Almond vs Peanut: The Great Nut Butter Debate

The debate about whether almond butter is healthier than peanut butter comes up often in my conversations with people about food and fitness, so it’s about time we get down to brass tacks and clear the air. Short answer, almond butter is better for you. But why? Let’s talk.

Nutrition content wise peanut butter and almond butter are pretty comparable: they contain similar numbers of calories, fat, and protein. What makes almond butter win the great nut battle comes down to fundamental basics: almonds and peanuts are not from the same food family. Did you know that peanuts are not actually nuts at all? Shocker, especially considering their name and whatnot. Nuts grow on woody plants such as shrubs and trees, and are one-seeded fruits that don’t split open at maturity; in layman’s terms if it doesn’t grow on a tree, it is not a nut. Peanuts, unlike almonds, cashews, walnuts etc. grow underground and while the peanut plant flowers above ground the peanuts themselves grow in the dirt and are classified as legumes, not nuts.

Legumes (beans, lentils, garbanzos, soybeans and more) are often suggested as part of a healthy diet due to their protein and fiber, but legumes contain way more carbohydrates than they do protein and not nearly as much healthy fiber as fruits and veggies. Just like grains (quinoa, rice, wheat, corn) legumes are carb dense-and plenty of programs like the Whole30 and Paleo consider them no-no’s. So, thanks to carb content, almond butter is a better bet for weight loss. Legumes are also poisonous to some degree until they are cooked (some more than others-consider the fact that the poison ricin comes from castor beans) and contain something called lectin (we will cover that in a moment), which causes all sorts of problems in our bodies. From a Paleo point of view the fact that legumes are poisonous to humans adds to why they are not a good food choice: if you have to cook something to get rid of toxins that would otherwise make you sick, chances are that our ancestors weren’t eating it and we shouldn’t be either.

Let’s take this conversation a step further though. Research suggests that both nuts and legumes are not great for the body. Legumes are high in lectins, disruptive, antinutrient proteins. Antinutrients bind to essential minerals in the gut and prevent their digestion, blocking your body from absorbing nutrients such as calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc-essentially they rob you of some of the nutrients that you should be getting from the food that you eat. Lectins are not completely destroyed by heat and are resistant to digestion, which means that the body can not break them down.  Lectins are capable of harming the lining of the intestines, especially the oh so important microvilli. Lectins bind to the protein receptors in the intestinal lining, and damage the intestines. Constant damage to the intestines then allows lectins and the foods that they bind to to pass through the intestinal wall and into our blood stream (food obviously is NOT supposed to be in our blood).  Once released into the blood stream, these lectins provoke an immune response in the body, which in turn causes systemic inflammation. Inflammation is the cause of SO many of our diseases and maladies so the answer seems clear: cut out the inflammatory foods, reduce the harm to the body, live a healthier life.

Now, on to almond butter. I love almond butter (I’m eating it right now with a spoon as I type this) so I was super bummed when I learned that nuts contained an antinutrient as well called phytic acid. Luckily phytic acid does not wreak havoc on our systems in the same way that lectins do (not all antinutrients are created equal). If we follow the Paleo train of thought, in our primitive days we did not eat nuts in mass quantities if at all, obviously the technology/machines to process nuts like we do now did not exist. Our bodies are not meant to ingest huge quantities of nuts, and so large levels of phytic acid are problematic. Too much phytic acid can lead to nutritional deficiencies and can also elicit an inflammatory response in the body. The good news for my fellow almond lovers is that some research suggest that phytic acid is an antioxidant, which means that it helps protect cells from the damaging effects of free radicals and may help protect against certain kinds of cancer and high blood pressure. Long story short, almond butter ain’t all that bad.

Sooooo… conclude our long and somewhat drawn out explanation of the almond vs peanut butter battle: pick the almonds. Less harmful stuff, easier to process in our bodies, less carbohydrates….but a spoonful of delicious carby peanut butter here and there is not a problem 🙂