Your choices in nut butters are a lot more interesting these days; no longer are “creamy” and “crunchy” peanut butter your only options. In the past six months, 28 percent of consumers said they had purchased spreads made from almonds, cashews, or other nuts or seeds, according to Mintel, a market research firm.

One reason for the interest is that people tend to assume that the other butters are a better source of filling protein than pedestrian peanut varieties. But they’re not. Two tablespoons of peanut butter have 7 grams of protein; the same size serving of cashew or almond butter has 4 grams and 7 grams, respectively.

Are there other nutritional reasons to step out of your culinary comfort zone when it comes to nut butters? Absolutely. All nuts (and peanuts, which are legumes) have similar amounts of calories and fat, but each one has a different health benefit.

Cashews, for instance, have more copper—which supports the immune system—than other nuts. One-fourth cup of whole cashews provides about 38 percent of the mineral you should get per day. Almonds are rich in vitamin E, a potent antioxidant that helps protect the body from the type of cell damage that may lead to cancer and heart disease. They’re also a decent source of bone-strengthening calcium. Just 2 tablespoons of almond butter provide 8 percent of your daily need.




A Long and Nutty Life

Research supports making any type of nut a regular part of your diet. In a study of almost 120,000 men and women, those who ate about an ounce of nuts every day were 20 percent less likely to die of any cause during the 30-year study period—and 29 percent and 11 percent less likely to die from heart disease and cancer, respectively—compared with people who didn’t eat nuts. Other research has linked nut consumption with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity.

What’s more, the fat in nuts is mostly the healthy kind. “The unsaturated fatty acids in nuts lower inflammation and reduce LDL [bad] cholesterol, which is beneficial in preventing heart disease,” says Ying Bao, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard’s medical school. They supply antioxidants that may help reduce cancer risk. And they provide nutrients that boost heart health, such as cholesterol-lowering fiber; potassium, which helps control blood pressure; and arginine, an amino acid that helps your body make nitric oxide, a compound that relaxes blood vessels. “The nutrients work together, enhancing the benefits of each.”

Some research has concluded that nuts and nut butters offer similar benefits. But a study from Maastricht University in the Netherlands that looked at peanuts and nuts separately from peanut butter found that nut intake was linked with lower mortality but that eating peanut butter wasn’t. The study said that may have been because of the sodium and artery-clogging trans fat content of the Dutch peanut butter.

A high calorie count—about 160 to 200 calories per ounce­—is the one drawback of nuts. And in butter form, it’s all too easy to spread or spoon on more than you should. But nuts help you feel full, and if you stick with the recommended 1½ ounces of nuts or 2 to 3 tablespoons of nut butter per day, you’ll get the benefits without going overboard on calories.

Alternative nut butters can often replace the “P” in a PB&J sandwich for people allergic to peanuts. You should check with your doctor, but “not everyone with a peanut allergy is allergic to tree nuts, and they often can be safely brought into a peanut-free school,” says Todd D. Green, M.D., an associate professor of pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. Of the one-third of U.S. schools that restrict the type of food that can be brought in, 97 percent prohibit peanuts, according to the School Nutrition Association. But 60 percent allow other nuts.

Read nut-butter labels carefully. If a product contains peanuts, the Food and Drug Administration requires the manufacturer to note it on the label. You may also see such warnings as “may contain peanuts” or “produced in a facility that processes peanuts.”

We Crunched the Nut Numbers

With the growing number of nut butters available, you have a lot of tasty options. To see whether there were considerable differences among brands, Consumer Reports evaluated a dozen almond and cashew spreads for nutrition, taste, and price. Both were similar in calories and fat, but sodium and protein varied. And the best ones had the fewest ingredients­ and tasted just like the nuts themselves. Some had a consistency that was somewhat runny and thin, which might make for a messy sandwich.

Some nut butters separate; the oil from the nuts rises to the top of the jar, so you have to stir before you spread. To prevent that separation and give nut butters a creamy texture, some manufacturers add hydrogenated vegetable oil or palm or palm fruit oil. Those are mostly saturated fats that keep the butter together because they’re solid at room temperature. Five of the almond butters and one of the cashew butters we tested have one of those oils. The amount was small, but too much saturated fat can be bad for your heart.

The 12 almond and cashew butters we tested are organized below according to their taste score. Nutritionally, the best nut butters are those that contain only nuts. A little bit of salt is okay, too. But when choosing one, keep the other ingredients, including sugars, to a minimum.

Almond Butters
Product Overall
Score
Cost
Per 2 tbsp.
Nutritional
Information
Notes
365 Everyday Value [Whole Foods] Almond Butter Creamy Excellent rating graphic 57 cents Calories: 190
Fat: 17 g
Sat. Fat: 1.5 g
Sodium: 0 mg
Fiber: 3 g
Sugars: 2 g
Protein: 7 g
  • Distinct roasted nut flavor; slightly fruity.
  • Very finely ground.
  • Thin and slightly sticky.
  • Needs stirring.
365 Everyday Value [Whole Foods] Almond Butter Creamy 1
Kirkland Signature [Costco] Creamy Almond Butter Excellent rating graphic 50 cents Calories: 210
Fat: 18 g
Sat. Fat: 1.5 g
Sodium: 0 mg
Fiber: 3 g
Sugars: 2 g
Protein: 6 g
  • Almondy, with a slight roasted note and natural sweetness.
  • Thin and slightly sticky.
  • Needs stirring.
Kirkland Signature [Costco] Creamy Almond Butter 1 2
Trader Joe's Almond Butter Creamy Very Good rating graphic 57 cents Calories: 190
Fat: 16 g
Sat. Fat: 1 g
Sodium: 0 mg
Fiber: 4 g
Sugars: 1 g
Protein: 7 g
  • Big raw almond flavor.
  • Very finely ground.
  • Thin consistency; sticky.
  • Needs stirring.
Trader Joe's Almond Butter Creamy 1 2
Justin's Classic Almond Butter Very Good rating graphic 79 cents Calories: 190
Fat: 16 g
Sat. Fat: 2 g
Sodium: 0 mg
Fiber: 3 g
Sugars: 2 g
Protein: 7 g
  • Big roasted nut flavor; hint of sweetness and salt.
  • Slightly thick.
  • Coarser than others with crunchy nut pieces.
  • Some jars need stirring.
Justin's Classic Almond Butter
Once Again American Classic Creamy Almond Butter Very Good rating graphic 87 cents Calories: 190
Fat: 17 g
Sat. Fat: 3 g
Sodium: 0 mg
Fiber: 3 g
Sugars: 1 g
Protein: 6 g
  • Moderate roasted nut flavor; slight earthy note.
  • Thick and a bit coarse.
  • No need to stir.
Once Again American Classic Creamy Almond Butter
MaraNatha Almond Butter Creamy Very Good rating graphic 73 cents Calories: 190
Fat: 16 g
Sat. Fat: 2 g
Sodium: 60 mg
Fiber: 3 g
Sugars: 3 g
Protein: 6 g
  • Roasted nut flavor with honeylike note; slightly salty and sweet.
  • Smooth and thick.
  • No need to stir.
MaraNatha Almond Butter Creamy
Barney Butter Almond Smooth Good rating grapohic 71 cents Calories: 180
Fat: 16 g
Sat. Fat: 1 g
Sodium: 0 mg
Fiber: 4 g
Sugars: 1 g
Protein: 7 g
  • Mild flavor; not very salty or sweet.
  • Thick and smooth.
  • Needs stirring.
Barney Butter Bare Almond Smooth 2
Jif Almond Butter Creamy Good rating graphic 80 cents Calories: 190
Fat: 16 g
Sat. Fat: 2 g
Sodium: 110 mg
Fiber: 3 g
Sugars: 3 g
Protein: 7 g
  • Slightly salty and sweet; moderate roasted and mild nut flavor.
  • Smooth; no need to stir.
Jif Almond Butter Creamy 2
Cashew Butters
Product Overall
Score
Cost
Per 2 tbsp.
Nutritional
Information
Notes
365 Everyday Value [Whole Foods] Cashew Butter Creamy Excellent rating graphic 64 cents Calories: 190
Fat: 17 g
Sat. Fat: 3 g
Sodium: 0 mg
Fiber: 1 g
Sugars: 1 g
Protein: 4 g
  • Roasted nut flavor with little sweetness or saltiness.
  • Needs stirring; thickens with refigeration.
365 Everyday Value [Whole Foods] Cashew Butter Creamy
Jif Cashew Butter Creamy Excellent rating graphic 85 cents Calories: 200
Fat: 17 g
Sat. Fat: 3.5 g
Sodium: 105 mg
Fiber: 0.5 g
Sugars: 3 g
Protein: 4 g
  • Smooth and creamy, with a slightly roasted nut flavor; slightly salty.
  • No need to stir.
Jif Cashew Butter Creamy 2
Trader Joe's Creamy Salted Cashew Butter Excellent rating graphic57 cents Calories: 190
Fat: 16 g
Sat. Fat: 3 g
Sodium: 100 mg
Fiber: 1 g
Sugars: 1 g
Protein: 4 g
  • Slight to moderate roasted, salted flavor.
  • Needs stirring; thickens with refrigeration.
Trader Joe's Creamy Salted Cashew Butter 2
Once Again Organic Creamy Cashew Butter Very Good rating graphic 90 cents Calories: 180
Fat: 16 g
Sat. Fat: 3 g
Sodium: 0 mg
Fiber: 1 g
Sugars: 0 g
Protein: 5 g
  • Roasted nut flavor; not very salty or sweet.
  • Very finely ground.
  • Slightly thick and sticky.
  • Needs stirring.
Once Again Organic Creamy Cashew Butter

Footnotes:
1. Nuts are the only ingredient.
2. According to the manufacturer, the product doesn’t contain peanuts, isn’t made in a facility that processes peanuts, or isn’t made on equipment that processes peanuts.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the November 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.