Delving deep into homemade nut butter

I occasionally like to make my own nut butter by grinding nuts in a food processor and adding some coconut oil until it becomes creamy. But I’m worried that I’m losing some of the fiber in the nuts when I grind them. Also, does eating nuts burn more calories than eating nut butter?

As far as the fiber content goes, don’t worry, unless you blanch or otherwise remove the outer layer of the nuts before you process them. Some of the fiber in nuts comes from the skin, so be sure to include the outer layer (not the shell, of course, but the skin around the nut) when processing. It’s true that eating nut butter is a totally different, less crunchy experience than eating nuts, but you won’t lose any of the nut’s fiber by grinding it into a powder, paste or butter.

It’s good that you’re thinking about fiber. Most Americans don’t eat nearly enough: Women should get 21 to 25 grams a day, while men should get 30 to 38. While nuts and seeds can be a good source, keep in mind that fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains are often even better sources.

However, a word to the wise about the coconut oil you’re using to make the nut butter smoother and more spreadable: You could be paying a high price for that convenience.

Even though the internet is plastered with pages touting the health benefits of coconut oil, actual researchers of fatty acids and body energy metabolism are far from convinced. Although the saturated fat in coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides that are thought to provide some health benefits, the detrimental palmitic acid in coconut oil far outweighs any potential dietary benefit in humans. Palmitic acid promotes the formation of belly fat and fat in the liver.

If you feel the need to add some type of oil to your nut butter, you’d be better off using another type of light-tasting or flavor-complementing oil with a higher level of healthier polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fat, such as peanut, walnut, grapeseed, sesame, sunflower or safflower oil.

Finally, don’t be too concerned about the difference in calories that your body burns between eating whole nuts and eating nut butter. The difference would be minuscule. On average, only about 10 percent of the calories your body burns is due to digestion (including chewing) and absorption of nutrients, compared with 30 percent from physical activity (including any type of movement) and 60 percent from basal metabolism.

Interestingly, a small study in the New England Journal of Medicine — notably, in a letter to the editor, not a peer-reviewed journal article — back in 1999 calculated that the energy burned in an hour of chewing gum averaged 11 calories.

The researcher suggested that chewing calorie-free gum during waking hours all day every day could result in the loss of several pounds over a year, and its effects shouldn’t be discounted. But you wouldn’t be chewing nuts for that long. The difference in calories required for digesting nuts as opposed to nut butter is likely indistinguishable.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Dan Remley, field specialist in Food, Nutrition and Wellness with Ohio State University Extension, and Martha Belury, a scientist with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and the Carol S. Kennedy Endowed Professor of Human Nutrition in The Ohio State University’s College of Education and Human Ecology.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Chow Line: Find ways to eat nuts without adding calories

photo: iStock

photo: iStock

I’ve heard for a long time that eating nuts can be beneficial to your health. But nuts are also really high in calories. How much is enough? How much is too much?

The news about nuts keeps getting better and better. A recent study examining diets of more than 200,000 people from both the U.S. and China indicates that regular consumption of nuts — including peanut butter and peanuts, which are technically legumes, not true nuts — may reduce the risk of early death from heart disease and other causes by about 20 percent.

Another recent study looked at data from 2,000 teens in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Preliminary results indicate that young people who eat a modest amount of nuts — at least three small handfuls per week — reduce their risk of developing “metabolic syndrome.” Metabolic syndrome is diagnosed when someone has at least three of the conditions that can lead to heart disease later in life: obesity in the abdominal region, high triglycerides, low “good” cholesterol (HDLs), high blood pressure and high blood sugar.

Nuts are beneficial because they are chock-full of nutrients, including vitamin E, which may reduce development of plaques in arteries, and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s can help reduce triglycerides, lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting, decrease risk of stroke and heart failure, and reduce irregular heartbeats.

Unfortunately, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 40 percent of Americans eat enough nuts to see a health benefit. And the metabolic syndrome study on teenagers found that only 9 percent of young people ate enough.

Still, you are correct that nuts are high in calories, and those calories need to be taken into account. Most nuts contain 160-200 calories per ounce. Over the course of a year, eating an ounce of nuts a day could add up to 10 pounds on the scale if you don’t cut back calories in other ways.

In the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, nuts are considered a protein. While the guidelines recommend that the average adult eat about
5.5-6 ounces of protein a day, a half-ounce of nuts or 1 tablespoon of peanut butter is counted as a full “ounce” of protein. Generally, a half-ounce of nuts equates to a small handful — about 12 almonds, 24 pistachios or seven walnut halves, for example. But go ahead and use a food scale if you want to be sure of what you’re eating.

As long as you reduce calories from other parts of your diet, eating between a half-ounce to an ounce of nuts several times a week could be beneficial. Consider:

  • Adding walnuts to a salad.
  • Snacking on peanuts instead of chips or cookies.
  • Sprinkling peanut halves or slivered almonds onto green beans or adding ground nuts to spinach or mashed cauliflower.

Finally, opt for raw or dry-roasted and unsalted nuts most of the time. And don’t fool yourself. Eating nuts coated with sugar or nut-based candies can undermine their heart-healthy benefits.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Irene Hatsu, food security specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.