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  • Ask A Dietitian: What’s the Deal with Nut Butters?

    Posted April 4th, 2018 by

    Our expert dietitian Carolyn Williams shares her thoughts on "natural foods" and what that label does—or doesn't—mean to the consumer.

    One of the many advantages to joining the Cooking Light Diet is having access to our staff of professionals. In particular, members can tap into the expertise of our James Beard Award-winning lead dietitian, Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD, who’s been an instrumental part of the team since we launched our service in 2014. 

    As part of an effort to provide members with even more serviceable content to assist their respective journeys to good health, Dr. Williams will be answering questions posted in our Facebook Community. We wanted to know: If you could ask a dietitian anything, what would you ask? This is part four of an ongoing series.


    Cooking Light Diet member Elizabeth Striegl asked,

    “What’s the deal with nut butters? As a peanut butter lover, is there a reason I should be eating almond butter or cashew butter instead?”


    The nut butter market has exploded over the past 15 years. Your local grocery store options now extend far beyond creamy or crunchy. While peanut butter still leads the pack in terms of shelf real estate, a large portion of the nut butter section is now devoted to alternatives. There are options including almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, sunflower seeds, cashews, and macadamia nuts. So what’s the deal with those? Specifically in terms of healthfulness, selection, and how/if they fit into your diet when your primary goal is weight loss?

    Health Value

    The popularity of nut butters has surged partly due to increased rates of peanut allergies, but also because consumers desire more plant-based protein. And they’re looking to incorporate more nuts and “healthy” fats into their diets. Tree nuts are a good source of protein, unsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and vitamin E. Healthy eating guidelines recommend eating nuts several days a week, which mean nut butters, too. The idea there being that substituting nuts for saturated fats decreases the amount of harmful diet components while increasing those with potential positive effects. See the chart below for how peanut butter and popular nut butters compare nutritionally.

    Nut Butters and Weight Loss

    Nuts and nut butters are a concentrated source of calories and fat. Therefore, many people assume it’s best to avoid them when trying to decrease calories for weight loss. However, research actually suggests the opposite. In fact, regular tree nut intake is associated with greater weight loss when trying to lose weight and lower risk of weight gain. The key to consumption is portion control, but don’t be afraid to add nuts and nut butters to your regular daily or weekly food intake.

    Buying Tips

    Peanut and nut butters can vary in healthfulness. Here are a few things to check for on their product labeling.

    1. Some peanut and nut butters still use partially hydrogenated oils as a way to keep the butter from separating. These are a source of trans fats, though. There are plenty of options available without them. Just make sure you don’t see the word “hydrogenated” in the ingredients list.
    2. Sugars are still regularly added to sweeten peanut or nut butter, and the amounts can vary widely. Look for one without a sugar or sweetener listed in the ingredient list to avoid all added sugar. Or, if you want a touch of sweetness, look for a nut butter that has only 3 to 4g sugar per serving—one to two of which are attributed to natural sugars, not added.

    Cooking Light Diet member Victoria Bryant asked,

    “Is it true you shouldn’t eat past a certain time if you want to lose weight faster?”

    Most health professionals agree that the time of day you eat shouldn’t have an effect on weight loss or health—granted that you’re staying within your daily energy and nutrient needs. The total calories consumed matter a lot more than the time of day they’re consumed. However, there’s also research that possibly suggests individuals who eat most of their calories at night are at higher risk for obesity and metabolic issues. Some speculate that metabolic breakdown may change some at night, but others aren’t sure this excess weight is due to night eating so much as it is associated with higher calorie foods, larger portions, and less satiety.

    So what does this mean? There’s no magic hour to stop eating that’s best for weight loss or health. It’s generally agreed upon, though, that eating a few hours before going to bed is best for digestion, sleep, and metabolism. And if you do eat later or closer to bedtime, the key is choosing healthy options, watching portion sizes, and listening to your body’s cues.