almond butter

What is almond butter

Almond butter is a food paste made from almonds. Almond butter may be crunchy or smooth, and is generally “stir” (susceptible to oil separation) or “no-stir” (emulsified). Almond butter may be either raw or roasted, describing the almonds themselves prior to grinding. It is recommended that almond butter be refrigerated once opened to prevent spoilage and oil separation. Generally, nut/seed butters contain generous amounts of phytochemicals that may be protective against colon, prostate, and breast cancer 1). According to Jiang et al. 2), the relative risk of developing diabetes was reduced 27 % in those who ate nuts five or more times per week compared with those who rarely or never ate nuts. Nutritional property of some of the nut/seed butter is presented in Table 6. Raw nuts have primarily 1 of the 2 unsaturated types (except coconut and palm kernels), thus leads healthful source of fatty acids for the production of lower cholesterol level foods. At present different plant based butters/spreads are available in the market. For example peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, pumpkin seed butter, pistachio butter, soy butter, sunflower and sesame butter. The term plant based (Nut/Seed) butter refers to a product that contains at least 90 % nut/seed ingredients whereas, the spread refers to a spreadable product having at least 40 % nut ingredients which can be added in various forms, e.g. as nuts, a paste and/or a slurry 3).

The dairy butter is a water-in-oil emulsion, i.e. >80 % fat with tiny water droplets, perhaps some solids-not-fat and with/without salt 4) (see Table 5 below). However, animal foods such as butter are rich in saturated fat. Butter with and without salt contains 55 ± 2 g/100 g of saturated fat and 222 ± 2 mg/100 g cholesterol 5).

Due to the mounting health concerns regarding the consumption of dairy butter because of its high saturated fat content has raised the need to search for an alternative plant based butters viz., nut butters and seed butters. Nuts and seeds are nutrient dense foods and have been a regular constituent of mankind’s diet since pre-agricultural times 6). Nuts and seeds are generally consumed as snack food in roasted form as they are of good taste, handy and easy to eat. But, recently with the advent of new technologies, myriad varieties of nut and seed based snacks and processed products have arrived in the market out of which the form of butter gained more popularity.

Evidence suggests that nut consumption, including peanuts, protects against not only coronary heart disease (coronary artery disease) but also against diabetes and the coronary heart disease (coronary artery disease) associated with diabetes, and other metabolic syndrome diseases, notably gallstone disease 7). In one of the largest studies to date about the health benefits of nuts, researchers analyzed data from more than 210,000 health professionals over as many as 32 years. They found that, compared with those who never or almost never ate nuts, people who ate one ounce of nuts five or more times per week had a 14% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 20% lower risk of coronary heart disease during the study period. Both walnuts and peanuts were linked with lower disease risk, the study found. No heart benefits were associated with eating peanut butter—which could be because people tend to pair peanut butter with unhealthy foods or because peanut butter is often mixed with salt and sweeteners, possibly canceling out the positive health benefits of the peanuts, according to an editorial accompanying the study.

The form of butter is one of the healthy way of integrating nuts and seeds into your regular diet. Nut and seed butters are generally prepared by roasting, grinding and refrigerated to consume it when it is still fresh. During this process it is imperative to retain the nutritional properties of these nuts and seeds in order to reap the benefits of the fresh nuts and seeds in the form of butter as well. Proper care is needed to minimize the conversion of healthful components in to unhealthy components during processing and further storage. Roasting temperature, temperatures during grinding and storage are the vital factors to be considered in order to have healthy and nutritious plant based butters.

The type of nuts you choose to eat probably doesn’t matter much. Most nuts appear to be generally healthy, though some may have more heart-healthy nutrients than others. For example, walnuts contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.

Almonds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts and pecans are other nuts that appear to be quite heart healthy. And peanuts — which are technically not a nut, but a legume, like beans — seem to be relatively healthy.

Keep in mind, you could end up canceling out the heart-healthy benefits of nuts if they’re covered with chocolate, sugar or salt.

What’s in nuts that might make them heart healthy?

Besides being packed with protein, most nuts contain at least some of these heart-healthy substances:

  • Unsaturated fats. It’s not entirely clear why, but it’s thought that the “good” fats in nuts — both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — lower bad cholesterol levels.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in many kinds of fish, but many nuts are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are a healthy form of fatty acids that seem to help your heart by, among other things, preventing dangerous heart rhythms that can lead to heart attacks.
  • Fiber. All nuts contain fiber, which helps lower your cholesterol. Fiber makes you feel full, so you eat less. Fiber is also thought to play a role in preventing type 2 diabetes.
  • Vitamin E. Vitamin E may help stop the development of plaques in your arteries, which can narrow them. Plaque development in your arteries can lead to chest pain, coronary artery disease or a heart attack.
  • Plant sterols. Some nuts contain plant sterols, a substance that can help lower your cholesterol. Plant sterols are often added to products like margarine and orange juice for additional health benefits, but sterols occur naturally in nuts.
  • L-arginine. Nuts are also a source of l-arginine, which is a substance that may help improve the health of your artery walls by making them more flexible and less prone to blood clots that can block blood flow.

Figure 1. Almond butter

almond butter

Almond butter nutrition

Almond butter is high in monounsaturated fats, calcium, potassium, iron and manganese. Almond butter is considered a good source of riboflavin, phosphorus, and copper and an excellent source of vitamin E, magnesium, and fiber. Almond butter also provides dietary protein.

Almond butter is an alternative to peanut butter for those with peanut allergies or who dislike the taste of peanuts. Almond butter contains significantly more fiber, calcium, potassium, iron, and manganese than peanut butter and about half the saturated fat, although a slightly higher total fat content. Almonds are not legumes whereas peanuts are, so almond butter can be consumed by those looking to avoid legumes.

Plain raw almond butter calories without added salt is about 614 calories per 100 gram.

Carbs in almond butter is 18.82 gram per 100 gram.

Table 1. Almond butter (plain without added salt) nutrition facts

NutrientUnitValue per 100 g
Approximates
Waterg1.64
Energykcal614
EnergykJ2568
Proteing20.96
Total lipid (fat)g55.5
Ashg3.09
Carbohydrate, by differenceg18.82
Fiber, total dietaryg10.3
Sugars, totalg4.43
Sucroseg4.34
Glucose (dextrose)g0.02
Fructoseg0
Lactoseg0
Maltoseg0.07
Starchg0.08
Minerals
Calcium, Camg347
Iron, Femg3.49
Magnesium, Mgmg279
Phosphorus, Pmg508
Potassium, Kmg748
Sodium, Namg7
Zinc, Znmg3.29
Copper, Cumg0.934
Manganese, Mnmg2.131
Selenium, Seµg2.4
Vitamins
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acidmg0
Thiaminmg0.041
Riboflavinmg0.939
Niacinmg3.155
Pantothenic acidmg0.318
Vitamin B-6mg0.103
Folate, totalµg53
Folic acidµg0
Folate, foodµg53
Folate, DFEµg53
Choline, totalmg52.1
Vitamin B-12µg0
Vitamin A, RAEµg0
Retinolµg0
Carotene, betaµg1
Carotene, alphaµg0
Cryptoxanthin, betaµg0
Vitamin A, IUIU1
Lycopeneµg0
Lutein + zeaxanthinµg1
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)mg24.21
Tocopherol, betamg0.53
Tocopherol, gammamg1.01
Tocopherol, deltamg0
Vitamin D (D2 + D3)µg0
Vitamin DIU0
Vitamin K (phylloquinone)µg0
Lipids
Fatty acids, total saturatedg4.152
8:0g0
10:0g0
12:0g0
14:0g0.007
15:0g0
16:0g3.192
17:0g0.007
18:0g0.938
20:0g0.007
22:0g0
Fatty acids, total monounsaturatedg32.445
14:1g0
15:1g0
16:1 undifferentiatedg0.248
17:1g0.035
18:1 undifferentiatedg32.143
20:1g0.019
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturatedg13.613
18:2 undifferentiatedg13.605
18:3 undifferentiatedg0.007
20:2 n-6 c,cg0
20:3 undifferentiatedg0
20:4 undifferentiatedg0
Cholesterolmg0
Phytosterolsmg139
Stigmasterolmg3
Campesterolmg6
Beta-sitosterolmg131
Amino Acids
Tryptophang0.159
Threonineg0.555
Isoleucineg0.813
Leucineg1.483
Lysineg0.612
Methionineg0.122
Cystineg0.242
Phenylalanineg1.149
Tyrosineg0.595
Valineg0.937
Arginineg2.382
Histidineg0.55
Alanineg0.99
Aspartic acidg2.397
Glutamic acidg5.912
Glycineg1.472
Prolineg0.915
Serineg0.926
Other
Alcohol, ethylg0
[Source: United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service 8)]

Table 2. Organic almond butter (raw) nutrition facts

NutrientUnitValue per 100 g
Approximates
Energykcal562
Proteing21.88
Total lipid (fat)g50
Carbohydrate, by differenceg18.75
Fiber, total dietaryg12.5
Sugars, totalg6.25
Minerals
Calcium, Camg250
Iron, Femg4.5
Sodium, Namg0
Vitamins
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acidmg0
Vitamin A, IUIU0
Lipids
Fatty acids, total saturatedg3.12
Fatty acids, total transg0
Cholesterolmg0
[Source: United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service 9)]

Table 3. Organic almond butter (raw and crunchy) nutrition facts

NutrientUnitValue per 100 g
Approximates
Energykcal562
Proteing21.88
Total lipid (fat)g50
Carbohydrate, by differenceg18.75
Fiber, total dietaryg12.5
Sugars, totalg6.25
Minerals
Calcium, Camg250
Iron, Femg4.5
Sodium, Namg0
Vitamins
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acidmg0
Vitamin A, IUIU0
Lipids
Fatty acids, total saturatedg3.12
Fatty acids, total transg0
Cholesterolmg0
[Source: United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service 10)]

Table 4. Organic almond butter (dry roasted unblanched) nutrition facts

NutrientUnitValue per 100 g
Approximates
Energykcal633
Proteing16.67
Total lipid (fat)g60
Carbohydrate, by differenceg20
Fiber, total dietaryg3.3
Sugars, totalg6.67
Minerals
Calcium, Camg267
Iron, Femg3.6
Potassium, Kmg767
Sodium, Namg0
Vitamins
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acidmg0
Folate, totalµg53
Vitamin A, IUIU0
Lipids
Fatty acids, total saturatedg5
Fatty acids, total monounsaturatedg33.33
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturatedg13.33
Fatty acids, total transg0
Cholesterolmg0
[Source: United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service 11)]

Table 5. Butter (plain without added salt) nutrition facts

NutrientUnitValue per 100 g
Approximates
Waterg16.17
Energykcal717
EnergykJ2999
Proteing0.85
Total lipid (fat)g81.11
Ashg0.09
Carbohydrate, by differenceg0.06
Fiber, total dietaryg0
Sugars, totalg0.06
Minerals
Calcium, Camg24
Iron, Femg0.02
Magnesium, Mgmg2
Phosphorus, Pmg24
Potassium, Kmg24
Sodium, Namg11
Zinc, Znmg0.09
Copper, Cumg0.016
Manganese, Mnmg0.004
Selenium, Seµg1
Fluoride, Fµg2.8
Vitamins
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acidmg0
Thiaminmg0.005
Riboflavinmg0.034
Niacinmg0.042
Pantothenic acidmg0.11
Vitamin B-6mg0.003
Folate, totalµg3
Folic acidµg0
Folate, foodµg3
Folate, DFEµg3
Choline, totalmg18.8
Vitamin B-12µg0.17
Vitamin B-12, addedµg0
Vitamin A, RAEµg684
Retinolµg671
Carotene, betaµg158
Carotene, alphaµg0
Cryptoxanthin, betaµg0
Vitamin A, IUIU2499
Lycopeneµg0
Lutein + zeaxanthinµg0
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)mg2.32
Vitamin E, addedmg0
Tocopherol, betamg0
Tocopherol, gammamg0
Tocopherol, deltamg0
Vitamin D (D2 + D3)µg0
Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol)µg0
Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol)µg0
Vitamin DIU0
Vitamin K (phylloquinone)µg7
Lipids
Fatty acids, total saturatedg50.489
4:0g3.226
6:0g2.007
8:0g1.19
10:0g2.529
12:0g2.587
14:0g7.436
16:0g21.697
17:0g0.56
18:0g9.999
20:0g0.138
Fatty acids, total monounsaturatedg23.43
16:1 undifferentiatedg1.82
16:1 cg0.961
18:1 undifferentiatedg20.4
18:1 cg16.978
18:1 tg2.982
20:1g0.1
22:1 undifferentiatedg0
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturatedg3.01
18:2 undifferentiatedg1.83
18:2 n-6 c,cg2.166
18:2 CLAsg0.267
18:2 ig0.296
18:3 undifferentiatedg1.18
18:3 n-3 c,c,c (ALA)g0.315
18:4g0
20:4 undifferentiatedg0
20:5 n-3 (EPA)g0
22:5 n-3 (DPA)g0
22:6 n-3 (DHA)g0
Cholesterolmg215
Stigmasterolmg0
Campesterolmg0
Beta-sitosterolmg4
Amino Acids
Tryptophang0.012
Threonineg0.038
Isoleucineg0.051
Leucineg0.083
Lysineg0.067
Methionineg0.021
Cystineg0.008
Phenylalanineg0.041
Tyrosineg0.041
Valineg0.057
Arginineg0.031
Histidineg0.023
Alanineg0.029
Aspartic acidg0.064
Glutamic acidg0.178
Glycineg0.018
Prolineg0.082
Serineg0.046
Other
Alcohol, ethylg0
Caffeinemg0
Theobrominemg0
[Source: United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service 12)]

Table 6. Nutritional property of nut and seed butter (1 Tbsp)

ProductCalorieProteinFatCalciumZinc
(g)(g)(mg)(mg)
Almond butter1012.49.5430.5
Cashew butter932.88.070.8
Hazelnut butter942.09.5
Sunflower butter803.07.0
Sesame butter892.68.0640.7
Peanut butter
 natural943.88.070.4
 reduced fat954.06.00.4
Soy butter
 sweetened854.05.550
 unsweetened804.06.530
Soy-peanut butter502.01.240
 sweetened

Note: 1Tbsp = 14.19 g

[Source 13)]

Almond butter vs peanut butter

Almond butter has significantly more fiber, calcium, and potassium than sunflower seed or peanut butter 14). Spiller et al. 15) compared the lipid-altering effect of roasted salted almonds and roasted almond butter with that of raw almonds, as part of a plant-based diet (Table 10). High-density lipoprotein “good” cholesterol (HDL) did not significantly change with raw or roasted almonds but slightly increased with almond butter. HDL cholesterol is the good cholesterol that cruises the bloodstream and high levels HDL reduces the risk for heart disease.

The findings of this study 16)found that consumption of nuts and peanut butter was inversely associated with risk of type 2 diabetes, independent of known risk factors for type 2 diabetes, including age, obesity, family history of diabetes, physical activity, smoking, and dietary factors. Peanut butter (Arachis hypogaea) is creamy, composed of peanut paste and stabilizer. It may also contain sweetener, salt, emulsifier and other ingredients. Peanut butter is prepared by roasting, blanching, grinding and tempering. The formulation of a typical peanut butter is shown in Table 7. Good quality nuts and seed pods are sorted out and destoned before shelling. Shelled nuts are graded to ensure the sound or bold or even size nuts. Roasting is a dry heat treatment, carried out not so much for dehydration but for flavor, color and texture development 17). Roasting involves a number of physico-chemical changes including dehydration and chemical reactions. However, the development of flavor and aroma depends upon the temperature and time of roasting beside the type of nuts and techniques applied 18). Generally, for peanut butter, roasting is done at around 160 °C for 40–60 min depending upon the seed size and moisture contents 19). Roasting reduces water contents to around 1 % followed by the release of oil from the cytoplasm of the cells which increases the shelf life of peanuts and helps in developing flavor for peanut butter. Ogunsanwo et al. 20) reported that the peanut butter prepared by roasting at 160 °C for 30 min was found comparable with the commercial samples. Blanching of peanuts is done to remove the skin of the peanut. There are several blanching methods including dry, water, spin, and air impact. Dry blanching is used primarily in peanut butter production, as it removes the kernel hearts which affect peanut butter flavor. After removing the outer skin during blanching, nuts are ground into paste. Peanut butter is usually made by two stage grinding operations. First grinding reduces the nuts to a medium size and the second milling uses a very high-speed grinder cum mixer that has a combination of cutting-shearing and attrition action and reduces to a fine (less than 0.025 cm) smooth texture. Due to this several passes the paste is subjected to excessively high temperature, an elaborative cooling methods need to be utilized to retain desired flavors in the nut butter. Connick 21) states that accomplishing the grinding steps in the presence of solid carbon dioxide inhibits the dissolving, occlusion, and adsorption of free oxygen into the peanut butter and there by increases the shelf life as well as improves the flavor. Woodroof 22) classified peanut butters into three types based on the texture viz., Smooth (even texture with no perceptible grainy peanut particles), Regular (definitely grainy texture with with perceptible peanut particles not more than 1/16 in. in diameter and Chunky (partially fine and partially grainy particles with substantial amounts larger than 1/16 in. in diameter). Crippen et al. 23) reported that increased grind size (fine, medium and course), decreased the sensory smoothness, spreadability, adhesiveness and preference ratings. According to Dzurik et al. 24) the high pressure homogenization after initial grinding produces a paste of smooth, glossy, melts more rapidly in the mouth than conventional peanut butter. During grinding, the ingredients like salt, sugar, stabilizers and emulsifiers are added. Addition of salt (< 1.2 %) increased the ease of swallowing, as well as consumer preference of texture. Before grinding of nut/seeds, carbohydrates, protein and other non-fat components will be in a continuous phase. Fat cells entrapped in non-fat components will be in a discontinuous phase. After grinding into paste, fat cells ruptured and become continuous and non-fat constituents form a discontinuous phase. Once the paste is formed, continuous phase (fat/ oil) will separate from the nonfat particles. Without stabilizers, paste settles at the bottom and forms a hard layer while the oil remains on top 25). Thus, stabilizers in plant based butter prevent gravitational separation of less dense oil from solid particles during storage at ambient temperatures 26). Galvez et al. 27) reported that the peanut butter without stabilizer exhibited > 2 % oil separation after 12 weeks of storage. During conditioning to prevent oil separation, mixture is immediately chilled and the hydrogenated oil forms finely divided and sufficient amount of hard fat crystals. The amount and nature of the crystals determines the stability of the product. The rate of cooling determines the size of the crystals 28). Woodroof 29) has discussed the important considerations on type and amount of stabilizer with respect to the desired consistency and mouth feel of peanut butter, oil content and particle size. The temperature of paste during the addition of stabilizer should be more than the melting point of stabilizer to produce a more homogenized product. Thus, the recommended temperature for blending of stabilizers is 60–74 °C. Totlani and Chinnan 30) reported that the addition of 1–2 % stabilizer was found to be adequate for peanut butter stored for 3 months at 35 °C. Aryana et al. 31) and Gills and Resurreccion 32) reported that the use of blended hydrogenated rapeseed and cottonseed oils as stabilizer in peanut butter was superior to palm oil. Addition of emulsifier in the peanut butter negates stickiness so that it will not stick to the roof of the mouth. Suitable emulsifiers include lecithin and fatty mono- and diglycerides, for example, soybean mono- and diglycerides 33). Different emulsifiers affirmed as GRAS are shown in Table 8. Furthermore, for improved stability, the peanut butter should be packed at the proper temperature and it should be tempered for a minimum of 24 h before shipping. This tempering allows time for additional crystal growth and formation of a good crystalline network 34).

Table 7. Formulation of a typical peanut butter

ComponentPercentage
Peanut paste (~1 % moisture)90
Hydrogenated vegetable oil1–5
Sweetener1–6
Salt1–1.5
Emulsifier0.5–1.5
[Source 35)]

Table 8. Some food emulsifiers affirmed as GRAS

EmulsifierUS FDA (21CFR)EEC (E No.)
Diacetyl tartaric esters of monoglycerides (DATEM)184.1101E472e
Lecithin184.1400E322
Mono-and diglycerides184.1505E471
Monosodium phosphate derivatives of mono and diglycerides184.1521
[Source 36)]

Table 9. Peanut butter (raw) nutrition facts

NutrientUnitValue per 100 g
Approximates
Waterg6.5
Energykcal567
EnergykJ2374
Proteing25.8
Total lipid (fat)g49.24
Ashg2.33
Carbohydrate, by differenceg16.13
Fiber, total dietaryg8.5
Sugars, totalg4.72
Minerals
Calcium, Camg92
Iron, Femg4.58
Magnesium, Mgmg168
Phosphorus, Pmg376
Potassium, Kmg705
Sodium, Namg18
Zinc, Znmg3.27
Copper, Cumg1.144
Manganese, Mnmg1.934
Selenium, Seµg7.2
Vitamins
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acidmg0
Thiaminmg0.64
Riboflavinmg0.135
Niacinmg12.066
Pantothenic acidmg1.767
Vitamin B-6mg0.348
Folate, totalµg240
Folic acidµg0
Folate, foodµg240
Folate, DFEµg240
Choline, totalmg52.5
Betainemg0.6
Vitamin B-12µg0
Vitamin B-12, addedµg0
Vitamin A, RAEµg0
Retinolµg0
Carotene, betaµg0
Carotene, alphaµg0
Cryptoxanthin, betaµg0
Vitamin A, IUIU0
Lycopeneµg0
Lutein + zeaxanthinµg0
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)mg8.33
Vitamin E, addedmg0
Vitamin D (D2 + D3)µg0
Vitamin DIU0
Vitamin K (phylloquinone)µg0
Lipids
Fatty acids, total saturatedg6.279
04:00:00g0
06:00:00g0
08:00:00g0
10:00:00g0
12:00:00g0
14:00:00g0.025
16:00:00g5.154
18:00:00g1.1
Fatty acids, total monounsaturatedg24.426
16:1 undifferentiatedg0.009
18:1 undifferentiatedg23.756
20:01:00g0.661
22:1 undifferentiatedg0
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturatedg15.558
18:2 undifferentiatedg15.555
18:3 undifferentiatedg0.003
18:04:00g0
20:4 undifferentiatedg0
20:5 n-3 (EPA)g0
22:5 n-3 (DPA)g0
22:6 n-3 (DHA)g0
Fatty acids, total transg0
Cholesterolmg0
Amino Acids
Tryptophang0.25
Threonineg0.883
Isoleucineg0.907
Leucineg1.672
Lysineg0.926
Methionineg0.317
Cystineg0.331
Phenylalanineg1.377
Tyrosineg1.049
Valineg1.082
Arginineg3.085
Histidineg0.652
Alanineg1.025
Aspartic acidg3.146
Glutamic acidg5.39
Glycineg1.554
Prolineg1.138
Serineg1.271
Other
Alcohol, ethylg0
Caffeinemg0
Theobrominemg0
Isoflavones
Daidzeinmg0.02
Genisteinmg0.24
Total isoflavonesmg0.26
Biochanin Amg0.01
Formononetinmg0
Coumestrolmg0
Proanthocyanidin
Proanthocyanidin dimersmg33.2
Proanthocyanidin trimersmg48.8
Proanthocyanidin 4-6mersmg48.1
Proanthocyanidin 7-10mersmg0
Proanthocyanidin polymers (>10mers)mg0
[Source: United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service 37)]

Is almond butter good for you?

The answer to that question is yes. Almond consumption has been shown to reduce LDL “bad” cholesterol (LDL-C) concentrations and increase HDL “good” cholesterol (HDL-C) concentrations in hyperlipidaemic individuals 38). Although almonds contain a variety of constituents that may exert cardioprotective effects through various mechanisms 39), their ability to improve blood lipid profiles and reduce coronary heart disease risk may primarily be related to their healthy fatty acid profile, which is low in saturated fats and high in monounsaturated fats (MUFA) 40), particularly oleic acid 41). Epidemiological studies suggest that diets with a high proportion of monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) in the form of oleic acid, such as the Mediterranean diet, reduce coronary heart disease risk 42). However, the effect of almond consumption on the serum fatty acid profile and its association with coronary heart disease risk have not been investigated.

Almond butter benefits

The results of this study 43) indicate that almond consumption favourably alters the serum fatty acid profile by increasing the proportions of oleic acid and total monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) and decreasing those of saturated fatty acid. These changes in the fatty acid profile are correlated with improvements in blood lipoproteins and with a decreased 10-year coronary heart disease risk. The mechanism by which almonds modify coronary heart disease risk is unclear, it has been proposed that almonds may exert an effect exogenously and endogenously. It has been proposed that dietary incorporation of almonds exogenously reduces serum cholesterol concentrations by replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated fats in the diet. In a randomized, controlled, parallel study, the saturated fats concentrations of thirty-eight hypercholesterolemic adults who consumed 100 g of raw almonds daily over a 4-week period were found to be lower 44). Furthermore, increasing monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) intake has been reported to be associated with an increase in HDL “good” cholesterol concentrations, as demonstrated by a randomized, controlled trial of twenty-four hypercholesterolaemic adults 45). The improvement in blood lipid profiles has generally been associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease. It has also been proposed that almonds may act endogenously to exert a cardioprotective effect. Dietary fatty acid are rapidly incorporated into lipoprotein lipids. Enrichment of lipoprotein particles with monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) at the expense of polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) may enhance their resistance to oxidative stress as there are few double bonds to react with, thus potentiating the anti-atherogenic effect 46). Moreover, there may be other bioactive components in almonds that further reduce coronary heart disease risk. In addition to unsaturated fatty acids, almonds are a good source of vitamin E, fiber and phytochemicals (phenols, flavonoids, proanthocyanidins and phytosterols), arginine, Cu and Mg, which may beneficially influence coronary artery disease risk 47). Many of these nutrients may act synergistically to produce the observed favourable outcomes, although further studies are required to prove this postulation 48). Further analysis of LDL particle size may provide a better understanding of potential mechanisms by which almonds and other foods rich in monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) influence triglyceride concentrations.

Almonds have potential health benefits and reduce risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and obesity 49). Previous studies have established that almond cell walls play a crucial role in regulating nutrient bioaccessibility in the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) 50). The term ‘bioaccessibility’ is defined as the proportion of a nutrient or phytochemical compound ‘released’ from a complex food matrix during digestion and, therefore, potentially available for absorption in the gastrointestinal tract (GIT). Using a in test tube and an animal study, scientists have recently demonstrated that test meals containing almonds of different particle sizes behaved differently: the degree of lipid encapsulation affected the rate and extent of bioaccessibility in the upper GIT 51). Scientists have also demonstrated that mastication of natural raw almonds released only a small proportion (7.9%) of the total lipid and was only slightly higher for roasted almonds (11.1%) 52). The lipid release from masticated almonds was in close agreement with that predicted by a theoretical model for almond lipid bioaccessibility 53). Using a test tube model of duodenal digestion 54), it was observed that a decrease in almond particle size resulted in an increased rate and extent of lipolysis.

Novotny et al. 55) conducted a feeding study in healthy adults to determine the energy value of almonds as a representative food from a group for which the Atwater factors may overestimate the energy value. They showed that only 76% of the energy contained within almonds (based on the Atwater factors) was actually metabolised 56). Furthermore, when calculating the metabolisable energy  of whole natural almonds, whole roasted almonds, chopped almonds and almond butter, it was demonstrated that the number of calories absorbed was dependent on the form in which almonds were consumed.

It is known that processing of nuts, such as roasting, chopping and grinding, impacts mastication, particle size and lipid bioaccessibility 57). The decrease in size of almond particles, with consequent reduction of intact cell walls, determines the rate and extent of lipid bioaccessibility during digestion. It is interesting to note that there was limited lipid digestibility for natural raw almonds and roasted almonds during mastication. In almond butter from roasted almonds, all the intracellular lipids made available by cell-wall rupture, as well as the lipid molecules present at the interface and within the continuous lipid phase are readily available for absorption. The exposure of the remaining intact almond particles to mastication resulted in a further small release of lipid. Cassady et al. 58) reported important differences in appetitive and hormone responses after mastication of almonds. Gebauer et al. 59) have recently reported that the number of calories absorbed from almonds in the gastrointestinal tract is strictly dependent on the form in which they are consumed. As a result of incomplete macronutrient loss in the upper gastrointestinal tract, it is believed that a large proportion of nutrients from almonds reaches the large bowel, where it is fermented by the microbiota 60). Incomplete rupturing of the cell walls during mastication results in macronutrient encapsulation, which remain inaccessible to digestive enzymes and, if not fermented in the colon, are excreted in feces.

Table 10. Composition of raw and processed almonds per 100g edible portion

Raw AlmondsRoasted AlmondsAlmond Butter
Water (g)4.21.32.1
Protein (g)25.325.424.6
Total lipid (g)49.552.555.7
MUFA (g)30.732.132.7
PUFA (g)10.611.413.8
SFA (g)3.53.73.9
Carbohydrate (g)17.918.514.5
Dietary fiber (g)13.911.810.5
Vitamin E (mg ATE)25.325.523.6
Phytosterols (mg)113.6125.8145.1
Sodium (mg)<10209<10
[Source 61)]

Unsaturated fats

Unsaturated fats, which are liquid at room temperature, are considered beneficial fats because they can improve blood cholesterol levels, ease inflammation, stabilize heart rhythms, and play a number of other beneficial roles. Unsaturated fats are predominantly found in foods from plants, such as vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds.

There are two types of “good” unsaturated fats:

1. Monounsaturated fats are found in high concentrations in:

  • Nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans
  • Seeds such as pumpkin and sesame seeds
  • Olive, peanut, and canola oils
  • Avocados

2. Polyunsaturated fats are found in high concentrations in:

  • Sunflower, corn, soybean, and flaxseed oils
  • Walnuts
  • Flax seeds
  • Fish
  • Canola oil – though higher in monounsaturated fat, it’s also a good source of polyunsaturated fat.

Omega-3 fats are an important type of polyunsaturated fat. The body can’t make these, so they must come from food.

An excellent way to get omega-3 fats is by eating fish 2-3 times a week.

Good plant sources of omega-3 fats include flax seeds, walnuts, and canola or soybean oil.

Higher blood omega-3 fats are associated with lower risk of premature death among older adults, according to a study 62).

Most people don’t eat enough healthful unsaturated fats. The American Heart Association suggests that 8-10 percent of daily calories should come from polyunsaturated fats, and there is evidence that eating more polyunsaturated fat—up to 15 percent of daily calories—in place of saturated fat can lower heart disease risk 63).

Dutch researchers conducted an analysis of 60 trials that examined the effects of carbohydrates and various fats on blood lipid levels. In trials in which polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats were eaten in place of carbohydrates, these good fats decreased levels of harmful LDL and increased protective HDL 64).

More recently, a randomized trial known as the Optimal Macronutrient Intake Trial for Heart Health (OmniHeart) showed that replacing a carbohydrate-rich diet with one rich in unsaturated fat, predominantly monounsaturated fats, lowers blood pressure, improves lipid levels, and reduces the estimated cardiovascular risk 65).

foods with healthy fats

Saturated Fats

All foods containing fat have a mix of specific types of fats. Even healthy foods like chicken and nuts have small amounts of saturated fat, though much less than the amounts found in butter, ghee, coconut oil, beef, cheese and ice cream. Saturated fat is mainly found in animal foods, but a few plant foods are also high in saturated fats, such as coconut, coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil.

  • The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends getting less than 10 percent of calories each day from saturated fat 66).
  • The American Heart Association goes even further, recommending limiting saturated fat to no more than 7 percent of calories 67).
  • Cutting back on saturated fat will likely have no benefit, however, if people replace saturated fat with refined carbohydrates. Eating refined carbohydrates in place of saturated fat does lower “bad” LDL cholesterol, but it also lowers the “good” HDL cholesterol and increases triglycerides. The net effect is as bad for the heart as eating too much saturated fat.

In the United States, the biggest sources of saturated fat 68) in the diet are:

  • Pizza and cheese
  • Whole and reduced fat milk, butter and dairy desserts
  • Meat products (sausage, bacon, beef, hamburgers)
  • Cookies and other grain-based desserts
  • A variety of mixed fast food dishes

Though decades of dietary advice 69) suggested saturated fat was harmful, in recent years that idea has begun to evolve. Several studies suggest that eating diets high in saturated fat do not raise the risk of heart disease, with one report analyzing the findings of 21 studies that followed 350,000 people for up to 23 years.

Investigators looked at the relationship between saturated fat intake and coronary heart disease (coronary artery disease), stroke, and cardiovascular disease. Their controversial conclusion: “There is insufficient evidence from prospective epidemiologic studies to conclude that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, or cardiovascular disease” 70).

A well-publicized 2014 study questioned the link between saturated fat and heart disease, but nutrition experts determined the paper to be seriously misleading. In order to set the record straight, Harvard School of Public Health convened a panel of nutrition experts and held a teach-in, “Saturated or not: Does type of fat matter?“

The overarching message is that cutting back on saturated fat can be good for health if people replace saturated fat with good fats, especially, polyunsaturated fats 71), 72). Eating good fats in place of saturated fat lowers the “bad” LDL cholesterol, and it improves the ratio of total cholesterol to “good” HDL cholesterol, lowering the risk of heart disease.

Eating good fats in place of saturated fat can also help prevent insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes 73). So while saturated fat may not be as harmful as once thought, evidence clearly shows that unsaturated fat remains the healthiest type of fat.

Trans Fats

Trans fatty acids, more commonly called trans fats, are made by heating liquid vegetable oils in the presence of hydrogen gas and a catalyst, a process called hydrogenation.

Partially hydrogenating vegetable oils makes them more stable and less likely to become rancid. This process also converts the oil into a solid, which makes them function as margarine or shortening.

Partially hydrogenated oils can withstand repeated heating without breaking down, making them ideal for frying fast foods.

For these reasons, partially hydrogenated oils became a mainstay in restaurants and the food industry – for frying, baked goods, and processed snack foods and margarine.

Partially hydrogenated oil is not the only source of trans fats in our diets. Trans fats are also naturally found in beef fat and dairy fat in small amounts.

Eliminating industrial-produced trans fats from the U.S. food supply could prevent between 6 and 19 percent of heart attacks and related deaths, or as much as 200,000 each year 74).

Trans fats are worse for cholesterol levels than saturated fats because they:

  • Raise bad LDL “bad” cholesterol and lower good HDL “good” cholesterol
  • Create inflammation 75) – a reaction related to immunity – which has been implicated in heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions
  • Contribute to insulin resistance 76)
  • Can have harmful health effects even in small amounts – for each additional 2 percent of calories from trans fat consumed daily, the risk of coronary heart disease increases by 23 percent.

Eliminating trans fats from food

In the 1990s, the average American was eating about 6 grams of trans fats a day; ideally that should be under 1 gram a day, and zero from partially hydrogenated oils is best 77).

A 2006 labeling law required food companies to list trans fats on food labels. This caused many food makers to switch to using trans-fat-free oils and fats in their products, resulting in a reduction of trans fat levels in the U.S. food supply.

A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 78) found that Americans’ blood-levels of trans fats dropped 58 percent from 2000 to 2009—evidence that the labeling law has had its desired effect.

A survey of 83 major-brand grocery store products and restaurant dishes offers encouraging news: When most of these food makers reformulated their products, they cut back on trans fat without increasing saturated fat 79).

If a product contains less than half a gram of trans fat and a half gram of saturated fat per serving, it can still be labeled as “trans fat-free.” So while many products in the United States are labeled “trans fat-free,” those products may still contain a small amount of trans fat.

In June 2015 the FDA announced its decision to ban artificial trans fat in the food supply. Food manufacturers in the U.S. will have three years to remove partially hydrogenated oils — the primary source of artificial trans fat — from products.

While we’re making progress in the United States, trans-fat intake is widely used in some developing nations. Inexpensive partially hydrogenated soybean oil and palm oil have become staples not only for the food industry but also for home use. This shift away from traditional cooking oils and toward trans-rich partially hydrogenated oils is contributing to the growing epidemic of cardiovascular disease in developing nations around the world.

References   [ + ]