When you’re eating for metabolic health, whole foods reign supreme. But that doesn’t mean all convenience foods are off-limits. This ongoing series highlights some of the most metabolically friendly packaged foods found in popular supermarkets.
Any way you spread them, nut and seed butters seem like healthy staples. They serve up protein and healthy fat, which can help keep your blood sugar level steady. But many conventional brands contain some of the worst ingredients for metabolic health: highly processed additives, added sugars that can trigger glucose spikes, and refined seed oils that can increase inflammation.
For example, one popular creamy peanut butter contains two grams of added sugars per two-tablespoon serving and is blended with refined rapeseed (canola is a genetically modified version of rapeseed) and soybean oils. And if you think the reduced fat version is healthier, you’ll be disappointed—it contains the same ingredients, plus an additional gram of added sugar.
Thankfully, much better options exist. The right butter will add micronutrients, flavor, and texture to your meals and snacks without the extra sugar or questionable additives. You can make your own by grinding nuts in a food processor or high-powered blender; scrape down the sides and blend until it reaches your favorite consistency. But sometimes you don’t have enough time to DIY. Here are some tips on picking the most nutritious spreads at the store, plus our picks of the 10 best nut and seed butters for your metabolic health.
How to Buy Healthy Nut Butters
To score the best spread, scan the product’s label and make sure it meets these healthy guidelines:
1. Minimal ingredient list
The best spreads contain only one or two ingredients: nuts or seeds and optional salt for flavor. Watch out for similar-sounding products from the same brand. For example, one company’s organic peanut butter contains only peanuts and salt, while its no-stir peanut butter contains palm oil and added sugars.
2. No added sugars
Too much added sugar can lead to blood sugar spikes, insulin resistance, and weight gain. And while certain natural sugars, such as maple syrup and honey, may seem healthier, they also have a negative impact on your metabolic health. As much as possible, look for products without any added sugars.
3. No refined seed oils
Some brands add refined seed oils, such as soybean or canola oil, to make their butters creamy. But these highly processed oils are high in omega-6 fats, and some research suggests consuming too many omega-6s can trigger inflammation in the body. Pay attention to brands with “no-stir” claims on the label, as these are more likely to contain additives. (In natural nut butters, the oils of seeds and nuts usually separate from the solids; a simple stir gives it a smooth consistency. Or store the jar upside down, which forces the oils back into the butter.)
4. No additives
Steer clear of brands that contain preservatives and additives such as potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, and mono- and diglycerides. Research suggests that some of these compounds may activate inflammatory pathways such as the NFκB pathway and increase chronic disease and cancer risk.
5. Explore different nut and seed varieties.
There is a wide variety of nut and seed butters beyond traditional peanut butter, many of which offer their own metabolic health benefits. Experiment with spreads made from hazelnuts, pistachios, or brazil nuts, as well as blends featuring anti-inflammatory ingredients such as chia and hemp seeds.
10 Great Nut and Seed Butters for Metabolic Health
Peanuts are loaded with healthy fat, fiber, and vitamins and minerals like vitamin E, folate, and niacin. This creamy peanut butter ticks all the boxes: It’s simple, creamy, affordable, and free of additives; it’s made only from organic dry roasted peanuts. Add a spoonful to a protein-packed smoothie.
Per serving (2 tablespoons): 190 calories, 16 g fat (2.5 g sat), 7 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 2 g sugars, 8 g protein, 0 mg sodium
Price: $3.49* for a 16-ounce jar
These on-the-go organic peanut butter packets are perfect for lunchboxes or traveling. Pair with celery, carrot, or jicama sticks for a snack that’s high in fiber and protein.
Per serving (2 tablespoons): 200 calories, 15 g fat (2 g sat), 8 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 2 g sugars, 8 g protein, 0 mg sodium
Price: $8.09 for 10 1.15-ounce packets
Research suggests that consuming almonds regularly may improve your cholesterol and glucose levels. Almond butter is a tasty way to get more of the nut, but it’s often pricey. This version is easy on your wallet, plus it contains only one ingredient: roasted almonds. Try drizzling it on a warm chia breakfast pudding.
Per serving (2 tablespoons): 210 calories, 18 g fat (1.5 g sat), 7 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 6 g protein, 0 mg sodium
Price: $7.49 for a 27-ounce jar
Fans say this Target-brand almond butter, which only contains almonds, measures up to pricier artisanal brands. It includes chunks of crunchy almonds, which makes it a satisfying spread on sandwiches—or snack straight from the jar.
Per serving (2 tablespoons): 190 calories, 17 g fat (1.5 g sat), 7 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 1 g sugars, 7 g protein, 0 mg sodium
Price: $6.99 for 16-ounce jar
Cashew butter is slightly lower in fat than many other nut butters, and its creaminess works well in sauces and baked goods. It’s also a good source of magnesium, a key mineral that may reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome. Fans of this small-batch raw cashew butter say that this brand’s smoothness (read: no stirring required) and nutty flavor make it worth the higher price tag.
Per serving (1 ounce): 151 calories, 13 g fat (2 g sat), 5 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 1 g sugars, 5 g protein, 180 mg sodium
Price: $18.99 for a 16-ounce jar
Tahini is made from crushed sesame seeds. It’s packed with fiber, and an antioxidant called sesamin, which may regulate specific proteins to promote metabolic health. Although it’s perhaps best known as an ingredient in hummus, it can add mild flavor and creamy nuttiness to soups, sauces, and dressings. Mix it with lemon juice and olive oil for a quick vinaigrette for salads and grilled meat.
Per serving (2 tablespoons): 210 calories, 19 g fat (3 g sat), 5 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 0 g sugars, 7 g protein, 10 mg sodium
Price: $10.99 for a 14-ounce jar
This spread has an earthier flavor than other butters. Plus, it’s a good source of fiber and heart-healthy omega-3 fats. Eating walnuts regularly improves markers of metabolic health, including blood sugar levels. This brand uses dry roasted walnuts, which have a slightly sweet note that pairs well with cinnamon.
Per serving (2 tablespoons): 200 calories, 19 g fat (2 g sat), 4 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 1 g sugars, 5 g protein, 0 mg sodium
Price: $14.99 for an 11-ounce jar
Have a nut allergy or a nut-free school? Sunflower seed butter is the answer. Swap it for your usual nut butter on sandwiches, or pack it with sliced apples for a healthy snack. Plus, sunflower butter packs in higher amounts of certain minerals—such as magnesium, copper, and selenium—than peanut or almond butter.
Per serving (2 tablespoons): 210 calories, 18 g fat (2 g sat), 4 g carbs, 2 g fiber, <1 g sugars, 8 g protein, 110 mg sodium
Price: $7.49 for a 16-ounce jar
Hemp seeds are high in protein, fiber, and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats. They’re also a good source of zinc and B vitamins, which help support metabolic health. This simple spread has a mild, slightly nutty, and grassy flavor. With a thinner consistency compared to other nut butters, it’s a great addition to smoothies, sauces, and salad dressings.
Per serving (2 tablespoons): 160 calories, 14 g fat (1.5 g sat), 2 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 0 g sugars, 9 g protein, 0 mg sodium
Price: $13.99 for an 8-ounce jar
Satisfy your sweet craving with this nut butter blend, made from seven different nuts and seeds: almonds, coconut, Brazil nuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, flax seeds, and chia seeds. Cocoa beans and monk fruit add sweetness. Use it to top yogurt and fruit for a metabolically healthy dessert.
Per serving (2 tablespoons): 170 calories, 15 g fat (5 g sat), 7 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 1 g sugars, 5 g protein, 25 mg sodium
Price: $11.99 for a 12-ounce jar
* The prices in this article reflect those the retailer listed at the publication time. Prices and local store availability may vary.
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