Almond butter is one of my favorite foods. We can go through a whole jar in a week, easy. Unfortunately it is so expensive! Normally we purchase it at Costco, which sells two 12 ounce jars for $12.00, which is totally affordable. The problem is that we make it to Costco only once every two months and I refuse to make a special trip there just to buy almond butter. That’s addict status! At our local grocery store, a jar of almond butter runs about $15.00, and I suspect that price will only increase due to the drought California has experienced this growing season. According to the website MotherJones.com, approximately 99% of U.S. almonds are grown in California, and it takes 1.1 gallons of water to grow just one almond. (Source)
With all of this drama in mind, I tried making my own almond butter. It took for-ev-er, it nearly destroyed my food processor and the consistency never got as creamy as the store-bought version. After eating it (probably too much of it) and experiencing something similar to acid reflux, I learned that due to the phytic acid content in the skins of the almond, it is necessary to soak them or blanch them prior to blending.
This was getting to be too much work! But I still wanted my nut butter fix. It’s the little things that keep us going – right moms?
Every time I stopped in the grocery store I would stand in front of the nut butter section and stare. I would look at the $15 almond butter and then at the natural peanut butter I used to buy several years ago. Back and forth, back and forth. Then I would get frustrated and leave. Well, last week I went and did it – I bought the natural peanut butter. (Gasp!) It was under $4.00 for the jar. On my way home I was wondering – how bad can it really be? Then I decided to look it up after the jar was gone.
Taking a look at Natural Peanut Butter.
Natural Peanut Butter (not the crisco and sugar-filled garbage also for sale at the local super market) is actually full of important nutrients such as selenium and potassium. It is also a pretty good source of protein and has been linked to decreased risk of diabetes. The main nutrient content in peanuts is fat. Healthy fats are a good thing, yet different types of essential fatty acids must be present in the proper ratio. AuthorityNutrition.com explains the importance of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids,
“These fatty acids are different than most other fats. They are not simply used for energy or stored, they are biologically active and have important roles in processes like blood clotting and inflammation. The thing is… Omega-6s and Omega-3s don’t have the same effects. Omega-6s are pro-inflammatory, while Omega-3s have an anti-inflammatory effect.” (Source)
Inflammation is bad; it is the state which disease thrives in. Unfortunately Standard American Diet (SAD) is super high in sources of Omega-6 fatty acid, such as vegetable oils, and is low in sources of Omega-3 fats, such as salmon.
“Omega-6 fatty acids compete with Omega-3 fatty acids for use in the body, and therefore excessive intake of Omega-6 fatty acids can inhibit Omega-3s. Ideally, the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids should be between 1:1 and 4:1.” (Source)
Peanut butter is extremely high in Omega-6, with a ratio of 181:1. (Source) You would have to eat a lot of salmon to counteract the Omega-6 found in peanut butter!
Allergies. The number of people allergic to peanuts is unprecedented, and continues to grow. According to the website FoodAllergy.org,
“Peanut and tree nut allergies, which also tend to develop in childhood, usually are lifelong. In the U.S., approximately three million people report allergies to peanuts and tree nuts. Studies show the number of children living with peanut allergy appears to have tripled between 1997 and 2008.” (Source)
Statistics show that most people with a peanut allergy are allergic to at least one tree nut. Many schools now completely ban any peanut or nut product from lunch rooms and class parties due to the severe nature of some people’s allergies. A seed butter (sunflower) is definitely a better option in this type of instance.
A fungus among us. Peanuts are a legume, not a nut. They grow underground with a very thin shell which can allow strains of mold called Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus to grow. A carcinogen called aflatoxin is produced by this mold which has been shown to be especially harmful to the liver. According this study, roasting can remove up to 81% of the aflatoxin from peanuts, however fresh ground peanut butter was shown to still contain high levels. Something to think about if you are ever about to consume raw peanuts, or if you are like me and purchase the “natural” peanut butter.
Pesticides. Due to the soft, porous shell of the peanut, contaminants such as fungicides and herbicides are easily absorbed into the peanut. If you purchase peanut butter, be sure to get organic! The only problem with organic is that it has not been treated to prevent Aspergillus flavus from growing – see above.
Peanut oil is bad for the heart and digestive tract. In animal studies, peanut oil has been repeatedly found to contribute to hardening of the arteries, known as atherosclerosis. Researchers suspect this is due to the extremely high lectin content in peanuts. A lectin is a type of protein indigestible to humans which is found in raw legumes and grains, usually around the seed. (Source) While some lectins are necessary for several body functions, many lectins can cause problems in the human body, especially the GI tract. Every time we eat, the passing of food damages the mucosal lining of the GI tract. Cells must work hard to repair this lining, however lectins can slow the recovery, leaving people at risk for leaky gut syndrome. PrecisionNutrition.com explains,
“[Due to lectins] Our cells can’t regenerate as fast as they need to in order to keep the intestinal lining secure. Thus, our natural gut defenses are compromised after the damage occurs and the gut can become “leaky,” allowing various molecules (including stuff we don’t want) to pass back and forth amid the gut wall. We may also not absorb other important things, such as vitamins and minerals, properly.” (Source)
Peanut agglutinin, the harmful lectin in peanuts, has been found to enter the blood stream intact. It has been discovered to be harmful to the colon and possibly promote colon cancer. (Source). These are some serious things to think about!
Almond butter is a superstar health food… right?
Almonds are always mentioned on conventional weight-loss websites as a great idea for a healthy snack. Dietitians always recommend only a handful – not to over-do it. This is because like peanuts, almonds are high in fat. The ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fats is 28:1, so it is not as bad as peanuts. (Source) Almonds also contains more Vitamin E, magnesium and iron than peanuts.
Nut have a lot to offer, health-wise. Studies have shown that regular consumption of nuts is associated with lower body mass and waist circumference, a decrease in selected risk factors for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and Metabolic Syndrome. (Source) Nuts are also high in an amino acid called L-arginine which is helpful for circulation, muscle growth and hormone secretion. (Source)
Allergies. As I mentioned above, a lot of people, especially children, are allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, with almonds being no exception. If your child’s school bans tree nuts, this is not an option for a lunch or snack. Again, seed butter is something to try.
Almonds can wreak havoc on your digestive system. Many plants produce chemicals to protect themselves from getting eaten. Almonds produce oxalates for this purpose. Oxalates are tiny crystals which can actually tear up the teeth of insects which try to consume a plant containing them. Normally, beneficial bacteria in the gut can break down oxalates and they will be excreted via normal detox pathways, however in the case of a damaged gut (who doesn’t have a damaged gut these days?) the body is unable to break down the oxalates and they will accumulate in the body. According to the website Empowered Sustenance,
“Out of place, oxalates impair enzymes, oxidize cell membranes, interferes with nutrient absorption, and can even alter DNA transcription. When oxalates link up with calcium, it forms irritating crystals (kidney stones, for example.)” (Source)
Phytic Acid is found in the skin surrounding the almond. It protects the nut while it grows and prevents it from germinating early. Humans cannot digest it and it is considered an anti-nutrient because it binds to minerals in food and prevents nutrient absorption. Phytic acid can even prevent proper digestion. Chris Kresser explains,
“Phytic acid interferes with enzymes we need to digest our food, including pepsin, which is needed for the breakdown of proteins in the stomach, and amylase, which is required for the breakdown of starch. Phytic acid also inhibits the enzyme trypsin, which is needed for protein digestion in the small intestine.” (Source)
As a recovering almond butter addict, light bulbs are going off in my head right now. Too much phytic acid can really mess up your gut. The good news is that soaking and sprouting almonds can greatly reduce the phytic acid content. The Weston A. Price Foundation recommends that nuts be soaked for eighteen hours, dehydrated and then roasted to remove phytic acid content. (That’s too much work for almond butter, in my humble opinion!)
I also mentioned this before, but another huge downside to almond butter is that it is ungodly expensive. I may have $15.00 to spend, but I refuse to spend that amount on a jar of nut butter. For real. Even grinding up a bag of almonds can run at least $10.00, and then you still have to soak them to remove the skins and destroy your food processor grinding them for twenty plus minutes. Pain in the rear!
In moderation, nut butters can be a healthy snack.
A major problem with nut butter is that it is easy to over do it. When eating nuts in their natural state, it takes time to shell them. It slows consumption down. When eating nut butter by the spoonful, you are getting a mega-dose of the good with the bad. (There is anywhere between 6 to 12 almonds per tablespoon of almond butter.) I don’t think nature intended nuts or peanuts to be consumed in such a great quantity, as evidenced by all of the anti-nutrients present.
In my home, we will not be purchasing peanut butter again. My son has a severe mold allergy which I do not want to risk aggravating. We will stick to our Costco almond butter and save it for a special treat, a little here, a little there. When it runs out, we will take a break. (A year ago and I would not be able to live without it. I’m so proud of myself.)
What are your thoughts on this? What kind of nut butter do you prefer? Please join the conversation in the comments below.
This post was shared on Natural Family Friday!