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Healthy foods: nut butters

What is it? Did you know that nut butters may contain neither nuts nor butter … discuss! This is true in the case of the most popular and common of nut butters. Since peanuts are not actually nuts, and since nut butters don't really have much to do with "butter" as we usually think of it, peanut butter should probably be called "smashed legumes."

Sound appetizing? Not so much, right? "Nut butter" is simply a catchall name for nuts (or nut-like foods, such as peanuts and seeds) that have been crushed and blended. You'll find a variety of smashed and spreadable products on grocery store shelves - such as the butters of peanuts, almonds, cashews, macadamias, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, hazelnuts, soybeans, sesame (called tahini), and even hempseed.

What is it good for? If you've shelved peanut butter because of allergy worries, that's one thing. But if you're skipping it because of fat fears, that's just nutty! Though the fat and calorie count for a spoonful of the stuff may make you nervous about nut butters, their nutrient profiles make them worth it. Peanut butter, like other nut butters, contains very little saturated fat and no cholesterol. Instead, nut and seed butters supply mono- and polyunsaturated fats, which may help to lower levels of "bad" cholesterol and artery-hardening triglycerides. Nut butters could also be a boon to dieters: One study showed that people who eat nuts at least twice a week were at a lower risk for gaining weight than those who rarely eat nuts. Smear nut butters onto bread or crackers for a protein punch and a whole spread of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, including folate, vitamin E, iron, and calcium (especially in almond butter). Explore the labels of the different varieties, eyeballing the ingredient list for those without sugar or trans fats.

What does it taste like? Naturally, each nut butter tastes like its nut originators. With "natural" versions of nut butter, you'll taste the pure essence of the featured nut or seed. Without the stabilizers added in to conventional nut butters, you'll notice that the oil in natural nut butters will settle at the top of the jar. You'll have to put some muscle into mixing the oil around. Save the muscle and the mess: Try heating an open jar for a few seconds in the microwave to loosen the butter and make blending easier. As with any food containing nuts and seeds, stay away from the ones you know you are allergic to and let your friends and family know when you serve up nut butters.


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