Power Food Number 2: Almond Butter

The Body Back meal plan is all about clean eating, with an emphasis on lean proteins, fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. Processed foods and added sugar are discouraged. This week I am unveiling my go-to “power foods,” or the staples of my diet. Today I discuss one of my favorite healthy fats: almond butter.

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We were a two peanut-butter household growing up: My mom preferred Skippy crunchy (I believe it was actually called “super chunk”), but I got to have Jif creamy at my Grandma Margaret’s house when I would visit her. Jif tasted sweeter to me than Skippy, and I somehow managed to talk my mom into buying it for me. I was the only person in our house who ate it.

I adored peanut butter so much that I shunned the traditional PB & J sandwich in favor of just PB. I had absolutely no shame in eating it by the spoonful. For an after-school or after-sports snack in middle school and high school, I would spread Jif on bread – the whiter and squishier, the better – and stick it in the microwave for 15 seconds. That was a little slice of heaven to me.

In college, I unfortunately fell victim to the food-with-fat-is-bad-for-you scare and stopped eating peanut butter altogether for years. I came back to it during my first pregnancy. It was a craving a couldn’t deny. Definitely a comfort food. And of course, we know now that there are certain kinds of fats – monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, which are found in foods such as avocados, eggs, olive oil, nuts and salmon – that are beneficial to our health.

But after we learned that my oldest son had a peanut allergy, I could no longer keep anything containing peanuts in the house. I was reluctant to try other nut butters. I just didn’t think they’d taste as good. And at the time, most of the other nut butters on the market were just nuts. By that I mean they were simply roasted nuts. No added sugar or salt or anything. As a kid I remember feeling sorry for my friends who had to eat natural peanut butter. Just looking at all that oil in natural peanut butter containers made me feel a little queasy. But in the interest of my health – and my children’s – I bucked up and bought my first jar of all-natural almond butter.

It was not love at first bite. I didn’t miss the added sugar as much as I thought I would, but the texture took a little getting used to. But before I knew it, I was enjoying it. I was adding it to smoothies, spreading it on hardy crackers or frozen bananas, and most recently I’ve taken to stirring it into my hot oatmeal in the morning. (I’ll do a separate post later this week on my rediscovery of my love of oatmeal.)

I don’t feel as brand-loyal to almond butter as I did in my youth to peanut butter. But what I love about having a clean palate – the result of taking processed foods and added sugar out of my diet – is that I can taste the difference between different brands, even though the only ingredient is nuts.

I am partial to a raw, unsalted crunchy almond butter. Maranatha makes one that reminds me of the flavor of these Mexican tea cakes my mom and I used to make at Christmas time. But Trader Joe’s makes one that is just as tasty and way more affordable.

My all-time favorite way to enjoy almond butter – and I have eaten it practically daily for the past three years – is to spread a tablespoon on a brown rice cake, top with a few slices of ripe banana and sprinkle with just a bit of fleur de sel. The crunch of the rice cake, the memory the flavor of the almond butter invokes, the sweetness of the banana, and just that hint of sea salt is a perfect combination. I can’t think of a dessert I’d rather eat.

What’s your favorite kind of nut butter? Are you loyal to a particular brand? Do you prefer creamy or chunky? What is your favorite way to eat it?

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