by Kaylee Kroyer, RD, LD, Healthy Living Coach, YMCA of Central Kentucky

Ah – peanut butter and jelly. A taste of nostalgia and a staple lunch option for much of our childhood (and possibly adult life). It’s a classic combination of salty and sweet, it’s truly a timeless delicacy. 

But there are some new “nut butters” on the market, starting to overshadow the classic peanut spread and that’s causing a bit of a buzz regarding which one is the “healthiest”. Some of the most common nut butters include spread made from almonds, cashews and sunflower seeds. These provide an identical substitute for those with food allergies who are still looking for a protein packed and nutrient dense addition to sandwiches, smoothies or oatmeal (see recipe below).  

While the common nut butters have similar nutritional value, there are some slight variations between the different products. Let’s look at each variation and talk about the benefits and value of each related to total calories, total fat, protein, total carbohydrates and other nutrients. Note that all the information is for a 2 TBSP serving of spread from a no sugar added variety (make sure to read your food labels! 🙂 )  

Peanut butter: the tried and true classic, it is the lowest in total calories but the highest in naturally occurring sodium. Another added bonus to peanut butter is the cost as it is the most budget friendly of all the spreads mentioned in this post. Also, peanut butter is a great source of iron, folate, magnesium, and vitamin E which work to keeps us strong and healthy.  

Almond butter: this variation has the highest amount of heart healthy fat and the lowest amount of sodium. Additionally, it is the highest in fiber which helps to regulate blood sugar and can help to lower cholesterol. Score! This spread is a great source of the same vitamins and minerals as peanut butter but does typically cost 3-4x as much as peanut butter.  

Sunflower butter: this is most desirable as an alternative for those with nut allergies who otherwise wouldn’t be able to enjoy the creamy deliciousness of a nut butter spread. This product is slightly higher in calories but still is a good course of fiber and protein. This product is a great source of vitamin E which promotes healthy skin and magnesium and helps to fight inflammation and regulate sleep.  

Cashew butter: this product is the lowest in protein and fiber but is otherwise comparable to its counterparts. This spread has a naturally sweet taste and for that reason is great when added to baked goods or special treats. However, it’s not the go-to for increasing daily protein intake.  

Bottom line:  

Take into consideration your monthly nut-butter budget and your current health and fitness related goals. What are you hoping to gain from including a protein-rich spread to your menu? If you’re looking for the most bang for your buck, stick with the classic peanut butter. If you want to spend a little bit of extra money for some added fiber and more heart healthy fats, treat yourself to some almond butter. If you’re looking for a natural and nutritious source of sweetness, pick yourself up some cashew butter. And, as always, if you have any nut allergy or sensitivity, steer clear of all others except for the spread made from sunflower seeds or soy.  

And lastly, but most importantly, eat what you enjoy! The nutritional differences between the different products are relatively insignificant as they’re all nutrient dense spreads so pick the one that best meets your needs. 

Overnight PB&J Oats:  

This recipe is an easy and nutritious breakfast that can be made the night before and ready to go in the morning! They’re made in a mason jar or other container with a lid which makes them a great grab-and-go option for busy mornings. These overnight oats are full of fiber, protein, calcium and vitamin C to keep you energized, satisfied and feeling your best!  

National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day



½ cup uncooked oats 

¾ cup milk of your choice (skim, almond milk, soymilk, or oat milk)  

¼ cup low-fat Greek yogurt  

Dash of cinnamon  

1 TBSP nut butter of your choice 

1 TBSP jelly of your choice 

¼ cup fresh berries 


  1. Combine oats, milk, cinnamon and yogurt in a jar or container with a lid. 

  1. Top with nut butter, jelly and berries.  

  1. Cover with lid and refrigerate overnight. Allow to sit for at least two hours or until the liquid is absorbed.  

Optional add-ins:  

1 TBSP of chia seeds for extra fiber and Omege-3 fatty acids 

1 scoop of protein powder for a protein boost 

A sprinkle of granola on top before serving for some extra crunch 


Guide to nut butters image courtesy Women'sHealth