Nuts, nut butters and seeds are a pantry essential that most of us couldn’t live without (unless you have an allergy, of course). Packed with protein, fiber and healthy monounsaturated fats, these tasty treats can be an inexpensive protein source that’s incredibly versatile and nutritious.
But, to reap their benefits, it’s important to ignore the food labels on the front of the package and instead read the ingredients to know what’s really in your food and how processed it is. To help simplify your shopping experience, we’re sharing things to look for and avoid when shopping for nuts, nut butters (like peanut butter) and seeds in today’s Healthy Staples Roundup.
We’ll start with nut butters because they’re the most processed of the pack.
When shopping at the grocery store, a common theme you’ll find is that A LOT of the big-name companies (the ones that you and your kids would typically gravitate to) use sneaky words to trick us (the consumer) into thinking that their product is actually a healthy, real-food nut butter. Sadly, many of these nut butters contain anywhere from 4 to over 14 unnecessary ingredients.
Some say natural but contain ingredients that are ANYTHING but natural. Some say they’re sweetened with honey, but honey is the last ingredient listed (yes, after high fructose corn syrup and sugar). Others don’t even say exactly what they are, which leads you to wonder, are they a nut butter, a spread… or something else? The most frustrating thing is, almost every brand uses big pictures of nuts on the label to lead you to believe they’re the real deal.
To help you avoid the less stellar jars and find the best nut butter, look for the following ingredients
The nut, or a combination of nuts, ground up into nutty goodness, that’s it! And maybe a limited amount of salt. Yep, it’s THAT SIMPLE!
Some markets and grocery stores have a machine that will grind nuts into nut butter with the push of a button, right before your eyes! Check it out; it’s not only fun for you to watch but can be a neat way to include and show children where their nut butter comes from!
So in a nutshell (no pun intended), here's what to steer clear of when it comes to nut butters:
- Avoid nut butter spreads. It should say “nut butter” not “nut butter spread.” Spreads consist of less than 90% nuts and who knows what else?!
- Avoid nut butters with added sweeteners, such as sugar, corn syrup or molasses.
- Avoid nut butters with added oils, such as hydrogenated vegetable oils.
- Basically, avoid anything other than nut butters made with just the nut.
A perfect example of what to look for versus what to avoid
Now, let’s pretend you’re in the grocery store and you’re looking for peanut butter. When you get to the nut butter aisle, you notice that there are quite a few options with various labels and different marketing messages. Some say peanut butter, others state that they’re a peanut butter spread and then there are the ones that don’t say either, they simply showcase a picture of peanuts on the front of the jar.
- The peanut butter spread seems promising with the message: “no preservatives, artificial flavors or coloring; made with honey.”
- The picture with peanuts piques your interest by proclaiming “fresh roasted peanut taste and reduced-fat.”
- Then there’s the option that simply states 100% natural peanut butter, with no promises or blatant marketing terms to appeal to your desire to eat healthy, real food.
Which should you choose?
Remember, the key is to ignore the tricky marketing tactics, look past the label and check the ingredients listed.
- The peanut butter spread ingredient list: Roasted Peanuts, Palm Oil, Peanut Oil, Salt, Sugar, Honey.
- The ingredient list for the “nut butter” which simply displays a picture of nuts: Peanuts, Corn Syrup Solids, Sugar, Pea Protein, Contains 2% Or Less Of: Salt, Fully Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils (Rapeseed And Soybean), Mono And Diglycerides, Molasses, Magnesium Oxide, Niacinamide, Ferric Orthophosphate, Zinc Oxide, Copper Sulfate, Folic Acid, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride.
- The 100% peanut butter option ingredient list: One ingredient… the nut itself.
The 100% peanut butter is the winner. This is the real-food option. 100% peanut butter. That’s it!
Sadly, today’s manufacturers (even the “all-natural” brands advertising themselves as healthy) pack their products with sugar, additives, unnecessary emulsifiers and other ingredients you simply don’t want or need. Reading the ingredients list is only way to know what’s actually used to make that food and to make an informed choice as a consumer.
Now, moving on to the simpler side of things: What to look for when it comes to nuts and seeds
- Avoid eating nuts or seeds, raw or roasted, with added oils or ingredients.
- Look for the nut or seed itself (limited amounts of salt are okay).
Topping your salad with nuts, fruit and cheese
One of the best ways to get your family on board with eating salad is by topping it with a combination of nuts, fresh fruit and cheese.
Nuts add an AMAZING crunch to your salad and are packed with flavor and healthy fats. If your family is resistant to gobbling down a salad, the flavor, and texture of roasted nuts might just change their mind.
Adding fresh fruit to your salad not only makes it fun (it’s not just a bunch of veggies), it adds the perfect amount of sweetness and can even minimize the amount of salad dressing you use.
Cheese can also make a huge difference when it comes to eating a salad. The best part is that there are so many varieties to choose from that you and your family will never get bored.
Perfectly paired fruit, cheese and nut combos to top any salad
- Cheese: aged cheddar, baby Swiss, mozzarella, parmesan
- Fruit: apples, blueberries, clementines, dried fruits such as cranberries, mandarin oranges,
- raspberries, strawberries
- Cheese: blue
Pecans and walnuts
- Cheese: blue, brie, feta, goat, gorgonzola
- Fruit: apples, blueberries, dried fruits such as cranberries, figs, peaches, pears, pomegranates, strawberries
- Other: beets, honey
- Cheese: goat, blue, gorgonzola, parmesan
- Fruit: apples, blueberries, clementines, dried fruits such as cranberries, pears, pomegranates, raspberries, strawberries
- Other: beets
Toasted pine nuts
- Cheese: feta, goat, parmesan
- Fruit: dried fruits such as cranberries and apricots, figs, watermelon
- Other: kalamata olives, sun-dried tomatoes
A few fun facts about nuts and seeds
- Nuts and seeds are a tasty way to top your salads rather than using croutons.
- Chia seeds have countless health benefits and help you feel fuller longer. We eat them daily and add them to anything from eggs, yogurt and smoothies to salads, casseroles and avocado toast.
- Adding healthy fats, such as a tablespoon of nut butter, chia seeds or an ounce of nuts/seeds to your meals can help you stay fuller longer. Just keep portion control in mind!
- You can store your seeds, especially ground seeds, in your fridge in an airtight container for freshness.
Some real-food recipes using nuts and seeds:
- Easy to Make Key Lime Pie with Almond Crust
- Chicken Thai Salad with Peanut Sauce
- Pad Thai with Peanut Sauce
- Sensational Spring Rolls (with Thai Peanut Sauce)
- Apricot Almond Granola Bars
- Banana Bread Breakfast Smoothie
- The Ultimate Snack Combination (Filling + Improves Digestive Health)
- Post-Workout Protein Cookies
- Chocolate Peanut Butter Nice Cream (Dairy-Free + Vegan + Sugar-Free)
Take action today
- Take inventory of your pantry and eliminate nut butter spreads or nut butters with added oils or sugars. Replace them with 100% natural nut butter containing only the nut and limited salt.
- Take inventory of your pantry and eliminate any nuts with added oils or ingredients other than limited amounts of salt.
To learn more about real-food basics, check out the rest of our Healthy Staples!