Health Perspectives: PB&J, it's what's for lunch

IT’S WHAT’S FOR LUNCH — PB&J isn’t a hardship or a punishment, writes Patrick Johnson. A well-constructed one is tasty and healthy. Plus, it’s well known that Elvis’ favorite lunch was a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich — and who’s to argue nutrition with the King?

I recently saw an ad on TV about house mortgages. The ad man’s pitch encouraged potential customers to use his service so they “wouldn’t have to eat peanut butter sandwiches for the next 30 years.” I just finished one for lunch. I haven’t kept track, but that’s probably six out of the past seven days. Just like about every week. It’s what I eat for lunch almost every day, and not to save money.

That guy got it wrong. A well-constructed PB&J is good for you. Peanut butter is 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 beneficial source of protein for most anyone. Peanut butter 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, phosphorus, niacin, zinc and vitamin B6.

Peanut butter’s fat 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 the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine.

I got hooked on crunchy peanut butter on toast in first grade. I came home for lunch, had a PB&J while watching TV, then ran back to school. This continued for the next eight years. High school was too far to come home for lunch so my mom packed a bag for me and it was almost always a PB&J. For four more years.

I broke up with PB&J in college, but when I became a social worker and then a nurse, I rekindled our relationship and took it to new heights.

I discovered whole wheat bread instead of white Wonder bread. I learned about ingredient labels and the evils of added sugar, so I switched over to peanut butter made only from ground unsalted peanuts. Eventually I moved to organic peanuts. If that’s all I eat, why not be picky?

I was never a big jelly fan. I was raised on grape jelly for some reason and that may be why. Jelly was easy to ditch and I graduated to strawberry jam and added sliced bananas. Eventually I became a PB&J snob and you should, too. You should be careful about the peanut butter you choose. Avoid brands that are high in sugar and sodium. The same goes for jelly and jam. Look at the ingredients carefully and find brands with low sugar content. I consider the jam my dessert. If you’re counting calories just use a thin schmear. Of course, only use wholewheat bread.

During military tours or field exercises I ate whatever peanut butter a military vegetarian can get. Meals-Ready-to-Eat (MREs) come in vegetarian style. I thought the entrees were quite good. For some reason they always seemed to include a few chalky white, super dry, hard military crackers. I suppose they could be used to stop a bullet, but I would spread peanut butter on them if I was lucky to get a packet. I considered this emergency peanut butter and was grateful to have it. On military excursions I was a peanut butter refugee.

Right now, my very favorite PB&J is made with fresh ground unsalted organic peanuts and Kathie’s homemade strawberry jam made from local strawberries she picks in May. My favorite bread is her whole wheat sourdough. (Kathie, if you’re reading this, it’s been a while.) I like my bread toasted. I spread one slice with peanut butter and top it with salted Virginia peanuts and some banana slices. The other piece of bread has the jam. I wash it down with a big glass of water. It’s quite filling.

Finally, it’s well known that Elvis’ favorite lunch meal was a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich. And who’s to argue nutrition with the King? Not me.

Patrick Johnson, RN, BSN, MPA is the former public health director in Haywood County, NC. He worked in public health for 36 years in Florida and North Carolina. He retired from the U.S. Air Force Reserve Nurse Corps in 2013 as a Colonel after 27 years. Col. Johnson is an Iraq war veteran and has run over 400 races from 5k to marathon. He’s been a vegetarian for 35 years. He’s also bounced back from a heart valve repair, a severe stroke, seizure disorder and still battles atrial fibrillation. He continues to run, hike, lift weights, stretch and meditate. He doesn’t think any of his health issues are related to PB&J sandwiches.

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