Are All Nut Butters Created Equal?

Peanut. Almond. Cashew. Natural. Organic. Conventional. Which is best?

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When I was growing up, peanut butter seemed to be the only option as far as nut butters went. I also remember my mother buying the natural type long before I was ready to give up my conventional brand. Boy, how times have changed. Today, there are so many options available: from almond to cashew butter; creamy to crunchy; organic to conventional. How can consumers know they are making the best choice when they hit the supermarket?

Below is a comparison of various nut butters, with no salt added. I am including sunflower butter even though technically it is made from a seed. One serving—2 tablespoons—of each packs:

Nut Calories Total Fat Saturated Fat Fiber Protein
Almond 190 16 1.5 4 7
Cashew 190 15 3 2 5
Peanut 190 16 2 3 8
Soy 200 14 2 2 10
Sunflower 200 16 2 4 3

As you can see, nutritionally, they are all pretty equal. What does differ? The ingredients on the label. Natural brands almost always have only one to two ingredients: nuts and salt. Conventional types usually include added sugar and hydrogenated oils, also known as trans fats. And believe it or not, most organic brands include palm oil and evaporated cane juice, another word for sugar. That's why I always reach for natural varieties. I don't understand why a delicious nut needs any disguising. If the separation of oil bothers you with the natural kind, store it upside down.

I also look for butters with no added salt, but here, I don't always have luck.

As for which nuts are best: I like that almonds and sunflower seeds have the most fiber. But then again, peanuts and soy nuts have the most protein. All nuts are rich in monounsaturated fats, which research has shown may reduce the risk of heart disease and help lower "bad" LDL cholesterol levels.

No matter what type of nut butter you choose, make sure you don't stray from the serving size: All types are high in calories. While I'm not usually a stickler for measuring portions—I tend to just eyeball it—in this case I suggest you actually use your tablespoon.

There are so many ways to enjoy nut butters: on a sandwich, in oatmeal, on crackers, with an apple or pear, in a smoothie. I have to admit my favorite way is straight from the jar with a spoon. I do use a teaspoon for portion control, and I don't eat more than two mouthfuls. Lately, I am in crunchy peanut butter mode, much to my husband's chagrin since he prefers creamy. However, because he doesn't have as much self-discipline as I do in the portion department, it's probably best that I'm not buying him his favorite.

So, which nut butter should you choose? I think it comes down to taste preference; you really can't go wrong with any of them, the natural ones at least. Oh, and if you are like my husband, go easy with the spoon.

Keri Gans, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian, media personality, spokesperson, and author of The Small Change Diet. Gans's expert nutrition advice has been featured in Glamour, Fitness, Health, Self and Shape, and on national television and radio, including The Dr. Oz Show, Good Morning America, ABC News, Primetime, and Sirius/XM Dr. Radio.

Keri Gans
Keri Gans