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4 Gut-Friendly Nut Butters for Kids

Published November 08, 2023

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When it comes to supporting healthy digestion in kids, incorporating gut-friendly foods like nut butters can be a nutritious choice. However, with so many different types of nut butters found at the grocery store, how do you know which one is best to support gut health in your kiddos? Let’s review the top gut-friendly nut butters that can support your kid's health in addition to some common ingredients in nut butters to stay away from.

Benefits of Nut Butters for Kids

Nut butters made from nuts and seeds such as sunflower seeds, pistachios, and cashews can provide health benefits such as:

  • Energy Boost: The combination of protein, fiber, and fat can provide kids with a steady source of energy throughout the day.

  • Bone Health: Nut butters contain nutrients like calcium and magnesium, which can both support bone health in kids [1].

  • Gut and Digestive Health: Nuts contain dietary fiber, unsaturated fatty acids and polyphenols that may impact the composition of the gut microbiota and contribute to overall gut health [2,3].

Pumpkin Seed Butter

Pumpkin seed butter is made from grounded pumpkin seeds that contain a high content of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids. These are both healthy fats that help decrease inflammation in the body and maintain healthy cholesterol levels. In addition, they are one of the best natural sources of magnesium, which is a mineral that can help support kids’ gut health. Pumpkin seeds have been studied to be safe to eat on a daily basis and do not have any negative impact on human health [4].

Sunflower Seed Butter

This butter is made from sunflower seeds and is a great source of Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant used for anti-inflammatory properties in the human body. They also contain plenty of B-vitamins, copper, folate, iron, selenium, and zinc - all essential nutrients with antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antihypertensive properties [6]. Sunflower seed butter may be a great alternative particularly for kiddos that may have a tree nut allergy.

Walnut Butter

Walnut butter contains omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and antioxidants - nutrients that can support a healthy gut microbiome and proper digestion. Studies have found that walnut consumption can change the microbiome by increasing good gut bacteria such as bifidobacterium in the gut. Additionally, walnuts contain polyphenols which have been linked to improved gut health and reduced inflammation [7].

In a short-term study of walnuts, a 3-day consumption in healthy individuals was found to modify the gut microbiome by also increasing short chain fatty acid levels to [3]. Data also suggests a correlation between walnut consumption and a shift within the gut microbiome, suggesting that a regular supplementation might offer prebiotic and probiotic benefits by improving the microbiome composition and diversity [8].

Begin Health Expert Tip: The natural oils in nut butters can go rancid faster when stored at room temperature. Refrigerating nut and seed butters can help make them maintain maximum freshness and last longer after opening.

Pistachio Butter

Pistachio butter is a lesser-known but equally beneficial option to support your kiddos’ digestive health. It is a good source of dietary fiber, healthy fats, and plant-based protein. Pistachios are one of the few plant-based proteins that is also considered a complete protein, which means it contains all the essential amino acids your kiddos only get through food to support a healthy development [9]. The fiber content in pistachio butter promotes regular bowel movements and supports a balanced gut microbiota. Pistachios also contain a unique combination of prebiotic fiber and antioxidants that can contribute to a healthy gut environment [10].

Total Calories, Fat, and Fiber Found in Common Nut Butter*

Nut Butter Type

Calories (per 2 tbsp)

Fat (per 2 tbsp)

Fiber (per 2 tbsp)

Protein (per 2 tbsp)

Pumpkin Seed

180 calories

14 grams

1.5 grams

8 grams

Sunflower Seed

180 calories

16 grams

3 grams

7 grams

Walnut

190 calories

18 grams

2 grams

4 grams

Pistachio

180 calories

16 grams

2 grams

6 grams


Note: Calorie and fat content can vary slightly between different brands and processing methods, so it's best to check the nutrition label on the specific product you choose for the most accurate information*

Begin Health Expert Tip: Nuts can be a healthy food, but eating too many nuts may cause constipation, bloating and indigestion problems. Nuts can be difficult to break down particularly in large amounts due to the phytate and lectin anti-nutrients on their outer shell [5]. Moderation is key with nuts - make sure you note the portion sizes and stick to one per day.

Ingredients To Avoid in Nut Butters:

The best types of nut butters contain only a single ingredient - just nuts. For example, the first ingredient on the ingredient list for sunflower seed butter should be sunflower seeds. Occasionally, salt is added for flavor and two-ingredient nut butters are good options as well. However, oftentimes you’ll walk into the grocery store and find nut butters with multiple ingredients. Here are a list of common ingredients to avoid in nut butters:

  • Added Sugars: Look out for nut butters with added sugars, such as high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, or any form of added sweeteners.

  • Partially Hydrogenated Oils: Avoid nut butters that contain partially hydrogenated oils, which are a source of harmful trans fats. Trans fats can raise bad cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease. Some nut butters include added stabilizers or emulsifiers like hydrogenated oils to prevent the natural oil separation that occurs in pure nut butter. Look for brands that use minimal and natural stabilizers, if needed.

  • Artificial Flavors: Nut butter should not need artificial flavors.

  • Artificial Preservatives: Some nut butters contain artificial preservatives like BHA, BHT, or TBHQ. These additives are not necessary in pure nut butters and are best avoided.

  • Palm Oil: The production of palm oil has raised environmental and ethical concerns. Some nut butter brands use palm oil, so you may want to choose products that use sustainable and responsibly sourced palm oil or opt for palm oil-free alternatives.

  • Added Dairy: If you or your child has dairy allergies or follows a vegan diet, avoid nut butters that contain added dairy ingredients, such as milk solids or whey.

For more information and tips regarding food additives to avoid on your next grocery trip, check out our blog here: A Review of Food Additives Kids Should Avoid.

Summary: Healthy, gut-friendly nut butters for your kiddos can include almond, walnut, cashew, pistachio, or even seed-based butters such as sunflower seed butter. Nut butters contain a mix of nutrients including fiber, protein, B vitamins, phosphorus, zinc, and vitamin E that can all support a kid’s growing body. The best type of nut butters to buy at the grocery stores will contain only one ingredient - just the nuts, without added sugars or partially hydrogenated oils.

References:

[1] Abrams SA. Bone Health in School Age Children: Effects of Nutritional Intake on Outcomes. Front Nutr. 2021 Nov 19;8:773425. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2021.773425. PMID: 34869539; PMCID: PMC8640096.

[2] Creedon AC, Hung ES, Berry SE, Whelan K. Nuts and their Effect on Gut Microbiota, Gut Function and Symptoms in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomised Controlled Trials. Nutrients. 2020 Aug 6;12(8):2347. doi: 10.3390/nu12082347. PMID: 32781516; PMCID: PMC7468923.

[3] Mandalari G, Gervasi T, Rosenberg DW, Lapsley KG, Baer DJ. Effect of Nuts on Gastrointestinal Health. Nutrients. 2023 Apr 1;15(7):1733. doi: 10.3390/nu15071733. PMID: 37049572; PMCID: PMC10096892.

[4] Batool M, Ranjha MMAN, Roobab U, Manzoor MF, Farooq U, Nadeem HR, Nadeem M, Kanwal R, AbdElgawad H, Al Jaouni SK, Selim S, Ibrahim SA. Nutritional Value, Phytochemical Potential, and Therapeutic Benefits of Pumpkin (Cucurbita sp.). Plants (Basel). 2022 May 24;11(11):1394. doi: 10.3390/plants11111394. PMID: 35684166; PMCID: PMC9182978.

[5] Petroski W, Minich DM. Is There Such a Thing as "Anti-Nutrients"? A Narrative Review of Perceived Problematic Plant Compounds. Nutrients. 2020 Sep 24;12(10):2929. doi: 10.3390/nu12102929. PMID: 32987890; PMCID: PMC7600777.

[6] Guo S, Ge Y, Na Jom K. A review of phytochemistry, metabolite changes, and medicinal uses of the common sunflower seed and sprouts (Helianthus annuus L.). Chem Cent J. 2017 Sep 29;11(1):95. doi: 10.1186/s13065-017-0328-7. PMID: 29086881; PMCID: PMC5622016.

[7] Holscher HD, Guetterman HM, Swanson KS, An R, Matthan NR, Lichtenstein AH, Novotny JA, Baer DJ. Walnut Consumption Alters the Gastrointestinal Microbiota, Microbially Derived Secondary Bile Acids, and Health Markers in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Nutr. 2018 Jun 1;148(6):861-867. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxy004. PMID: 29726951; PMCID: PMC5991202.

[8] Bamberger C, Rossmeier A, Lechner K, Wu L, Waldmann E, Fischer S, Stark RG, Altenhofer J, Henze K, Parhofer KG. A Walnut-Enriched Diet Affects Gut Microbiome in Healthy Caucasian Subjects: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. Nutrients. 2018 Feb 22;10(2):244. doi: 10.3390/nu10020244. PMID: 29470389; PMCID: PMC5852820.

[9] Derbyshire E, Higgs J, Feeney MJ, Carughi A. Believe It or 'Nut': Why It Is Time to Set the Record Straight on Nut Protein Quality: Pistachio (Pistacia vera L.) Focus. Nutrients. 2023 Apr 30;15(9):2158. doi: 10.3390/nu15092158. PMID: 37432263; PMCID: PMC10181398.

[10] Hernández-Alonso P, Bulló M, Salas-Salvadó J. Pistachios for Health: What Do We Know About This Multifaceted Nut? Nutr Today. 2016 May;51(3):133-138. doi: 10.1097/NT.0000000000000160. Epub 2016 May 19. PMID: 27340302; PMCID: PMC4890834.

May Zhu, RDN

May Zhu, RDN

May is the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and nutrition expert at Begin Health.

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