Are Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches Healthy?

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches have a lot of upsides. Cheap, full of protein and easy to make, this all-American staple has health benefits galore to go along with its other positives.

Peanut butter and jelly combine for a kid-friendly, nutritious sandwich that provides good nutrients along with good taste. Credit: KirbyIng/iStock/GettyImages

Tips

Peanut butter is an easy way to get protein and fiber into your kids. While jelly, jam and preserves contain sugar, they've also got fruit. So this power-packed sandwich favorite offers a lot of bang for its buck — especially if you use whole-wheat bread.

Healthy PB and J

If you're stressed and out of time to make lunch or dinner, peanut butter and jelly provides a quick, kid-friendly meal. Spread some peanut butter onto a piece of bread, add a smear of jelly and top it with another piece of bread. Simple and easy.

To make this healthy PB and J sandwich even more healthy, you can use whole-wheat bread, fruit-sweetened jam or preserves, and all-natural peanut butter. No matter which way you (peanut) butter your bread, however, you're getting a healthy food choice.

While it's mainly the peanut butter that makes the peanut butter and jelly sandwich healthy, if jelly or jam is what gets your kid to eat peanut butter it's probably worth the 12 grams of sugar in a typical serving of strawberry jelly.

Read more: Peanut Butter and Jelly Diet

High in Protein

Two tablespoons of peanut butter provide 7 grams of protein. The amount of protein you need in a day varies by age and gender, but that's still a good source of protein.

For children, ages 1 to 3, peanut butter is about half their daily required protein, at 13 grams. Children, ages 4 to 8, need 19 grams, so it's still more than one-third of their recommended daily allowance, or RDA.

The U.S. RDA of protein suggests girls and boys, ages 9 to 13, should eat 34 grams of protein each day, so a single PB&J with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter provides more than one-fifth of that. Adult men typically need 56 grams of protein, while adult women typically need 46 grams, so even for adults, PB&J is a good protein source.

High in Vitamins and Minerals

PB&J is also a good source of vitamins and minerals. That same 2-tablespoon serving of peanut butter that provides so much protein also provides the following:

Magnesium: 57 milligrams, about 15 percent of RDA for women, 20 percent for men

Phosphorus: 107 milligrams, about 15 percent of RDA for adults

Zinc: 0.85 milligrams, 7.7 percent of RDA for men, 10.6 percent of RDA for women

Niacin: 4.6 milligrams, about one-third of the adult RDA

Vitamin B-6: 0.017 milligrams, nearly 14 percent of the adult RDA

Peanut Butter and Heart Health

Peanut butter's got a lot of fat. A 2-tablespoon serving has 3.3 grams of saturated fat and 12.3 grams of unsaturated fat. The American Heart Association suggests daily fat intake should be about 20 to 35 percent of all calories eaten. That's about 44 to 78 grams of fat.

But not all fat is bad for you. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are two types of fats that can benefit your heart. Peanut butter has a high ratio of mono- and polyunsaturated fats to saturated fats. That ratio is important to your heart's health.

Peanut butter's ratio is similar to that of olive oil, and that's part of what helps your heart health. A diet rich in nuts may actually reduce your risk of heart disease, according to a 2015 study reported in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Read more: 9 Foods That Do Not Raise Cholesterol

Fitness and PB&J

Outside Magazine suggests packing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on your next endurance challenge. The PBJ calories in a basic sandwich, made with white bread, name-brand peanut butter and Concord jelly, equal about 350, with 16 grams of fat, 45 grams of carbohydrates and 11 grams of protein.

Outside writer Michael Easter compared PB&J with energy bars for a 24-hour endurance event and, hands down, found PB&J to be preferable. Many fitness buffs find peanut butter to be an easy way to consume a large number of calories when they need lots of energy, fast.

Easter called the sandwich a blank canvas, waiting to be dressed up or dressed down. Use waffles instead of bread or add fruit. Use thicker bread or three slices. Your next marathon could be fueled by the peanut butter and jelly sandwich of your dreams.

PB&J goes beyond endurance athletes, however. ESPN reports that PB&J is a favorite pregame food among NBA teams.

Varieties of PB&J

This is a sandwich that allows for lots of variety. For example, Smuckers Natural Chunky Peanut Butter has 95 milligrams of sodium, but if sodium is a concern, you can use peanut butter made without salt. There are natural peanut butters made strictly with peanuts, or peanuts and salt. There are organic peanut butters made with organically grown peanuts.

One slice of whole-wheat bread has about 2 grams of fiber, so you're adding even more fiber to your diet if you make your sandwich with two slices of wheat bread. Make sure you use whole-wheat bread if you're looking for fiber, however. Breads labeled "wheat" may not necessarily be whole wheat, so read the label.

You can add fruit to your PB&J. Slicing up real strawberries to go along with the jelly or jam is a good way to get children to eat fruit. Another good way is to add bananas, which give not only fiber, but extra sweetness.

Jelly, Jam or Preserves?

Jam is more likely to have pieces of fruit in it than jelly, which is cooked to a smooth texture. Jelly is made with crushed fruit, with the leftover solids and seeds discarded. In jam, the crushed fruit solids and seeds are retained. Preserves are chopped up pieces of fruit mixed with sugar and combined with a syrup to hold them together.

Homemade fruit jam is the best way to get some fruit if you're comparing jams, according to a 2016 article in the journal Cancers.

If you're counting your calories, but still need some jelly to get the peanut butter down, just use a thin smear of jelly, jam or preserves. One tablespoon of strawberry jelly has about 50 calories. When homemade's not an option, look for fruit spreads, if sugar is a concern.

Read more: No Sugar Added Organic Jams and Jellies

Choosing Your Peanut Butter

When you're choosing peanut butter for your PB&J, the type of peanut butter matters, says Consumer Reports. The benefits of peanut butter are found in the peanuts.

The sugars and the added oils that keep the peanut butter from separating cut into its overall nutrients.

Look for natural and organic peanut butters that contain fewer additives. Some brands contain only peanuts and salt, and other brands contain only peanuts.

Read more: Healthy Peanut Butter Brands

PB&J's American Heritage

The Boston Cooking School's Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Science introduced what may have been the first PB&J recipe. "Try making little sandwiches ... of three very thin layers of bread and two of filling, one of peanut paste ... and currant or crab-apple jelly for the other," wrote Julia Chandler Davis in 1901. "The combination is delicious, and so far as I know, original."

But, as Outside Magazine notes, PB&J's classic status came about during World War II, when soldier rations included bread, Welch's Concord Grape Jelly and canned peanut butter.

Today, the sandwich's popularity continues, fueled by kids and athletes everywhere.

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