Food Label Guide to Building Healthy Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich

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According to the National Peanut Board, the average American person will eat around 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by the time they are 18 years old. If you are like me, then those delicious sandwiches are still a staple in your diet; but are they actually healthy for you? The answer is really based on reading labels. There is no doubt that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are packed with a high amount of calories and fat. However, with a little more research, the perfect PB&J can exist. Unfortunately, this will be require some label reading, but here are a few tips to make sure you know what you are looking at and how to interpret it.

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Bread: Bread comes in different colors, shapes, sizes, and calories, but not all breads are created equal. If you are watching calories, breads can range from 200 calories to 35 calories a slice. That is a BIG difference for the habitual bread eater. The goal is to find whole grain bread that ensures you receive adequate fiber. The Whole Grains Council has a packaging symbol called the Whole Grain Stamp that helps consumers find real whole grain products:

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Tips to search for the perfect bread:

  1. First look for the whole grain stamp symbol on your bread.
  2. If they do not have the stamp, a great way to determine if it is whole grain is to look at the first ingredient. This ingredient should say "Whole" first and then the name of the grain.
  3. Keep trying low calorie whole grain breads until you find the one that the family prefers. Typically the low calorie breads will say "Light" on the front.

Peanut Butter: The long debate on whether or not peanut butter is healthy is still ongoing.

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Peanut butter is high in calories because it contains fat from the peanuts and oil. However, peanuts contain a healthy fat that is good for the body in moderation. Sometimes moderation is not in our vocabulary when it comes to this delicious spread. Also, those added oils might be hydrogenated oil which will give peanut butter an unhealthy fat called trans-fat. Trans-fat is added to provide peanut butter a longer shelf life. By finding a peanut butter without hydrogenated oil, this may mean that you will have to stir your peanut butter and it will not have a long shelf life. If you are a serial peanut butter eater like me, then you don't need it to last that long in the cupboard and stirring is something that is doable.

Tips to search for the perfect PB:

  1. Look for peanut butter that has the least amount of ingredients and if you can, find one that only has "Roasted Peanuts" listed. Natural peanut butters don't include sugar, so choosing these will help keep the sugar low.
  2. Reduced fat peanut butter tends to have the same amount of calories and has a higher sugar content to add flavor. Stay away from these products.
  3. It's difficult to reduce the calories of peanut butter but you can find some added benefits to it. Try peanut butter with flax seed oil which will provide healthy omega-3's.

Jelly: It's no secret jelly and peanut butter are soul mates that complement each other very well. Image removed.

Walk through the local grocery store and you'll find a wide array of homemade jam and jellies. Have you ever stopped to think about these products individually and what makes them different from one another? To put it simply Jelly is made from fruit juice and jam is made from real fruit. A product with 100 percent fruit preserves has a slightly sweeter taste. For example, a tablespoon of the average regular jelly contains about 80 calories and 12 g of sugar. The average 100 percent fruit jelly provides 40 calories and only 8 g of sugar per tablespoon, the difference being that this type of sugar comes from the fruit itself.

Tips to search for the perfect Jelly:

  1. Try and find products with fruit as the first ingredient.
  2. Look for jams or jellies that are made from 100 percent fruit.
  3. Anything containing high-fructose corn syrup should be eliminated.
  4. Aim for a tablespoon of jam to contain 40 or less calories.

With these food label tips, you can go back to your childhood days and no longer wonder if that delicious PB&J is doing more harm than good. Enjoy!

Today's post was written by Natalie Rodakowski. Natalie Rodakowski, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and Nutrition & Wellness Educator covering Carroll, Lee, Whiteside counties. She specializes in eating disorders, weight management, sports nutrition, and dietary behavior change.