Sunflower Seed Butter | Is Seed Butter Healthier Than Nut Butter?

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Seed butters are trending in the natural foods world, and health-savvy runners are increasingly adding sunflower, sesame, and other seed butters to their shopping list.

“They’re a great alternative to peanut or almond butter and can be used in the same way,” sports dietitian Sarah Schlichter, M.P.H., R.D., tells Runner’s World.

There is a good argument to make for supplementing your nut butter habit with these seed spreads to help take in a broader range of nutrients. Plus, they are a great way to side-step flavor fatigue in your diet, Schlichter says.

Here’s what you need to know before going nuts for a different creamy spread.

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What are Seed Butters?

Similar to nut butter varieties, seed butters are made by grinding up raw or roasted seeds into a smooth spread. The three most common types are tahini (sesame seed butter), sunflower seed butter, and pumpkin seed butter. More niche is watermelon seed butter and hemp seed butter. Sometimes manufacturers blend in add-ins like cocoa, cinnamon, and chia seeds.

How Healthy are Seed Butters?

Seed butters contain a powerful blend of nutrition.

One serving—1 tablespoon —of unsalted sunflower butter contains about the following:

  • 99 calories
  • 3 g of protein
  • 9 g fat
  • 1 g saturated fat
  • 4 g of carbs
  • 1 g of dietary fiber
  • 0 mg sodium
  • 10 mg calcium

    One serving—1 tablespoon —of sesame butter contains about the following:

    • 89 calories
    • 3 g of protein
    • 8 g fat
    • 1 g saturated fat
    • 4g of carbs
    • 1 g of dietary fiber
    • 5 mg sodium
    • 21 mg calcium

      The various types of seed butter deliver plant-based protein numbers on par with peanut butter and even slightly more than almond butter.

      “The protein found in seed butter can certainly help meet overall protein needs for active people, especially those who follow a plant-based lifestyle,” Schlichter says.

      Although the protein in sunflower butter and its counterparts is not considered “complete,” because it does not contain all the essential amino acids, Schlichter explains that this is not an issue as long as you get what you need from other foods, plant-based or animal-based, over the course of a day.

      “Both nut and seed butters are comparable in quality, and offer leucine, a branched-chain amino acid, which is important for muscle protein synthesis, muscle repair, and preventing muscle breakdown.”

      There is mounting research suggesting that consuming more plant proteins can help contribute to better heart health, especially when it displaces red and processed meat in the diet. Just keep in mind that you’ll get more plant protein from beans and lentils than you will from seed butter, meaning the former will do a better job at meeting your overall protein needs if you don’t eat meat.

      Aside from protein, seed butters contain healthy fats—the majority of which come from unsaturated fat.

      “Unsaturated fats, which tend to be liquid at room temperature, are very beneficial to health by helping improve heart health, cognitive function, and reducing inflammation,” Schlichter says.

      A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that simply replacing about 10 percent of the calories in our diets that come from saturated fat with calories from unsaturated fat can improve markers associated with better heart functioning.

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      Crushed seeds—particularly sunflower, pumpkin, and hemp—are also a good source of magnesium. Magnesium is essential for bone formation, protein synthesis, and energy production. According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, magnesium is required for the proper metabolism of vitamin D, so if you come up short, it will also negatively impact your vitamin D levels—bad news for your bone and immune health. It’s worth noting that about 50 percent of Americans don’t consume enough magnesium, so spreading some seed butter in your diet can help fill in any gaps.

      Toasty tahini, a staple ingredient in hummus, is also a decent source of phosphorus, “a mineral that, along with vitamin D and calcium, is an important component of bone health and is necessary for strong bones to support running and reduce the risk of injury,” Schlichter says.

      Another nutritional highlight across the board includes copper, a mineral involved in energy production along with making connective tissue and neurotransmitters. Pumpkin seed butter, in particular, also supplies lofty amounts of vitamin K, which, according to Schlichter is a fat-soluble vitamin that is involved in blood clotting, bone health, and metabolism. One preliminary study found that higher intakes of vitamin K boosted maximal cardio output in athletes that may result in performance gains, but the study was small so more research is needed.

      And while seed butters are typically thought to be lower in calories than nut options, any savings is actually very slight and won’t have a noticeable impact on your overall daily calorie load.

      As with certain nut butters, added sugars can sneak their way into jars of seed butter. Look for options that don’t include any added sweeteners, such as honey, molasses, or cane sugar, in the ingredient list. “However, for runners and active individuals, the amount added to seed and nut butter usually isn’t too much of a problem, especially if it helps meet energy needs around workouts,” Schlichter says.



      How to Start Eating More Seed Butter

      Beyond the nutritional merits, what’s also appetizing is that sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin seed butters tend to be less expensive than almond and other nut butter. Though, the peanut variety is still typically the least expensive addition to your shopping cart.

      Schlichter assures that seed butter can be a great alternative in the kitchen if peanut or nut allergies are an issue. (It’s worth noting, however, that if you have a sesame allergy, steer clear of tahini a.k.a. sesame butter.)

      Sunflower butter, in particular, has a consistency and flavor most similar to peanut butter. Pumpkin seed butter has an earthy flavor and green hue that is a bigger departure from peanut butter, so it can take some getting used to.

      Of course you can slather any seed butter on toast, but also try blending them into smoothies, dips, and dressings—tahini is especially great when used to make a creamy salad and grain bowl dressing. Homemade energy bars and balls are also a good way to incorporate sunflower and other seed butters. Or, swirl some into oatmeal for added breakfast nutrition and smear on apple slices for a healthy snack option.

      You can also use seed butters as an ingredient to thicken and add richness to savory pureed soups, such as butternut squash or cauliflower. Or, update an old-school snack favorite by spreading some seed butter in the crevice of a celery stalk and throw a few raisins or dried cranberries on top. You can try adding tahini into dessert batters, including brownies and chocolate chip cookies.

      The Bottom Line

      Basically, anywhere peanut or almond butter goes, so can seed butters, making them a nutritious and tasty addition to your diet. But if you don’t want to ditch peanut or almond butter from your diet, leaving seed butter off your menu is not going to be a major blow when it comes to eating healthier.

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