By Jocelyn Boiteau, B.S.
Including nuts and peanuts as part of a healthy diet can help to reduce the risk of heart disease. Studies have shown they have heart-protective nutrients. These include:
Nuts and peanuts are good sources of monounsaturated fats. These are healthy fats. They help to lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol. Polyunsaturated fats, found in vegetable and fish oils, are also healthy fats. Research on the Mediterranean diet has shown the heart-healthy effects of choosing these healthy fats over the unhealthy saturated fats. These are found mostly in animal and dairy foods.
You can enjoy nuts and peanuts right from their shells, or in the form of nut and peanut butters.
Added ingredients in peanut and nut butters can quickly overshadow their health benefits. Most peanut butters and nut butters will have a similar number of calories per serving. To help you choose the best option, here are some helpful tips:
Chocolate nut spreads, such as Nutella, should not be confused for nut butters. The first ingredient in these spreads is often sugar. This makes these spreads higher in sugar and lower in protein than peanut and nut butters. A better option is a chocolate nut spread that has nuts as the first ingredient, such as Justin's Nut Butters.
Grocery stores are beginning to carry different kinds of nut butters. Almond and cashew butters are great alternatives to traditional peanut butter. Also, some of these nut butters are naturally lower in saturated fat than peanut butter (see the table below).
Nut-free alternatives are also becoming more available in stores. Soy nut butter and sunflower seed butters are good protein sources that are also rich in monounsaturated fats. This makes them great nut-free alternatives to peanut butter. Soy nut butter is made from roasted soybeans. And similar to peanuts and nuts, they are a good source of protein and healthy fats.
Store peanut and nut butter jars upside down in the refrigerator. This will prevent the natural oils from separating. If you see a layer of oil at the top when you open the jar, simply mix it back in.
You can compare the nutrition information for 2 tablespoons of different nut butters.
* Free of peanuts or tree nuts
Peanut butter makes a great snack. But peanut and nut butters can be part of a meal, too. For example:
Jocelyn Boiteau graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. in Nutritional Science. She is currently completing her dietetic internship at Brigham and Women's Hospital. She plans to become a registered dietitian.