Nuttin's Better than Nut Butters
In today's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column about a group of women who survived cancer and recently ran a half marathon, team leader Dr. Pamela Peeke told me that on race day the women got a big energy boost from eating peanut butter spread on a whole-wheat pita.
I'm a recent peanut-butter convert myself. I used to shun it because I thought it was too fattening. That was before I learned that the fat in peanuts (which aren't in fact nuts but legumes) and in actual nuts is good for your cardiovascular system; some research suggests that eating nuts helps may in fact help people manage their weight.
Among their many health benefits, nuts and peanuts are excellent sources of muscle-building, hunger-satisfying protein. While whole nuts may have a slight advantage over nut butters because they take longer to eat (so you're likely to eat less of these high-calorie treats), nut butters deliver the same nutrition and are easily paired with other healthful foods such as whole-grain breads and fruits.
My typical breakfast these days is a sliced apple with peanut butter plus a bowl of home-made yogurt swirled with a bit of honey. But as big a peanut-butter fan as I am, sometimes I yearn for variety.
So this weekend I played around with making my own nut butters. As this article explains, you can put just about any nuts in a blender and twirl them into a spreadable paste. Different nuts yield different tastes and textures.
Of course you can buy nut butters in grocery stores. But making your own gives you control over how much, if any, oil, salt and sugar you add.
I chose to make cashew butter and almond butter, for starters. Loosely following instructions I found on the Internet and adapting as needed, I turned out two small batches of very fresh, tasty spreads.
The recipe is simple: Place a cup or so of nuts in a food processor or blender. (I used my Magic Bullet.) Grind until they form a paste, stopping every so often to clear the blade with a rubber spatula. Add a few drops of peanut oil or canola oil to make the butter more spreadable, if desired. Add a pinch of salt, to taste. (I didn't feel the need to sweeten either butter.) Store in the fridge in airtight containers.
For the cashew butter, I started with a store-brand can of lightly salted halves and pieces (the cheapest choice). I didn't add more salt.
For the almond butter, I bought slivered nuts, which I spread on a baking sheet and toasted lightly in the oven before blending. Had I used whole nuts, the skins would have made the butter darker -- and would likely have reduced the amount of peanut oil I added, as the skins contain lots of oil. I still would have roasted them (5 minutes in a 400-degree oven). I'm going to go this route next time, as valuable flavonoids -- disease-fighting antioxidants -- are concentrated in the skins.
I spread some cashew butter on a whole-wheat bagel and some almond butter on apple slices. I can't wait to go back for more.
According to NutritionData.com, a tablespoon of almond butter has 101 calories and 9 grams of fat; a tablespoon of cashew butter has 94 calories and 8 grams of fat. (Turns out cashews, for all their rich taste, are among the lowest-fat nuts.)
I'm going to keep experimenting with nut butters. I hope you will, too. Let me know how yours turn out!
This week's poll:
Results of last week's poll: Only 18 percent of the 211 respondents said they tried to follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans as closely as possible, while 20 percent said they never give the Guidelines a thought, and 28 percent said they only think about them when they hear or see them mentioned. 24 percent said they try but find the Guidelines hard to follow. But scrap the Guidelines altogether? Only 7 percent thought that was the way to go.
NOTE: The Checkup will continue to cover general health and nutrition topics as the H1N1 influenza story unfolds. For the latest on the flu situation check the new Swine Flu Blog.
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