A standard 2-Tbsp serving of plain almond butter has 196 calories, about 7 grams of protein and a bunch of fat—about 18 grams. That’s just fine with Kristin Kirkpatrick, a registered dietitian and manager of Wellness Nutrition Services at Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute. “Almond butter is a dieter’s best friend due to its lack of carbs and its abundance of protein and healthy fat—both fill you up and keep you satisfied,” she says.
It’s a good source of fiber, too. Most of us fall far short in the fiber department, and a serving packs an impressive 3.3 grams of fiber—about 13% of the FDA’s daily recommended total. “I recommend almond butter to my patients all the time,” says nutrition consultant and registered dietitian Keri Gans, who suggests spooning some into your morning smoothie or bowl of oatmeal.
Buy (or grind) the kind that’s made from just nuts, says Dr. David Katz, MD, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. “Churned almonds have all of the nutrition of almonds, and that’s very good,” he says. “But be careful that additions of salt, sugar, and other oils haven’t hitched a ride.”
Research continues to mount that a diet that contains nuts may help reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke, says Dr. David Jenkins, professor in the department of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto. “We and others have shown that nuts tend to lower serum cholesterol,” says Jenkins. “The more you eat, the lower your cholesterol.” His research has also shown that almonds can help control diabetes if you eat about a couple of handfuls a day, he says, and “nut butters probably do the same as mixed nuts.”
“We are criticized for the environmental impact of advising people to eat almonds,” Jenkins says. Growing almonds requires a lot of water; it’s widely reported that just one nut requires a gallon of it. Yet almost 70% of U.S. almonds are exported in their shelled form, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, which doesn’t always sit well, considering that the almond-producing state of California has little water to spare. “However, if nuts are replaced even by dairy, the effect on ground water use and antibiotic pollution by feedlot industrial agriculture is orders of magnitude greater,” Jenkins says.
David Zetland, assistant professor of economics at Leiden University College in the Netherlands and author of Living with Water Scarcity, agrees that forfeiting almonds isn’t the solution. “Almonds are not the problem,” he says. “All of our activities (consumption of water, discharge of pollutants, etc.) in sum are the problem. The solution is not to stop eating almonds, or to tell farmers what to grow. It’s to limit ag use of water or ag pollution of the air in total, so that the environment is protected.