Peanut butter and other nut butters have captured the hearts, minds, and taste buds of many Americans. According to the market research firm Mintel, nut butters lead the charge in sales in the sweet-spreads category. And according to a Simmons National Consumer Survey, nearly 90 percent of Americans ate peanut butter in 2017.

But because of their high calorie and fat content—a tablespoon of peanut butter, for example, has 94 calories and 8 grams of fat—you might think you should eat nut butters sparingly. While portion control is important, there are a surprising number of studies showing that eating nuts several times a week can be a boon to health.  

Nut Nutrition

Last fall, for instance, one of the largest studies to date found that those who ate five or more 1-ounce servings of nuts per week had a 14 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 20 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease than non-nut-eaters. Eating nuts has also been associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and, because they’re satisfying, possibly even weight loss.

More on Nuts and Nut Butters

The secret to nuts’ nutritional success may be that they’re chock-full of nutrients such as cholesterol-lowering fiber and protein, and contain a variety of nutrients the body needs. Nuts also contain unsaturated fats (the healthy kind), which can reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering inflammation and reducing the levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol.

But does pulverizing them into butter retain the same healthful properties as eating them whole? Yes, says Maxine Siegel, R.D., who heads CR's food-testing lab, but those benefits can be easily canceled out depending on what’s been added to a nut butter.

“Certain brands of peanut and other nut butters can be loaded with added sugars, sodium, and hydrogenated oils, which are a source of saturated fat,” says Siegel. “So try to choose brands that do not have any of the three added.”  

What to Do With Nut Butters

How you serve up your nut butter matters nutritionally, too. Swapping typical PB&J components for healthier alternatives—whole wheat for white bread and a half-cup of pear slices for 2 tablespoons of jam, for instance—can save you 54 calories and 17 grams of sugars, and can add about 4.5 grams of fiber.

But a bread spread is only one way to use nut butters. Here are some ideas from our test kitchen for incorporating them into your diet that are not only tasty but are good for your health, too.

1. Blend it into a versatile sauce. Combining peanut butter with a little water, low-sodium soy sauce, a pinch of brown sugar, lemon juice, garlic, and pepper flakes can make a chicken, beef, fish, or veggie stir-fry sing. You can also use it as a sauce for noodles, a dressing for salad, or a dipping sauce for chicken or veggies. You can use other nut butters this way too, but they don't work as well as peanut butter, Siegel says.

2. Mix it into your morning oats. Almond and peanut butter pack 7 grams of protein into a 2-tablespoon serving. To make your morning oatmeal a little more savory and filling, scoop 1 or 2 tablespoons right into the pot to punch up your protein levels at breakfast.

3. Use it in place of butter. Nut butters are just as spreadable as butter. Though the calories are similar, nut butters are lower in fat and, unlike butter, contain the good unsaturated kind. Spread it on whole-grain pancakes or toss popcorn in some melted nut butter.

4. Churn it into a smoothie. Spoon 1 to 2 tablespoons of your favorite nut butter into a smoothie to add protein and a little sweetness, and to help thicken it. Fresh or frozen bananas, berries, leafy greens, and plain yogurt complement the deep, nutty flavors.

5. Add it to a sauce. If you’re tired of traditional pasta sauce, blend cashew butter with lemon juice, fresh garlic, water, salt, and pepper to make a rich Alfredo-style sauce, or even combine peanut butter with tomatoes for a creamy alternative to marinara.