Are you including nut butter in your weight loss plan? Here's why you should choose whole nuts instead

  • 4 Minutes Read

Do you often eat nut butters but rarely eat whole nuts? Time to consider eating whole nuts instead - this could be beneficial for both weight loss and overall health.

Are nut butters healthy

Are nut butters healthy and helpful for weight loss?

Many of us love peanut butter and other types of nut butter. I often see articles written about which nut butter is healthier or tastier but what is missing from the conversation is the issue of choosing whole nuts over nut butters. Don't get me wrong, all types of nut butters are nutritious and can be a very healthy part of your diet. But if you are trying to lose weight, eating whole nuts instead of nut butters for weight loss is smart. This doesn't mean you have to give up nut butters altogether - but more often than not, choose whole nuts over nut butters. Here are some reasons why.

Why you should choose whole nuts over nut butter for weight loss

Eating whole nuts requires you to slow down

Eating nuts requires you to slow down - you need to chew the nuts first before you swallow. Chewing nuts reduces the risk for choking as well as helps the digestive process.

You can practice mindful eating techniques when you eat one nut at a time. Close your eyes and take one nut and start to chew it. How many chews before you swallow? I can get about 20-25 chews before I swallow one pecan. And during that time, I experience the texture and taste to the fullest. It takes me time to get through 1/2 - 1 oz of whole nuts when I practice mindful eating. And the good news is that I satisfy my hunger without eating junk food or chips.


Yes, nut butters are healthy but for the same volume, there are fewer calories in nuts versus nut butters. Let's take peanuts versus peanut butter as an example. Three tablespoons of peanuts weighs about 1 oz (28 grams) and contains about 162 calories. If you consumed 3 tablespoons of peanut butter, the weight would be 48 grams and have about 287 calories.

Another common problem with nut butters is how people serve themselves. People often tell me that they use a teaspoon to scoop out a serving of nut butter. Then they log 1 teaspoon and are delighted to see that it has only 32 calories. However, unless you use a level measuring teaspoon, that teaspoon scoop is likely heaping and is closer to one tablespoon - with 96 calories instead of 32 calories. That might not seem like a big deal, but many people do this daily and sometimes multiple times a day. That daily underestimation could be enough to keep you in calories balance rather than calories deficit (which means you don't lose weight). If you eat nuts or nut butter for weight loss, be sure to weigh your portions - that is the most accurate way to control your portion size and calories.

Another benefit to eating whole nuts is that the true calories content is likely lower than their nut butters. There was an interesting study conducted years ago that showed whole almonds had a lower calories count than what was being listed in food databases. Apparently, we don't fully break down and digest all parts of the almond. This means that the true calories content of almonds (and likely all whole nuts) are lower than what is listed on food labels and food databases (including food trackers).

Lower carb snack choice

If you are used to eating a snack after dinner then try 1/2 - 1 oz of nuts instead of a sweet. If you have a sweet tooth, try honey-roasted peanuts instead of ice cream or candy. The protein, fat, and chewing will help you feel full but the calories are reasonable at 80-160 calories depending on portion size. Many people have told me that their appetite goes into overdrive when they eat carbs. Does that describe you? If so, then consider trying a small portion of nuts instead.

Lower risk of chronic disease is linked to eating whole nuts, not nut butter

Interestingly, consuming whole nuts, not nut butters, is associated with a lower risk of common chronic diseases (obesity, cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancers, and Type 2 diabetes).

What is not clear to me is whether or not type of processing matters. For instance, if we just looked at people who consume 100% natural nut butters (with no added ingredients, just pulverized nuts), would we still see this difference? There are many different types of nut butter - many have added oils, sugars, and salt. And most no-stir types have added oils that might offset the beneficial health effects of plain nuts. And for brands that still use partially hydrogenated oils, those harmful trans fats could offset the cardiovascular health benefits of the nut butter.

Also, what we eat with nut butters affects our overall calories intake and nutrient intake. For instance, I never eat just peanut butter - I often have it on a slice of bread with sliced banana, and a small glass of milk. If I have that as a meal, then the calories work out okay, but as a snack, that means a hefty cost of 360 calories! However, I often just eat whole nuts as a standalone snack -1 oz of nuts satisfies me for about 180 calories (more or less depending upon the nut type).

But I love all types of nut butter!

If you love and prefer nut butter and won't eat whole nuts, opt for natural nut butter with few or no added ingredients. This might mean you have to stir the nut butter before each use. Be sure to measure the weight of your portion carefully and make sure the calories fit in your budget. Don't nibble mindlessly on nut butter for weight loss. Also, pay attention to what you typically eat with the nut butter.

Tracking helps you keep a handle on the calories but try experimenting with combinations. Instead of a peanut butter sandwich or peanut butter and banana, mix it up a bit and try a smaller amount of peanut butter with a fresh apple or celery (an even lower carb option). All types of nut butter are great with baby carrots.

Mix it up!

Tree nuts and peanuts are all great sources of healthy fats and nutrients. If you need to limit your salt intake, then avoid heavily seasoned flavors and go for lightly salted or no added salt versions. Mix it up a bit - try different types of nuts. For instance, right now, I have four different types of nuts in my fridge and pantry: walnuts, pecans, lightly salted peanuts, and honey-roasted peanuts.

If you would like to learn more about the health benefits of eating whole nuts, check out these resources:

It's time to go nuts and get seedy

Why nutritionists are crazy about nuts

Bon appetit!

Updated: February 18, 2020

Foods & Recipes->Nuts & Seeds Weight Loss->Appetite & Satiety
Feb 19, 2020
Katherine Isacks
Katherine Isacks, MPS, RDN, CDCES - Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES)

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