Did you know that Monday was National Peanut Butter & Jelly Day?
Similar to bananas (see Are bananas bad for you?), I often get asked if a good old fashion PB & J sandwich is healthy? Sometimes people ask for their kids, and sometimes they ask for themselves as a quick, low-cost lunch option. Let’s break it down by ingredient.
The Right Bread For Your PB & J
The base of your sandwich is bread. If you are using white bread, then no, that isn’t healthy for you. USDA recommends at least half your grains to be whole grains, but I tell my clients all your grains should be whole grains unless you are eating birthday cake.
Whole grains have more filling protein, fiber, and nutrients than white bread, which has no nutrients. White bread lacks these important nutrients and breaks down into sugar quickly, causing you to be hungrier faster.
Jelly For Your PB & J
The concern with jelly is the sugar content. Jelly is made from the juice of the fruit, so like white bread, it lacks nutrients and fiber that was in the whole fruit.
In small quantities, jelly is fine, but you may want to consider an alternative such as jam, preserves, or fruit slices if you are having peanut butter and jelly sandwiches frequently. If you need help choosing a healthy jelly or jam alternative, click here to read Is Jelly Healthy?
Health Benefits of Peanut Butter
(Crazy Easy Homemade Peanut Butter with Flax)
Source of Protein
Two tablespoons of PB contains about 8 grams of protein. Protein helps to maintain, repair, and build damaged tissues in the body. It is important to help recover after workouts to maintain lean muscle during weight loss, and to help keep you full.
The question is, how much PB are you using on your sandwich? Back in the day when I used to count calories (I don’t anymore, now I try to eat intuitively), I often made sure only to include 1/2 tablespoon of peanut butter on my sandwiches. This meant I wasn’t getting enough protein or the benefits of protein, such as feeling fuller for longer.
A two-tablespoon serving of PB also contains about 16 grams of fat, which contribute to PB’s calorie density of 180 calories per serving. The majority of this fat is heart-healthy unsaturated fat, more than half of it is monounsaturated fat similar to what is found in olive oil.
There is also a small amount of saturated fat in peanut butter. Rejoice because saturated fat isn’t all bad. The link between saturated fat and heart disease is weak. New studies suggest that it may be protective, especially in plant-based forms.
The healthy fats in peanut butter help keep you fuller for longer, so make sure you have enough on your sandwich, not just 1/2 tablespoon like I did!
Peanut butter is a good source of potassium, which helps to combat the adverse effects of sodium in our diet. Also, it packs an immunity punch with a Vitamin B6 and Zinc, which promote a healthy immune system. The list continues on and on, but it is worth mentioning its significant concentration of antioxidants Vitamin E and manganese.
Downsides to Peanut Butter
If you are piling on the peanut butter, you can also be piling on the calories. Peanut butter has 100 calories PER tablespoon, so watch out! I recommend two tablespoons per sandwich. That way, you get enough to keep you full, but not so much that you pile on the calories!
My clients with food sensitivities to mold/yeast and beans/legumes often do not do well with peanut butter. That is because peanuts are very susceptible to a type of mold that produces aflatoxin. People with mold sensitivities can’t tolerate any amount and feel bad when they have it.
Those sensitive to beans or legumes often have an issue digesting lectins. Since peanuts are a type of legume that mimics the nutrition profile of a nut, they aren’t tolerated well by these people.
Are Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches Healthy?
If you chose healthier ingredients in the right amounts, peanut butter, and jelly sandwiches are absolutely be a healthy option for any meal. When I was pregnant, I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast all the time. They felt great on my stomach in the morning and supplied lots of nutrients.
I summarized the list of how to build a healthier peanut butter and jelly sandwich below and added my preferred recipe for making healthy peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I hope that helps you enjoy your upgraded healthy breakfast, lunch, or dinner option!
100% WHOLE GRAIN BREAD
Choose nutrient-dense 100% whole grain bread. (See is bread bad for you?) Be careful here. This is one of the most common misleading food label tricks! Also, gluten-free friends, watch for a bunch of potato starch, and refined carbohydrates in your bread too! Try to find one with whole grains in it as possible (such as brown rice flour.)
NATURAL PEANUT BUTTER
Get pure natural peanut butter. (Ingredients should be salt and peanut butter, that’s it. See How to Eat More Real Food)
NOT TOO MUCH, NOT TOO LITTLE PEANUT BUTTER
Make sure you have 1-2 tablespoons in your sandwich. No less, because you won’t feel full enough, no more because peanut butter is calorie-dense. (See How to Eat More Healthy Fats)
LOW SUGAR JAM OR FRUIT
The best types are jams that use the natural sweetness of the fruit without any added sugar. Other healthy options are to sub the jelly for slices of banana, apples, or pears. You can always add a drizzle of honey if needed for sweetness! See Is Jelly Healthy For You?
Unfortunately, even if you get a healthy whole grain bread and use enough peanut butter, you’ll probably need to add some protein to help keep you full. If you can tolerate dairy, a low sugar greek yogurt or piece of cheese would do the trick. If you can’t tolerate dairy, you may have to get a bit more creative. You may want to check out how to build the adult lunchable.
DON’T STACK CARBS
Back in the day, I used to have an almond butter and banana sandwich every day, with an apple and carrots on the side. It was so good, but I was always hungry like an hour later. It’s better to stick with non-starchy veggies and protein for your “side dishes“. I’d skip the fruit since you already have enough carbs in the bread and banana slices.
Healthy Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich
If you make it with healthy ingredients in the right amount, the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich can be a healthy option for any meal!
Spread peanut butter on one slice of bread and jam on the other. Place one slice of bread on top of the other with peanut butter and jelly sides facing to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Enjoy!
So, what’s your favorite way to PB & J?