Food & Nutrition
The Health Benefits of Nut Butters
Alternatives to PB and J
It won you over when it first showed up in your lunch box in all its gooey goodness. From school cafeteria to corner office, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a lunchtime staple that never loses its appeal.
Click through the slideshow to learn about other nut butters to try if you have peanut allergies, or just want some lunchtime variety.
No Peanuts? No Problem
Nut allergies—especially peanuts—are increasingly common. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI), peanut allergy affects around 400,000 children in the United States.
And peanut allergies can be dangerous. The ACAAI reports that this is one of the food allergens most commonly associated with sudden and severe reactions such as anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening.
Fortunately, there are many nut and seed butter alternatives that will keep your sandwich tasty and allergies at bay.
Check with Doc
If you’re certain peanuts are the only nuts that trigger an allergic reaction, you can try alternate nut butters—but talk to your doctor first. If you or your child has a peanut allergy, chances are, you may also suffer from allergies to tree nuts like almonds, cashews, or hazelnuts.
According to the ACAAI, research indicates that between 28 percent and 50 percent of patients who have peanut allergies also are allergic to one or more tree nuts.
Butter Me Up
If you’re not allergic to tree nuts, you can choose from a number of heart-healthy nut butters. A wide-range of nut butters provide a variety of health benefits. Check your local grocery or health food store for:
Nut butters contain a number of important nutrients, including:
- healthful fats
- vitamins and minerals
- phytochemicals (which according to the American Cancer Society may help prevent cancer)
The specific nutrients of nut butters vary depending on type of nut. According to UC Berkeley, studies show that nuts help improve cholesterol levels, so researchers suspect that plain nut butters have the same benefits.
Check the Label
While all nut butters contain around 100 calories per tablespoon, not all nut butters contain healthful ingredients. Many brands contain only ground-up nuts, but some contain added salt and sugar. Some use partially hydrogenated oil—a source of unhealthy trans fats according to UC Berkeley. Be sure to check the label before selecting a nut butter.
Watch the Calories
Harvard Medical School (HMS) notes that while nuts are considered to be “nutritional powerhouses,” they’re also high in calories. Therefore, if you eat a lot of nuts or nut butters, cut back in other areas.
Don’t let fear of fat keep you away from trying nut butters, however. HMS emphasizes that eating just two ounces of nuts weekly can lower your risk of heart disease.
Go Nuts with No Nuts
If your allergies force you to keep your distance from all nuts, seed and soy nut butters are excellent alternatives. Sunflower seed butter is high in heart-healthy poly-unsaturated fats. According to UC Berkeley, soy nut butter (which tastes similar to peanut butter) is higher in protein and lower in fat than the average nut butter.
If your nut allergies are severe, ask your doctor to test for potential soy or seed intolerances before trying these options.
If you have a family history of nut allergies, play it safe. It’s important to check with your doctor if you or your child has even a minor allergic reaction to nuts. A mild past reaction may indicate a risk of a more severe future reaction.
While nut allergies can be a burden, you can prepare your favorite recipes with one of the many nut butter alternatives. So fix yourself a nut butter and jelly sandwich, pour a tall glass of milk, and enjoy a childhood favorite with only healthy repercussions.