Whether you like it with jelly or jam, the classic PBJ sandwich delivers protein, fiber and important minerals, all in one portable package. Do the peanut butter and jelly sandwich calories you'll be consuming meet your own dietary goals?
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The average number of calories in a peanut butter and jam or peanut butter and jelly sandwich is 326, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). That figure can be higher or lower, depending on ingredients used and portion size.
What’s the Bread to Beat?
A basic PBJ contains two slices of bread. Whether you go the traditional white bread route or bump up the nutritional content from white bread to a whole grain, those two slices contribute about 155 to 160 calories to the overall PBJ calorie count, according to the USDA. The peanut butter and jelly sandwich calories from a wheat bread sandwich are only about 4 more per slice than white bread.
Unless your taste buds insist on the white bread you knew as a kid, going with whole-wheat bread or another whole grain will give you more bang for that calorie count. USDA nutrition charts indicate that wheat bread contributes two to three times more fiber than white bread. In addition, you'll get more protein, magnesium, zinc and vitamin E.
If you prefer white bread to other types, Mayo Clinic suggests white whole-wheat bread, made from a paler variety of wheat plant. This type of wheat also provides a texture more similar to regular white bread, but it hasn't been refined. Because of this, it retains more nutrients.
Picking the Peanut Butter
According to the Cleveland Clinic, a healthy amount of peanut butter to put on your peanut butter and jam (or jelly) sandwich is about 2 tablespoons. When you pick out the ideal "PB" for your PBJ, reading the nutritional label is always smart. In general, you won't find much variation in calorie count. This allows you to choose smooth over chunky, for example, or vice versa, without worrying about the consequences in terms of calories.
The USDA's chart of various brands and types of peanut butter shows that most types yield about 190 calories from a 2-tablespoon serving. That's true whether you prefer smooth, chunky or reduced sodium and reduced sugar peanut butter.
It also pays to look on the label to make sure that "low fat" peanut butter is really lower in saturated fat than your preferred brand or if the "reduced sugar" represents a significant improvement over a brand that is higher in protein and other nutrients.
Read more: Three-Day Peanut Butter Diet
Judging the Jams
Peanut butter and grape jelly may be a perennial favorite pairing, but there are plenty of strawberry jam fans out there who insist on jams as the "J" in their PBJ rather than jelly. Other options include blueberry preserves, peach spreads or even orange marmalade. While there are plenty of differences between them in terms of taste and texture, the calorie counts of various preserve options vary much less than you might think.
The USDA figure for the average number of calories in 1 tablespoon of jam, jelly or other preserves is 55 calories. As with peanut butter, the type of preserve you opt to use in your PBJ will usually not significantly alter the calorie count, whether you want an all-organic, artisanal strawberry jam or your favorite name-brand grape jelly.
Reduced-sugar types of jams and jellies represent an opportunity for slightly lowering the calorie content of a PBJ. The average reduced-calorie jelly, for example, has about 33 calories in a 1-tablespoon serving. Check labels to make sure the calorie reduction is significant enough to offset any reservations you might have about the type of sweetener used or the alteration in flavor.
Read more: List of Foods High in Pectin
Tweaking the Classic
Beyond using any lower-calorie versions of the peanut butter, jam or bread you may find, there are other ways to make this iconic sandwich even healthier. One obvious way to lower calories, if needed, is to reduce the portion size. Consider making a half-sandwich with one slice of bread or using a bit less peanut butter and jam.
To make portion control more fun, a recipe on the American Heart Association website recommends using a whole-wheat tortilla and reduced amounts of peanut butter and jam (or jelly). You can make "spirals" by rolling, then slicing, the tortilla. This fresh tip results in a PBJ calorie count of only 250.
- USDA: "Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich"
- My Food Data: "Whole Wheat Bread"
- My Food Data: "White Bread"
- USDA: "Peanut Butter"
- My Food Data: "Chunky Peanut Butter"
- USDA: "Reduced Sodium and Sugar Peanut Butter"
- USDA: "Jams and Preserves"
- USDA: "Reduced Sugar Jelly"
- American Heart Association: "PB and J Spirals"
- American Council on Fitness: "How Can I Make Healthy Sandwiches?"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar Control"
- Mayo Clinic: "Whole Grains"