What can compete with—or even beat—the classic jar of peanut butter for nutrition, taste and all-around versatility? Actually, a lot these days, thanks to the growing number of nut and seed butters popping up in most supermarkets and natural-food stores.

You can even find hand-churned versions at many farmer’s markets. Or make your own! Nut and seed butters are poised to be the next big thing in tasty and convenient high-nutrition foods.

A Nutritional Powerhouse

No matter what nut or seed butter strikes your fancy, they are all nutritional heavyweights—especially when it comes to heart health. Tree nuts, including almonds, walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, macadamias, pine nuts and pecans, can reduce LDL “bad” cholesterol and help curb chronic inflammation, which is a root cause of heart disease.

Peanuts, which are technically a legume, are not only rich in protein, vitamin E, niacin, folate, magnesium, phosphorus and manganese, but they also have a hefty amount of arginine (an amino acid that can help improve blood flow in your arteries) and resveratrol (the same antioxidant compound found in red wine).

But I’m not the only one heaping on the praise. The FDA has given nut and peanut butter manufacturers the green light to claim on product labels that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts as part of a healthy diet may reduce the risk for heart disease.

So what’s so great about tree nuts and peanuts? They are filled with unsaturated fats, as well as vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals (plant compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities).

Seeds, such as flax, sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, hemp and chia, may not have garnered quite the recognition for their health benefits at this time, but these tiny kernels possess similar nutritional powers as nuts. 

Worth noting: Even though nut and seed butters are rich in the healthful variety of fat, they are still concentrated in calories. Most nut butters provide about 180 to 190 calories per serving (two tablespoons)—so a little goes a long way. That’s why sitting down with a spoon and an open jar isn’t the best way to enjoy these butters.

Instead, spread them on your favorite whole-grain breads…use as a dip with vegetable sticks or apple slices…add to smoothies…mix into your breakfast cereal…use them as a healthful fat source (instead of butter or margarine) in baking…and stir them into sauces and vinaigrettes.

Bonus: Nut and seed butters are a great plant-based protein option for vegetarians and people who want to cut back on their consumption of red meat—high amounts of which have been linked to increased risk for diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. It’s also a good idea to read the labels of nut and seed butters to avoid unwanted added ingredients, such as sugars and hydrogenated oils.