Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Better Butter

A Better Butter
Sarah Reid, RHNC

Not many people make it through their childhood years without a taste of peanut butter. From the classic PB & J to Reese’s cups, the kid friendly spread has woven its way into the hearts and stomachs of the world. Likeable as it is, peanut butter is not always the best option for your morning toast. Allergies aside, many commercially prepared peanut butters come with a hefty dose of hydrogenated vegetable or soy oil, sugar (or HFCS) and salt. Compared with an equal amount its “raw” state, a serving (2 tbsp) of peanut butter has twice the saturated fat, a gram less fibre, 2 grams of extra sugars and a whopping 140 mg more sodium! Other than scant amounts of trace minerals and B vitamins, peanuts don’t provide much nutrition on their own either, especially when compared to their “true nut” relatives (peanuts are technically a legume like soybeans). There are many more options available to tempt your palate! Any nut or seed can be ground into “butter”, and they all offer unique health boosts which intensify due to the cellular breakdown the grinding process has on many of the nutrients. Since both true nuts and seeds are less likely to be a source of allergic reactions, many even rich in anti-inflammatory elements, they are a healthy and delicious addition to your pantry.

This relatively mild-flavoured, versatile butter is on average lower in sodium and has half the saturated fat of peanut butter. It is also high in magnesium, potassium, vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids, and contains the heart-protecting amino acid arginine as well as eight times the calcium of peanut butter. These nutrients help to protect bones, muscles and nerves, as well as helping to maintain a strong immune system.

This rich, creamy spread is high in energy-supporting iron and protein, while containing less fat than other “butters”. B vitamins, zinc, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and oleic acid also pack the decadent blend, keeping the body’s metabolism rate high and maintaining (or improving) skin and muscle tone (which can help keep the look of cellulite away!). These nutrients also help to improve the immune response, protect the nervous system, reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol and lower the risk of heart attack.

Incredibly high in Omega-3 fatty acids, as little as one (2-tbsp) serving a day can lead to lower cholesterol and risk of cardiovascular problems. Walnuts have even shown to be more effective than the common “good fat” olive oil when it came to protecting the blood vessels and organs from damage caused by toxin-laden diets (full of foods high in saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar and preservatives, with few phytonutrients and little fibre). The α-linolenic acid in the nuts keeps the blood vessels resilient and also helps to dislodge cholesterol plaques before they have the chance to oxidize and become poisonous to the system.

Pecans get a gold star in the area of cellular health. With the most antioxidants of any nut, pecan butter is a good addition to any anti-aging, cancer-prevention or even post-holiday “detox” eating plan. Filled with vitamins A, B-complex, and E, pecans have been shown to reduce the toxic buildup of “bad” LDL cholesterol by 33%. The rich, bitter-sweet spread made from the whole nuts also contains their impressive content of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc and fibre. Just one tablespoon has 25% more heart-protecting oleic acid than the same serving of olive oil.

Like peanut butter, soynut butter is technically not a “nut” based spread (being made from roasted soy beans called “soy nuts”). It is much lower in total and saturated fat than true nut butters, but also contains significant amounts of protein, fibre, and phyto-nutrients including isoflavones. These isoflavones have been proven to prevent bone loss, prevent menopause and PMS symptoms, combat certain types of cancerous tumours, control blood sugar and even lower cholesterol. It is a similar texture and flavor to peanut butter and is particularly good in recipes calling for peanut butter.

This is a relatively runny puree of sesame seeds, usually used as an ingredient in dishes such as hummus and sesame noodles. This “butter” is relatively mild, with a slightly toasty edge some have described as verging on bitter. It has much less saturated fat than peanut butter while supplying ¾ of the protein, and also contains a wealth of magnesium, iron, phosphorus, vitamins B1, B6, folate, selenium, and zinc. Tahini is incredibly high in calcium and fibre due to its base seed makeup, and is also rich in the detoxifying amino acid methionine.

Still fairly unknown in the common market, this greenish spread is lower in carbohydrates, saturated fat, sodium and sugar than peanut butter. It is very high in iron and essential fatty acids which have been linked to lower risk of clinical depression.  The taste is a unique one similar to a mixture of pumpkin seeds, pine nuts and cashews, and does better when paired with other flaours (such as jam) in a sandwich.

Sunflower seed butter, or “sunbutter” is a good spread for those who suffer from migraines or muscle spasms to have in their pantry. It is packed with vitamin E and iron (70% of vitamin E, 8% of iron in 2 tbsp). Sunbutter also contains double the fiber and muscle-relaxing magnesium, and equivalent protein compared to peanut butter, and offers a rich, “toasty” flavour.

Whether you pick a nut, seed or bean, these alternatives to common peanut butter provide a rainbow of tastes, textures and nutrients that are a joy to explore. Pick one, or pick a few – and enjoy a better bread spread.

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About Me

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I started my "working life" as a holistic and allopathic nutritional consultant with a love of cooking. Teaching the value of wholesome meal choices to families became close to my heart after I battled a long history of struggles with weight and health, and the passion for teaching led me into where I am now. My blog, which focuses on "bringing good taste to healthier food" through creative use of whole grains, fresh produce and acknowledging the importance of the occasional treat, also features a wealth of "specialty diet" friendly recipes for gluten-, egg-, dairy- and sugar- tree nut-free items that everyone can enjoy without alienating those who need them.

Overall, I want to bring back the desire for good quality, homemade, (mostly) healthy food into the hearts and kitchens of families so that the next generation will be less box-reliant than mine. I firmly believe that any “homemade” food, even when labelled as "naughty", is a more wholesome treat than pre-packaged, cookie-cutter junk. With the knowledge of good food (and how to cook good food) as a base, a healthy lifestyle can follow, and then anything is possible!