PB & J can be a healthy-for-you lunch, but only if you're making the right choices at the grocery store and not overloading your sandwich with heaping tablespoons of peanut butter (my husband's way to make PB & J).
Choose 100% whole wheat bread: When reading the ingredient label, be sure 100% whole wheat or whole grain is the very first ingredient. If your bread lists "enriched whole wheat flour", it is not 100% wheat bread. "Enriched" basically means that the nutrients have been stripped from the wheat during while being processed, so you aren't getting the full benefit of eating wheat. Also, look out for ingredients like "high fructose corn syrup", "artificial flavor", and food dyes. You'd be surprised how many of these ingredients may be in your bread!
If you're gluten-free, Udi's makes a great tasting gluten-free/whole grain bread. If you're grain free, try this sandwich bread recipe from Against All Grain.
Use natural peanut butter: The only ingredients listed on your peanut butter should be peanuts & salt. Organic is better, but not necessary- we go through peanut butter so fast in this house that I can't always buy organic. Smucker's Natural Peanut Butter is my go-to.
Sugar and oil are two ingredients found in a lot of peanut butters on the market. Sugar is unnecessary in peanut butter- it will contribute to your mid-afternoon energy crash and provides no real nutritional benefit, as it's added sugar . Peanuts have natural oils, so there is no need to add partially hydrogenated oil (aka: trans fat), which raises your bad cholesterol and lowers your good cholesterol. Trans fats also increase your risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes- no need for that to be in our peanut butter!
Preserves- not jelly or jam: Preserves are best, but be sure to read the ingredient label to be sure there is no high-fructose corn syrup. I like Polaner All Fruit- it's on the top shelf at my grocery store, so you may have to search a little when you hit the jam and jelly section of your store. I think Trader Joe's also carries a great preserve without HFCS.
Portion control: Be mindful when adding your peanut butter- you only need 1-2 tablespoons. I know, I know. My husband is a peanut butter lover and would never go for this, but 2 tablespoons is about 200 calories, so the calories on this sandwich can add up quickly!
In the picture below, I used 1 1/2 tablespoons of preserves and a little over 1 tablespoon of peanut butter. I think it's the perfect amount for any normal and reasonable human-being. ;)
Everything in moderation, of course. Pair this sandwich with some greek yogurt mixed with fresh berries and some carrot sticks and you have yourself a perfectly balanced and healthy lunch!
Looking for other ways to eat clean? Catch up on our Cut the Junk series!