science of us

Rethinking the $20 I Spend a Week on Almond Butter

Photo: Elizabeth Watt/Getty Images

In his latest installment of “The Nuance,” a newish health column for Medium, writer Markham Heid investigates the healthiness of nut butters compared to peanut butter. For those of us who spend relatively large amounts of money each week on almond butter, for instance (for me it approaches $20), his message is bittersweet:

If you’ve eschewed peanut butter in favor of other types of nuts or nut butters because you figured those were healthier, the existing evidence suggests good old peanut butter is just as good for you as the pricey alternatives.

To get there, Heid spoke with nutrition professors at Purdue and Harvard about the ways peanuts and tree nuts affect weight loss and obesity. One suggested that while whole nuts might be better for weight loss, nut butters may be better for nutrient extraction. None of the nuts discussed emerged as an overall leader, though: “Cashews are champs when it comes to iron,” Heid writes, “while almonds contain high amounts of calcium, and peanuts pack the most folate.”

Peanut avoidance reflects a rise in peanut allergies as well as the popularity of diets like Paleo and Whole30, which advise against eating legumes (due to the plants’ supposed defensive “anti-nutrients”). But there’s “little real-world evidence linking the consumption of legumes to these health concerns,” Heid writes (and Paleo advocate Mark Sisson has himself been reconsidering the peanut).

I emailed Heid to ask if he’d changed his own nut-butter consumption habits since writing the piece. “For sure,” he said. “I had been under the impression that almond butter was healthier, so I was surprised. I will definitely be eating more peanut butter.” (Plus, there’s also almonds’ water-usage to consider.)

At my nearest Trader Joe’s, a 16-ounce container of unsalted peanut butter (ingredients: peanuts) is currently selling for $1.99, while a similar container of unsalted almond butter (ingredients: almonds) is $5.99. (Sixteen-ounce bags of roasted, unsalted peanuts and almonds are $2.69 and $5.99, respectively.) Do I like my almond butter $4 more than I like peanut butter? Yes, sometimes? I once paid $22 for a jar of almond butter when it was the only option available. My Google avatar is a handful of almonds.

Since we’re here, in case anyone else is curious about how almonds are harvested commercially, the answer is that a machine grabs each tree and shakes it vigorously (machine name: tree shaker), which I can’t quite get over.

Rethinking the $20 I Spend a Week on Almond Butter