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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.


Here's my cashew butter! I added about a quarter teaspoon of peanut oil while blending to make it easy to spread. (Photo by Charlie Huget)

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.


I also made almond butter, which I spread on apple slices for a snack. (Photo by Charlie Huget)

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.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  May 5, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
 
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Comments

Nuts are staples in my diet. A peanut butter and honey or jam sandwich is the world's quickest on-the-go breakfast. I love to add toasted nuts to salads and to oatmeal. I love that nuts add protein, fiber, minerals and other nutrients. I consider that they're not only rounding out the flavors of a dish but that they're one component of eating a well-rounded diet. Adding them to other dishes is also a way to limit the amount I eat since they are pretty calorie dense.

Posted by: esleigh | May 5, 2009 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Ok, it helps that I really love peanut butter. It conjures the warm and cuddlies from the days of my mom packing me a PBJ lunch. But now that I'm packing my own lunch and old enough to see a dietitian about changing my diet, I was so relieved that the dietitian applauded my favorite breakfast -- peanut butter on whole wheat toast. It honestly hadn't occurred to me to make my own nut butters, but this article has me thinking that maybe I should give it a try.

Posted by: MadAboutNews | May 5, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Remember, your mileage may vary depending on your food processor/blender.. Alas, this is one area where those overpriced "will blend a hockey puck" type of souped up home appliances will actually be worth their money.

I still buy from the store. Probably a life time of almond/cashew butter will add up to the cost of those pricey gadgets, with less clean up and no counter space loss.

Posted by: k5user | May 5, 2009 12:24 PM | Report abuse

I cannot get through a day without eating nuts lately. My favorite are hazelnuts or filberts and on Sunday I made Hazelnut Butter and dried cherry, Hemp protein powder and gluten free oat Protein Bars with buckwheat honey and cacao nibs.

Last night I made a chocolate pumpkin gluten free cake and the frosting was made by melting an 85% cacao chocolate bar with a heaping tablespoon of peanut butter, three tablespoons of butter, stevia and a little sugar. When it was all melted I poured it on top of the cake, after I punched holes in it with a toothpick. Even our son loved it. Last week I made a cake using almond butter and a large cacao bar. then I dotted the top with walnuts. When they are raw, they are loaded with enzymes.
Nothing like almonds or walnuts, pumpkins seeds or pecans with apple slices and baby carrots for a mid afternoon snack or a car ride snack. I always keep some in my gym bag. I pre-measure so as not to over do it. It is a great thing to offer a repair person who comes to the house with an apple. I just did. He just cleaned or did a preventative maintenance on all my refrigerators, hot water heater and dishwasher. Can't let him work on an empty stomach.

Posted by: Lydiasings | May 5, 2009 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Nuts and nut butters can be expensive. Here is some advice:

Almond butter can vary in price from $5 to $20 for about the same amount (I get $5 jars from Trader Joe's).

Better priced and nuts can be purchased online and from ethnic grocery shops.

It's a good idea to buy in bulk and then keep your nuts in your fridge or freezer if possible to maintain the quality.

Almond butter with honey on a bagel is amazing...

Posted by: kimk1 | May 5, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

But perhaps the walnuts and butter is not fattening?, I imagine that is one way to do it naturally but if so we should consume more of these products. But if a dietitian is recommended for a baby or anyone should give it anyway and often.
Herbal Remedies
http://www.naturals-products.com

Posted by: HerbalRemedies | May 5, 2009 5:56 PM | Report abuse

Keep in mind that roasting somewhat reduces the nutrient content of the nut. Unroasted nuts make perfectly good butter.

And Trader Joe's has some excellent nut butters in their lineup, including a no-added-salt/no-added-oil raw almond butter that is now a staple in my kitchen.

Posted by: DupontJay | May 5, 2009 6:50 PM | Report abuse

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