How to Make a Healthier Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman 

Take two slices of fluffy white bread, slathered with peanut butter, and a few spoonfuls of jelly and you just made a typical peanut butter and jelly sandwich. For generations, people have enjoyed this simple but irresistible combination of savory and sweet flavors. A classic PB&J can take you back to fond childhood memories of lunchtime in the school cafeteria. However, as an adult, reconsidering some of the details can help you create a more sophisticated version of this old favorite.

Are Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches Healthy?

Although peanut butter and jelly sandwiches aren't necessarily the most nutritious choice, they do have some redeeming qualities, including the heart-healthy monounsaturated fats in peanut butter. Depending on the ingredients you choose, PB&J's have the potential to be filling and delicious, while still fitting into a healthy lifestyle. Here are some ways to modify your sandwich for better nutrition.

Pick a Better Bread

Standard store-bought white bread is made with refined flour, which means the grain is stripped of its bran and germ layers before being ground into flour. Bread made with refined flour lasts longer than whole-wheat versions and has a soft, light texture that so many people love.

The nutritional value of white bread is subpar to whole wheat because several nutrients are removed during the refining process. While certain vitamins are added back in by enriching the flour, you're unlikely to get the same fiber and nutrients from white flour.

The simple change of swapping white bread for 100% whole-grain bread brings more health benefits to your sandwich, along with a nice nutty flavor.

Most grocery stores carry several varieties of whole-grain bread so you can opt for regular whole-wheat bread, delicious spelt bread, or a loaf made with a flavorful mixture of whole grains, including barley and oats. If you're gluten-free, look for high-fiber loaves made with sprouted grains or rice.

If you prefer the look and texture of white bread to whole wheat, you may be able to find white bread versions that are still technically made of whole grains. "Whole-grain white bread" is made from a type of wheat that is lighter in color and has a milder flavor. Luckily, this option is just as healthy as bread made from brown whole wheat flour.

Think Beyond Peanut Butter

Once you've upgraded to a higher-fiber bread, it's time to shop for peanut butter. Peanut butter is a wholesome product with several nutritional benefits, just watch out for added sugar and hydrogenated fats hidden on the Nutrition Facts Label. Opt for natural versions of smooth or chunky peanut butter with no added ingredients.

To switch things up, experiment with nut butters made from tree nuts rather than peanuts, such as almond butter. Almond butter has a pleasant, light flavor that goes well with whole grains.

Peanut butter and nut butters are nutritious and filling. If you've been advised to avoid sodium, choose a brand that doesn't contain added salt.

Some stores let you grind your own fresh peanut butter or nut butter right in the store. Check the bulk food aisle for this option. Making nut butter yourself helps you avoid added salt, sweeteners, or preservatives.

Choose Your Jelly Wisely

Most brands of jelly are made from fruit juice, sugar, and pectin. Unfortunately, processed jelly is often devoid of fiber and high in added sugars.

For maximum nutrition, look for reduced-sugar jam instead of jelly. These fruit spreads are made with just the fruit and no added sugar. You may be pleasantly surprised to discover that low-sugar jams are deliciously sweet and flavorful.

Another option is to substitute the jelly with fresh fruit slices or chopped dried fruit. Sliced banana is delicious with peanut butter, as are raisins, chopped prunes or dried apricots, or thinly sliced apples. Have fun experimenting with different ingredients as you build your very own masterpiece.

Add a Health-Booster

Make PB&Js a little more interesting with the addition of fun toppings. Boost your sandwich with healthy extras, like a sprinkle of cinnamon or ground flaxseeds. Include chopped walnuts, slivered almonds, chia seeds, or sunflower seeds for some added crunch and omega-3s. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches don't have to be boring. Take your lunch from traditional to gourmet, using the original PB&J for inspiration.

A Word From Verywell

Healthy eating is all about balancing nutritious choices with treats. For many people, peanut butter and jelly is a classic "comfort food." If you don't want to alter your all-time favorite sandwich, it's OK to leave it as is. Instead, focus on choosing a healthier side (like an apple rather than potato chips) or a better beverage (such as a glass of water instead of a soda). Enjoy your PB&J whichever way you like it best.

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