Who doesn’t love a PB&J? April 2nd is National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day, so celebrate with one of America’s most popular sandwiches. Soldiers in World War II are credited with the popularity of this sandwich combination because peanut butter, jelly and bread were on the Army’s food ration list.
Let’s look a little closer at the history of the mainstay of this sandwich: peanut butter. Peanut butter is a food-paste made from ground-roasted peanuts. It takes about 540 peanuts to make a 12-ounce jar of peanut butter. This popular nut butter made its debut as a protein substitute at the 1883 Chicago World’s Fair. After the commercialization of the peanut industry in the early 1900’s, peanut butter became more affordable for everyone.
Many people avoid peanut butter because of the calories and fat, however there is more to know about the nutritional value of this nutrient-dense food. A 2-tablespoon serving of peanut butter provides around 200 calories. This portion also provides fiber, protein and fat; which helps to keep you full longer. Although it is high in fat, these are mostly healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. In fact, peanut butter has the same ratio of saturated to unsaturated fats as olive oil. Peanut butter also provides important vitamins and minerals including vitamins E and B6, magnesium and potassium.
I recently was shopping for peanut butter in the grocery store. It is amazing what you learn when you turn the jar around and read the nutrition facts label and the ingredient list. Don’t be fooled by statements on the front that say “natural”. Peanut butter made solely from peanuts is easily identifiable. The ingredient list is simple: peanuts.
When you look at the jars on the shelf, they are the ones that have a layer of oil above the peanut paste in the jar. This is the natural oil from the ground peanuts. Before using, stir the oil into the paste to create a creamy texture. This can be tricky to maneuver but once you have stirred the oil into the peanut paste, it will give you a smooth, creamy mixture that is easy to spread. Store the jar in the refrigerator upside down to keep the mixture from separating.
So, what is in those other “peanut butter” jars on the shelf. First you need to know that products that are called peanut butter must be at least 90% peanuts with no artificial sweeteners, flavoring, or preservatives. Other brands that do not meet these criteria are often called peanut butter spread. Here are some things to look out for in the ingredient list when selecting a peanut butter:
- hydrogenated oil
- sugar or honey
Some brands mix other ingredients like grape jelly, honey or chocolate into the mixture. Look at the nutrition facts label to learn more about calories, saturated fats, sugars, and sodium. For example, reduced-fat peanut butter has less fat but often adds sugar to replace the fat, which increases the calories. The higher the sodium content of the spread, you have less natural peanut flavor.
There are many variations to the traditional PB&J sandwich today. Try it on whole wheat or raisin bread. Add a new flavor of jelly like strawberry jam. Add some fruit like bananas, apples, or blueberries. Try grilling the sandwich or making it into a French toast. Sprinkle a layer of dry cereal or potato chips to give it some crunch.
Keep in mind that peanut allergies are the second most common food allergy in children so use other nut butters as a substitute. Be sure to alert others when you are serving peanut butter because the allergy can be triggered just by being close to the peanuts.
Although peanut butter is a great source of protein and contains healthy unsaturated fats, it can be high in calories so portion control is important to maintain a healthy balance of calories.