Happy national PB&J day!

For a moment, think back to your childhood. To the Peter Pan peanut butter and grape jelly on sweet white bread that you used to devour during lunchtime at elementary school. It’s one of my sweetest (pun-intended) memories of being a kid and having the luxury to eat whatever I wanted. Although not quite as scary as the neon orange cheese balls and purple ketchup we used to eat, PB&J is a food that many people grow up loving (the average American will eat 1500 PB&Js before they turn 18), but not truly understanding.

Photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

PB&Js—though not an unhealthy choice—can be made much healthier with the selection of different ingredients.

Let’s take it at it’s most elementary level: peanut butter (which, depending on the brand, can be loaded with tons of extra sugar and added fat) and grape jelly (fruit? Kinda. More like sugar coated fruit remnants). Throw that winning combo on some nice Wonderbread, and you’re instantly back at 5 years old.

Classic creamy Peter Pan peanut butter logs 210 calories per two tablespoons, including 3 grams of sugar and 17 grams of fat. It contains roasted peanuts, sugar, and less than two percent of hydrogenated vegetable oils, salt, and partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil. All in all, not terrible. Nut butters provide a good source of protein and healthy fats. A better choice, however, would be an all-natural peanut butter with no ingredients other than peanuts.

On the other side, spread 2 tablespoons of Welch’s Concord Grape Jelly, logging 100 calories, 0 grams of fat, and 26 grams of sugar, containing concord grapes, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, fruit pectin, citric acid, and sodium citrate. When recommendations from the American Heart Association and World Health Organization range from 24 grams to 50 grams a day, a whopping 26 grams in one ingredient of a PB&J is a lot. Can you say sugar rush? Instead, try natural-style jam (instead of jelly) with no high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, artificial flavors or colors. Or—better yet—cut up some berries to use on the sandwich instead.

Now let’s look at the bread: 2 slices of average white bread has 140 calories, 2 grams of fat, and 2 grams of sugar, and contains enriched wheat flour, water, high fructose corn syrup, yeast, soybean oil and less than two percent of salt, emulsifiers, flour, and vinegar. Whole wheat bread, in comparison, has slightly more calories, fat and sugar, but also more protein and dietary fiber, and leaves out the high fructose corn syrup.

Or, if you’re feeling ambitious, you can make one of these PB&J creations. If there’s any day to do it, it’s today!

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