We can now spread our bread with healthy new takes on the nutty stuff. HFG senior nutritionist Rose Carr checks the store shelves.
Many of us have fond childhood memories of licking creamy peanut butter off a spoon — but if you developed a taste for this rich spread more recently, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the tasty new interpretations on offer.
Today, you can find a wide range of nut butters at both health-food stores and supermarkets. But buyer beware: Some of these smooth operators are more like sugar spreads than nut butters.
To make peanut butter and other nut spreads, food manufacturers simply roast nuts and grind them into a thick, rich paste. That’s all there is to a good nut butter, but bear in mind that other varieties can be hiding less-than-healthy added ingredients.
Salt and sugar are the usual suspects, but peanut butters also contain varying amounts of vegetable oils. These keep the product consistent year round, as the oil content of peanuts changes with the seasons. Other common additives include stabilisers and emulsifiers. These stop the natural oils from separating from the solids, giving products a smooth, spreadable consistency.
Some peanut butters, such as those from Sanitarium and Macro Wholefoods Market, don’t have added vegetable oils, emulsifiers or stabilisers. This means you’ll sometimes see a little peanut oil sitting on top of the spread. (Just stir it in before eating.)
Other nut and seed butters
Want to bring delicious diversity and more ‘good’ fats to your diet? Keep an eye out for brands such as Mayver’s, Melrose and Macro Wholefoods Market. Their spreads are made from nuts and seeds, including almonds, cashews, pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and sunflower seeds. You can also find nutty blends, such as ABC spread (a combo of almonds, Brazil nuts and cashews), as well as several varieties of tahini (sesame-seed paste).
One of the best things about these spreads is their versatility. Enjoy them on toast or as a dip for vegies; you can even stir them into salad dressings — go nuts!
If a nut-butter label says peanut butter, the product must be at least 85 per cent peanuts. If you read labels carefully, you’ll notice that ‘light’ products are labelled as peanut spreads because they contain fewer peanuts.
Kraft and Woolworths Select regular peanut butters are 85 to 88 per cent peanuts, whereas their light peanut spreads are roughly 63 per cent peanuts. So what’s the other 20 per cent? It’s vegetable oil, sugar and salt, but it’s mostly maltodextrin, a starch-derived food additive that extends the product.
If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s better to eat a small amount of natural peanut butter than to eat a ‘light’ product with a filler.
Nutritionally, hazelnut spreads have much more in common with chocolate than they do with other nut spreads. A jar of Nutella, for example, reads hazelnut spread with cocoa, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is a healthy product. Nutella is 54 per cent sugar, which is why it’s the first (main) ingredient on the label. Only 13 per cent of this spread is hazelnuts. Ignore creative claims on packaging; you’ll find the real story on the ingredients lists and nutrition information panels.
Think of so-called hazelnut spreads as chocolate spreads, and consider whether you want your children eating chocolate on toast for breakfast, as some ads for these products suggest. Instead of indulging in hazelnut spreads every day, reserve them for times when you want a treat.
Technically, peanuts are legumes. Nuts, seeds and legumes (such as beans and chickpeas) are rich in heart-healthy fats, fibre, folate, protein and vitamins B and E.
Nut butters are a tasty way to enjoy these nutritional benefits, and they’re also incredibly filling. Of course, the best spreads are those with the fewest additives.
Many nut spreads have added salt. One tablespoon (20g) of a no-added-salt natural peanut butter contains virtually no salt. In contrast, standard peanut butters that have added salt, such as the Kraft and Sanitarium varieties, provide 116mg and 120mg of sodium respectively.
Nut butters often contain added sugar. Both Sanitarium and Kraft produce special varieties that are free from added sugar, which means their nut content is high. This makes them healthy choices that can also help us curb our cravings for super-sweet foods.
Energy and fat
Nuts and seeds are naturally high in kilojoules, as they’re around 50 per cent fat, most of which is the ‘good’ unsaturated variety. One tablespoon (20g) of nut spread provides roughly 420 to 570kJ (about 100 to 140cal) and 8 to 12g of fat.
People who need to put on or maintain weight can enrich their eating plan with a variety of nut butters. But most of us should try to enjoy these energy-dense nutty spreads in moderation.
A good-quality nut butter is 100% nuts. Add 1 tablespoon to your meal for a protein boost.