Nothing says comfort food like a good ‘ol peanut butter and jelly sandwich. But are these lunchbox favorites healthy for you? You bet it! That is… if you build it the right way.
A well-made PB&J not only tastes good, it also boasts some plant-based protein, healthy monounsaturated fats and whole-grain fiber.
Follow these healthy peanut butter and jelly sandwich hacks to help you get the nutrients you need and maintain a healthy diet.
Are peanut butter and jelly sandwiches healthy?
“From a nutritional standpoint, a PB&J sandwich is pretty good,” says Ryan D. Andrews, MS, MA, RD, RYT, CSCS and author of “A Guide to Plant-Based Eating.” You’ve got protein, fat and fiber, all of which can support a healthy diet, he says.
Peanut butter is a good low-carb source of protein, packing 7 grams in 2 tablespoons. serving, and it’s loaded with vitamin E and minerals like magnesium, calcium, and potassium.
Peanut butter is also cholesterol-free and contains about 8 grams of “good” monounsaturated fat in 2 tablespoons. serving, which “may have beneficial effects on your heart when eaten in moderation,” according to the American Heart Association. All in all, unless you have a peanut allergy, peanut butter is a safe, nutrient-dense, environmentally friendly crop, Andrews says.
And when you choose the right bread — like whole grains instead of white — you’ll also get a solid dose of fiber, which can help keep your digestion regular, help you feel fuller and maintain a healthy weight.
Hacks for healthy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
Not all PB&Js are created equal. The quality of your ingredient choices will determine how healthy your sandwich is. The hacks below offer simple alternatives to traditional highly processed peanut butter with sugary fruit on white bread, keeping your nutritional needs and personal taste preferences in mind.
1. Choose the right bread
PB&J may have entered your life on fluffy white bread, but those slices contain a long list of ingredients that don’t offer much in the way of nutrition. Instead, hack your PB&J with high-fiber whole-grain bread. Andrews recommends whole-grain sprouted bread or whole-grain slow-rising sourdough—both are higher in nutrients like amino acids and B vitamins and lower in antinutrients like phytates than their refined grain counterparts.
Additionally, sprouted and slow-rising sourdough breads are better digested, Andrews says. If you have a FODMAP sensitivity, sourdough may be a special choice because sourdough can increase mineral absorption, reduce glycemic response, and help fiber bioavailability. If one of these is too hard to find, “a simple whole-grain bread will do,” Andrews says.
Have you gone gluten-free? There are still good whole grain options for those who can’t enjoy traditional bread, but Andrews says it’s worth it if you have a sensitivity.
2. Choose a healthy peanut butter
Andrews says that in addition to peanuts, three ingredients are typically added to peanut butter: oil, sugar and salt. “The old school formula [like your traditional supermarket finds] Often includes hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils,” he said. For a healthier PB, you’ll want to avoid peanut butter with this type of added oil, or choose one without added oil.
Andrews notes that some of the salt in peanut butter isn’t a big concern unless there are specific health reasons. But otherwise, choose a brand that doesn’t add anything extra to its peanut butter mix. Meaning… the healthiest option for PB should just be peanuts.
When it comes to choosing organic vs. conventional peanut butter, Andrews says there isn’t much of a difference in nutrients like iron or protein. “But there’s a case to be made for organic peanut butter because there are fewer chemicals in agriculture and it’s generally more sustainable,” he notes.
Prefer an alternative nut or seed butter? Enjoy them at your leisure, says Andrews. Skimmer your favorite bread with almond or sunflower seed butter for a new twist on an old favorite. “From a nutritional perspective,” says Andrews, “it’s always a good idea to increase variety in your diet,” so let your taste buds guide you.
Just remember that the healthy option should focus on the main ingredient, peanuts, cashews or sunflower seeds, and not sugar, oil or preservatives. And always make sure there are zero trans fats — because they’re our enemy and, until a few years ago, they were sadly found in many nut butters.
3. Choose a 100% fruit spread
When it comes to topping your peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Andrews says, “The simpler the better.” A 100% fruit spread can help keep your added sugar low and give you a sweet treat in your PB&J.
Jam (made from crushed fruit) and jelly (made from fruit juice) already naturally contain fructose, so Andrews recommends that brands add other sweeteners, especially high fructose corn syrup. Andrews acknowledges that a little sugar adds sweetness and helps preserve fruit, but “try to stay under 4 to 5 grams per serving.”
Even if you’re considering buying a light fruit spread that’s sweetened with a sugar substitute, Andrews notes that many artificial sweeteners like sucralose can cause bloating. “If you can avoid them, do so.” Focus on choosing the most natural fruit spread with the fewest ingredients. And, use it sparingly, because the sugar and calories add up quickly.
But for your best bet? Just mash up some fresh berries! Mashing strawberries and spreading them on your sandwich can be just as easy as spreading them on something from a jar.
“Listen to your body,” says Andrews. Body size, hunger levels and physiological cues will all contribute to including PB&Js in your healthy diet. Check in with yourself after eating. Are you full? Do you think you have eaten enough? Was your PB&J a snack? A meal? What role does it play in your nutrition that day? With a mix of good, common-sense nutrition and your personal needs, you can find a way to enjoy better, healthier peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Can you lose weight by eating PB&Js?
Good news, sandwich lovers – PB&J can definitely be part of a balanced diet and help with weight loss! Especially if you follow the healthy hacks mentioned above.
The nutritional value of a PB&J makes this sandwich part of a balanced diet and can help with weight loss. Purdue University research has shown that people manage their weight loss regimens better when they include nuts. Andrews also agrees that peanut butter and jelly can help with weight loss. But it’s also important to consider what a PB&J will replace in your diet. What would you eat instead?
You choose PB&J over salad or fast food. There are so many food options — both healthy and unhealthy — that Andrews advises how your sandwich habits affect your overall nutrition.
And remember the portions, too: “A peanut butter and jelly sandwich can have a reasonable amount of calories, so you’ll want to use common sense to determine if your sandwich is enough (or too much) for your specific nutritional needs,” Andrews notes.