Keeping your cholesterol under control can be tough, particularly when you’re still unsure of which foods are good for your heart and which should be off-limits. Fortunately for everyone who loves peanut, almond, and other nut butters, these creamy treats are fairly healthy, and certainly can’t hurt your cholesterol, as long as they do not contain hydrogenated fat.

Why nuts?

Many high-fat foods are similarly high in cholesterol — think bacon and full-fat cheese. But being high in fat doesn’t necessarily mean cholesterol will follow. As a matter of fact, we get cholesterol only from animal products. So, fatty plant foods like nuts and avocados have virtually no cholesterol at all!

According to the American Heart Association, nuts are high in protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Some of them, like walnuts, are also a good source of omega-3 fats, which are great for heart health.

So when it comes to grinding these nuts up and spreading them on your bread, what’s the best bet?

Comparing nut butters

The three most popular nut butters are peanut butter, almond butter, and cashew butter. We’ve compared them side-by-side to find out which packs the best nutritional punch. And it turns out, the race is pretty close.

We compared 1 tablespoon of each unsalted natural nut butter.

Almond butterCashew butterPeanut butter (smooth)
Cholesterol, mg000
Protein, g3.352.813.55
Carbohydrates, g3.014.413.57
Total fat, g8.887.918.22
Saturated fat, g0.6641.5621.652
Monounsaturated fat, g5.1914.6604.151
Polyunsaturated fat, g2.1781.3372.006

As you can see, there isn’t a clear winner, and none contain any cholesterol! It’s worth noting the differences, though:

  • Cashew butter doesn’t pack as much protein, but it’s got less total fat.
  • Almond butter’s got the most calories, but it contains less saturated fat (which you don’t want) and more polyunsaturated fat (which improves cholesterol levels).
  • Peanut butter wins on protein, and the figure doubles when you choose chunky!

With similar calorie counts, nutrient breakdowns, and low saturated fat levels, any one would be a healthful choice, in moderation.

Read your labels

It’s important to note that not all nut butters are equal. Different brands may add different ingredients during the manufacturing process. Some dump in additional sugar and oils. The best advice: Look for those with minimal ingredients overall and no hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fat.

Compare a few labels when you’re in the nut butter aisle to make sure you’re getting the most nutritional bang for your buck. An example of a healthful choice: MaraNatha Organic Raw Almond Butter. It contains no added salt, sugar, or oils, just 100 percent almonds.

Nut butter cousins

What about options that have nuts in them but aren’t true nut butters? Most often, you’ll see these spreads with chocolate, maple, or vanilla flavors. And you may have heard of Nutella.

While these spreads may have some health benefits because of their inclusion of nuts, they usually contain a lot more sugar and calories than true nut butters. In other words, use them sparingly.

The takeaway

If cholesterol is a concern of yours, nuts are safe for you. Remember, they are relatively high in calories, so spread some on an apple or use them in recipes, but keep your portions under control.