts”). The “nuts” of the peanut plant develop in the shell underground, which explains why they’re sometimes called “groundnuts” or “earthnuts.” While peanut is certainly the most popular of the nut butters, there are some other alternatives—butters made from almonds, walnuts, pistachios, soy or cashews—that offer up a real change of taste.
From a nutritional standpoint, all of the nut (and bean) butters are pretty much the same. Most have a fair amount of protein, along with some zinc, fiber, vitamin E, folic acid and copper. Although there are slight variations in certain nutrients from butter to butter, they all offer pretty much the same in terms of fat and calories. Looking at a two tablespoon serving—about what most people would spread on a sandwich—here’s how some popular butters stack up:
• Peanut butter – A serving of peanut butter has about 8 grams of protein, 16 grams of fat (most of it monounsaturated) and about 200 calories. Natural-style peanut butter—the kind with the oil floating on top—retains the same proportions of fats as the peanuts it came from. But if you buy the kind that doesn’t separate, the natural peanut oil has been processed into a harder fat, which bumps up the saturated fat content of the peanut butter. These processed peanut butters often have some form of sugar added, too.
• Almond butter – Almond butter has about the same calories and protein as peanut butter, but half the saturated fat. It also has 50% more fiber, nearly twice the magnesium, twice the copper and a bit more calcium than peanut butter.
• Walnut butter – Walnuts are a good source of alpha linolenic acid, an essential omega-3 fatty acid. Compared with other nut butters, walnut butter has a slight edge when it comes to protein, with 8 grams per serving vs. the 6 to 7 grams of protein found in almond, pistachio or pecan. Fat and calories are about the same as peanut butter.
• Pistachio butter – Pistachio butter looks very much like almond butter. It has about the same calories and protein as peanut butter, but half the saturated fat. It also has twice the copper and 50% more fiber than peanut butter.
• Soy butter – Since it’s made from beans, soy ‘nut’ butter has a bit more protein than the others—about 9 grams—and is slightly lower in fat and calories than peanut butter. But some people may find soy nut butter a tad bitter. You can find soy-peanut blends that boast a little more protein per serving than plain peanut butter.
• Cashew butter – Cashew butter is made from ground cashews, which are actually the seed of the cashew fruit. Cashew butter offers up slightly more zinc than peanut butter, and has about 190 calories, 16 grams of fat and 6 grams of protein per serving.