One of my favorite indulgences is almond butter. I eat it almost every day… I’ll put a scoop in my morning oats, in my smoothies, and spread it on celery.
When I was growing up, we always had a jar of Peter Pan Peanut Butter in the house. To me, that sweet heavily-processed spread was the only real peanut butter there was – and I really didn’t realize until well into my 20’s that there are MUCH healthier options out there.
Today, the nut butter section is one of the most confusing sections in the grocery store. You’ve got creamy, crunchy, no-stir, stir, reduced fat, sweetened, unsweetened, palm oil, no palm oil, raw, roasted, natural, and organic. It’s no wonder that one of most popular questions I get is what brand of nut butter I use.
In this post, I’m going to walk you through practically every brand of nut butter that you’ll see on the shelf and tell you what I look for. And, the absolute first thing I look at is the ingredient list.
Nut butter should only contain nuts (and perhaps sea salt).
Flip over all the major brands of nut butter and read the ingredients. It’s common to find hydrogenated oils (soybean and cottonseed) or palm oil added, which is used to keep it from separating on the shelf and keeps it fresh without refrigeration. This may be more convenient, but those heavily processed and refined oils are not good for your health.
Also, you’ll usually find sugar added to nut butter, which is an ingredient that most people eat way too much of. If you are eating nut butter on a regular basis, you especially want to make sure it is not sweetened. Occasionally, I may choose an organic nut butter that’s sweetened with coconut sugar (such as JEM brand), but I would treat this as a dessert. My everyday nut butter doesn’t contain any added sugars – just nuts!
Let me give you a perfect example. Jif has three types of peanut butter (regular, Simply, and Natural) that all contain white sugar and additional oils.
Other popular brands such as Skippy, Peter Pan, and Reese’s are also filled with hydrogenated oils and white sugar.
Avoid “No Stir” nut butters which contain added oils.
Barney Butter, Justin’s, and Jif Almond Butter may sound healthier, but they also add oils to their nut butters so that stirring isn’t required.
The oil in nuts naturally separate in the jar and float to the top, that is why you have to stir it the first time you use it. This can be messy, but one trick I’ve found is to store an unopened jar upside down in your pantry. When you’re ready to open and use it, it is much easier to stir without making a mess because the oil has largely incorporated into the butter and settled at the bottom of the jar, instead of the top. After stirring, make sure to store the opened jar in your fridge.
Look for Nut butters that are 100% organic… don’t let the “natural” label guide you
Some brands (Adams, Smucker’s, Crazy Richards, Trader Joe’s, and Kirkland) make nut butters with only nuts, but they are not certified organic. It’s very important to choose organic nut butter because conventional nuts and peanuts are known to be heavily treated with synthetic pesticides and fungicides. Especially when it comes to peanuts because they are a legume (not technically a nut) and their pods grow underground, which allows pesticides to be more readily absorbed and concentrated. Couple that with the fact that peanuts are often rotated with cottonseed crops (1) (the world’s most pesticide-ridden crop) and you’ve got a breeding ground for massive pesticide contamination. (2)
Conventional almonds and peanuts can be contaminated with Piperonyl Butoxide (3) a pesticide ingredient that is classified by the EPA as a possible human carcinogen (4) and linked to liver damage. Conventional almonds can also be contaminated with Chlorpyrifos (5), a controversial pesticide which is a neurotoxin. (6) Glyphosate (Roundup) herbicide is used on conventional peanuts and nuts (7) – and it’s known to cause cancer (8). Products are usually not tested for these chemicals, but residues of glyphosate have been found in Skippy Natural Peanut Butter. (9)
The best nut butters are both Raw & Organic.
There are several organic brands with one ingredient (which is good), but they are made with roasted nuts instead of raw nuts. If it doesn’t specifically say the nuts are “Raw” on the label, it is safe to assume the nuts are roasted. Roasted nut butters taste really good, I’m not going to lie – but if you want to choose the best one, raw nuts are healthiest because…
- Roasting can damage the healthy fats that are found in nuts. One of the greatest health benefits of nuts are the healthy polyunsaturated fats they contain, so you don’t want those destroyed! When nuts are roasted at high temperature or for a long time these fats can oxidize, a process that generates free radicals. (10). Free radicals are renegade molecules that damage cells in the body.
- Oftentimes, “roasted nuts” are not actually roasted but fried in oils. These oils end up in the finished product.
- Roasted nuts may contain fewer antioxidants and nutrients like vitamin E which are prevalent in almonds.
- Roasting at high temperatures may produce harmful substances like acrylamide, which is linked to cancer.
When it comes to peanut butter, it’s a bit more tricky.
Raw peanuts may be contaminated with Aspergillus flavus, a type of mold which produces the cancerous toxin aflatoxin. (11) Roasting peanuts prohibits the production of aflatoxin and may also reduce aflatoxin content (12) – so roasting may make peanuts safer to eat. Also, the fat found in peanuts is fairly heat resistant and less likely to oxidize. (13) It’s rare to find raw peanut butter on the market, but you can make it at home.
Note: All almonds grown in the U.S. are pasteurized (typically with steam if they are organic) to destroy any pathogens such as salmonella. So there are not any truly raw U.S. almonds, but they are not cooked to the extent of roasted almonds. Beware that if the almonds are NOT organic, they may be pasteurized with the toxic chemical propylene oxide – which is classified as a probable human carcinogen. (14) Yet another reason to only choose organic!
Three steps to finding the healthiest nut butter:
- Only contains nuts (and perhaps sea salt)
- Is certified organic. Look for the USDA organic seal on the label.
- The nuts and seeds are raw (not roasted), with the exception of peanut butter. It will say specifically on the jar that it is “raw”.
Some brands make conventional and raw organic versions, so you need to be very careful when shopping.
For example, the brand MaraNatha makes conventional almond butters, but also has a raw organic version that I like. The packaging looks NEARLY IDENTICAL, which is why reading the ingredient list is so important.
My picks for the best nut butters & seed butters:
To make it super easy for you, here’s a list of brands that meet my criteria. I personally buy the Artisana Organics brand often – which is found in natural grocery stores and online. If you have a nut allergy, I also listed my picks for seed butters. This includes pumpkin seed butter, which many people find better tasting than sunflower seed butter.
Want more shopping cheat-sheets like this?
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Know anyone who still buys Jif or Skippy peanut butter? Please share this post with them. The sooner that people learn the truth about this pantry staple, the better!
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