If you're not pouring almond and peanut butter on top of your pancakes, waffles, smoothies, smoothie bowls, toasts, and ice cream cones, are you even a foodie? It's the million dollar question we've all been asking ourselves lately, because I don't know about you, but I can't scroll down my Instagram feed without seeing at least a dozen of these pics, each one showing a different food drenched in a pool of nut butter good enough to swim in. And yes, I'm currently wishing swimming in nut butter was an Olympic category.

Besides adding a decorative touch to just about any food, I've also seen people throwing them in baked goods, smoothies, and even eating them straight out of the jar for snacking. I'm sure that gets you thinking...what's the hype behind nut butter? Are their health benefits actually benefits, or can we live without them? And lastly, how many types of nut butters are there, and which one takes the number one spot?

Nut Butters in a Nutshell

Nut butters are made by simply adding nuts to a food processor or blender and mixing until a creamy butter forms. The whole process might take anywhere from two to thirty minutes, with a few pauses in between to prevent the food processor/blender from getting too hot. Sometimes the nuts are roasted before blending to bring out their flavors a little bit. 

So, if you'd want to make almond butter at home, let's say, all you'd had to do was roast them for a few minutes if you want, and then add them to a food processor and pulse until they form a creamy butter...that's it! So why is it that some nut butters get a bad reputation? 

coffee, candy, dairy product, milk, cream, sweet, chocolate, peanut butter, spoon, jar
Caroline Ingalls

The Not-So-Healthy Side 

While ideally all nut butters sold in stores should have just one or two ingredients, the actual nut itself and/or a little bit of salt, common commercial brands tend to add sugars, vegetable oils, emulsifiers, and other ingredients which only end up contributing to the trans fat, saturated fat, and sugar content of the nut butter. For example, JIF's Creamy Peanut Butter's ingredient list reads:

"Made From Roasted Peanuts And Sugar, Contains 2% Or Less Of: Molasses, Fully Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils (Rapeseed and Soybean), Mono and Diglycerides, Salt."

cream, sweet, milk, jam, caramel, chocolate, honey, peanut butter
Maggie Gorman

Nuts are plenty delicious on their own, right? So why should nut butters be any different, and have added sugars and inflammatory oils? Not to mention, the fully hydrogenated vegetable oils used in JIF are Trans Fats, which should be completely eliminated from our diets since they raise cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. And if you're going to have sugar, which can raise our blood glucose levels and in high amounts, increases the risk of Type 2 Diabetes, don't get it from your nut butters, but instead from natural sugars like fruits and dates, or from low-glycemic options (meaning they don't cause a spike in blood sugar), like maple syrup and honey.

almond butter, spoonful, almonds, Crunchy, Nut butter
Julia Gilman

The key to shopping for the right nut butter? Read the ingredients lists! As mentioned above, the healthiest nut butters have just one or two ingredients: the actual nut itself, and sometimes, some salt. That's it! My favorite almond butter that contains just roasted almonds as the ingredients is Costco's Kirkland Signature Almond Butter. For my peanut butter friends, Crazy Richard's only contains peanuts!

What to Choose?

With the variety of nut butters offered today, it's easy to go nuts (had to) and get overwhelmed and stumped. Which one do you go for? Do you go for the trendy hazelnut butter which tastes like a healthified Nutella, or do you buy the cashew butter because everyone you follow on Instagram told you to? The decision fatigue! To make it a bit easier on you guys, I've explained the flavors and compiled a list of the evidence-based benefits of five of the most popular nut butters. If you're like me, you'll have a try of all five!

1. Peanut Butter

peanut butter, chocolate, sweet, milk, cream, butter, dairy product, cake, candy, peanut
Jocelyn Hsu

Now that we're here, let's just throw in a little fun fact: did you know peanuts are actually a legume, not a nut? Peanuts are a good source of plant-based protein. In addition, they provide fiber into our diets, and also give us minerals like manganese, copper, and antioxidants like Vitamin E. Some research even suggests peanuts help prevent gallstones in men and women. They are high in fat, but they are healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats! So if you see a jar that brands its company as "lower in fat", don't go for it. We want the fats to reap their health benefits and for higher satisfaction! In terms of taste, I think we all know how it tastes, but if you're a newbee, it's not as "nutty" as the others and is more savory than sweet. Caution: peanuts are a top cause of allergies in many people, and may cause anaphylaxis in those susceptible individuals. 

2. Almond Butter

Christine Byrne

Besides being my favorite nut, the almond packs a powerful health punch. Like most nuts, almonds are high in protein and fiber. In addition, they contain iron, calcium, magnesium, and Vitamin E, and of course are an excellent source of healthy monounsaturated fats. Fun fact: most antioxidants are on the outside layer of the skin. So if you're going to eat almonds, don't blanch them! I'm obsessed with its super nutty flavor with mild sweet tones, which is what makes it a great add to sweet dishes.

3. Cashew Butter

cashew, nut
Kristine Mahan

One of my favorite reasons to buy cashew butter is because cashews contain an amino acid called tryptophan, which the body uses as the precursor for serotonin, the neurotransmitter that when secreted, contributes to a good mood and a happier state of mind. Some people even think that eating a couple handfuls of cashews a day may cure depression! Cashews are also high in protein, fiber, monounsaturated fats, copper, selenium, magnesium, calcium, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, and Vitamin B6. Cashew butter is nutty and strong; its flavor stands out in your tongue for sure. 

4. Hazelnut Butter

nut, hazelnut, meat, vegetable, legume, cereal, walnut
Ally Gillman

Hazelnut butter, also known as the healthy chocolate spread, is the favorite of any chocolate lover. The world-famous chocolate spread Nutella uses hazelnuts as a base, therefore, hazelnut butter, although it might not contain chocolate (it can if you make it at home with cocoa powder!), is perfectly as delicious. If you've ever smelled hazelnuts, they even smell a little bit like cacao; their taste is just as similar. Nothing new here: hazelnuts are full of protein, fiber, calcium, magnesium, copper, Vitamin B6, Vitamin E, and antioxidants. Taking care of our sweet tooth and quenching free radicals one hazelnut butter tablespoon at a time. 

5. Pecan Butter

pecan, chocolate
Anastasia McGregor

Pecans contain more antioxidants than any other nut, so you know I'm all for this. They have a slight bitter-ish taste but they also taste delightfully savory. A great source of plant-based protein, peanuts are also loaded with fiber, healthy fats, magnesium, calcium, iron, and zinc, and may even help prevent against cancer and other diseases. 

Use

Besides eating them with a spoon straight from a jar (yes, that's a thing and I support it 100%), nut butters are a great addition to yogurt, ice cream, fruit, rice cakes, and even some vegetables. Adding them to high-sugar foods is great because their high fiber content will slow down digestion, and therefore decrease spikes in blood sugar. I've seen them in sauces, like this Pad Thai Spicy Almond Butter Sauce, and in smoothies to add some protein, fiber, and healthy fats.

One banana and two tablespoons of almond or peanut butter make a great pre- or post-workout snack, and I've heard drizzling a bit of cashew butter on avocado toast just adds the perfect touch of savory, creamy goodness. Whichever way you use it, it's an unknown fact: nut butter tastes great on everything

Daniela Nessim

What's your favorite way to use nut butter? And let's come down to a conclusion, what's best, creamy or crunchy? I'm team #creamy, but that's just me. If you're looking for more ways to incorporate them into your daily routine, here's a great article with a variety of recipes that use nut butter. But I'm warning you now: you may become addicted and have the desire to eat nut butter for all three meals of the day. Don't say I didn't warn you.