ESTIMATED READING TIME 6 MINUTES
Nut butters are a simple healthy alternative to dairy
Sometimes it’s hard to think of quick, healthy options to fit in with a busy life. This is why we’re launching our ‘Simple Swaps’ series. Today we’re highlighting one of our favourites: nut butters.
In our opinion, nuts are often overlooked. This is a shame because they’re literally packed to the hilt with health benefits. Think protein, gut-friendly fibre, antioxidants and of course healthy fats. It’s probably for this last reason that some people even now shy away from nuts. For decades, out-of-date and scientifically inaccurate nutrition advice has told people to reduce the amount of fats in their diet. This has completely ignored the fact that some types of fat are incredibly beneficial. Certain fats are called essential fatty acids, a clue that like vitamins and minerals, you can’t do without them. You might know them as omega 3 and omega 6. Walnuts are especially rich in omega 3; other nuts contain omega 6. Even non-essential fatty acids such as monounsaturated fats – found in olive oil but also nuts – have great health benefits.
Because fat contains more calories weight for weight than either carbohydrates and protein, it was long believed eating fat causes weight gain. We now know this isn’t the case. Weight control has far more to do with how sensitive your cells are to insulin than simply the number of calories you consume. Both monounsaturated fatty acids and essential fats found in nuts can help keep your cells sensitive to insulin 1. This allows better blood sugar control and effective burning off of the food you eat for energy, rather than storing it away as fat. One study showed eating almond butter was associated with better blood glucose control 2. Because of their protein and fibre content, eating nuts also means you won’t feel hungry as soon after eating.
One thing to remember is essential fats are quite unstable, especially when they’re exposed to light and heat. This is why most food companies remove these fats from processed foods. Otherwise, they would cause the food to spoil far faster than commercial shelf lives require.
Nuts are also great sources of potassium, magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese, iron vitamin E and some B vitamins, depending on the type of nut. Brazil nuts are an excellent source of selenium, although the amount they contain depends on where they are grown. This nutrient tends to be low in many soils, including in the UK, so many people are deficient.
Nuts are naturally rich in antioxidants: they are there to stop the fats from spoiling. These antioxidants can be used by your body to protect its own cells, too. But it’s worth remembering nuts should be eaten when they’re fresh. If not, those healthy fats can turn rancid, making them less than healthy by the time they’re eaten.
You might have noticed peanuts haven’t been mentioned yet. This is because believe it or not peanuts are very different from the other nuts talked about so far. In fact, they aren’t actually nuts at all – they are classed as legumes and grow underground. They’re often connected with allergies, although scientists don’t fully understand why. If you can tolerate peanuts, then they’re a great source of many B vitamins, plus mono-and-polyunsaturated fatty acids, although they don’t contain any omega 3.
So, why not take the goodness of nuts and eat them in a concentrated form? Bring on nut butters! At their simplest, they contain fresh nuts squashed into a paste, with their natural oils creating a spreadable consistency. Nut butters are available in cashew, hazelnut, walnut, pistachio, and Brazil nut varieties. You can even find pumpkin, hemp and sunflower seed butters, although since these are seeds, we’ll just mention them in passing because they are so delicious.
It’s worth bearing in mind that as with all pre-prepared foods, all nut butters are not the same. Even if it’s originally made out of a healthy ingredient, you don’t want to be eating something containing added sugar (yes, really!) excess salt (you can always add your own), modified fats, colourings, flavourings or preservatives. So check the label. Of course, if you want really fresh, tasty nut butters, they are simplicity itself to make if you have a blender. Use your nuts as soon as possible after purchase and keep them fresh by storing in the fridge.
Nut butter are so versatile. For lots of ways to use nut butters and recommendations from our nutritionists, head over to our Instagram live for inspiration. If you’d like some more personal advice, we are always here for you. Find out more here.
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