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Going nuts for butters

Susan Rubin

While many American kids grow up eating peanut butter, in recent years, a wide variety of different kinds of nut and seed butters have hit the grocery store shelves. But what kind of nutritional value to they all provide?

This week on “Take Care,” sports nutritionist Nancy Clark gives us a primer on nut and seed butters. Clark is the author of “Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook.” She writes the monthly nutrition column “The Athlete's Kitchen,” which appears in over 100 sports and fitness publications and websites.

The health benefits of nuts have been well documented. And for as many different nuts there are, there are butters too – almond, cashew, macadamia, to name a few.

Clark says nuts and seeds all have similar nutritional value. Some might have a little more vitamin E than others; one might have a little more unsaturated fat than the rest.

So Clark says there’s no use trying to figure out which nut butter is the best one for you. That’s the wrong approach, says Clark. In general, Clark says the more variety in your diet, the better it is. So eating a variety -- from peanut butter to soy nut butter -- is a great choice.

For the best nutrition, you have to look at the whole diet, says Clark. Try to eat a variety of quality foods. The best food, she says is the one that you enjoy eating that is also good for you.

The main advantage to nut butters over eating the nuts themselves is the versatility. As Clark says, it’s hard to make an almond sandwich.

But eating whole nuts themselves actually is better for you, says Clark. The skin on a whole nut has a lot of nutritional value in it. She says it has a lot of bioactive compounds. Nut butters don’t use the skins.

But Clark says, while some people aren’t going to eat nuts, but they will eat nut butters. So it’s better to get nut nutrition into your diet through butters, than not at all. Pick what fits into your lifestyle, says Clark, keeping in mind, the closer to the earth a food is, and the less processed it is, the better it is for you.

But why buy almond or cashew butter when it’s so much more expensive than peanut butter? Clark says you don’t have to, because you don’t get a dramatically different nutritional benefit from different nut butters. The other nut butters are obviously a good choice for people who are allergic to peanuts and peanut butter.

Nut and seed butters can also be incorporated into sauces and cooking. And Clark calls that an excellent way to get more protein in your diet. If you can substitute nuts and seeds for red meat, you can reduce your intake of saturated fats, and boost you intake of more healthful unsaturated fat.

The main advantage of having so many choices in nut and seed butters is variety. As Clark points out, vegetarian eatery is on the upswing, so people are looking for different sources of plant protein.

If it’s a seed or a nut, Clark says, you know that food is life sustaining, because they grow into a plant or tree. Nuts and seeds have strong nutritional value because of that. And Clark says one of the keys to good nutrition is to look for foods that are nutrient dense.