Heading to the kitchen to make yourself a delicious snack? You can’t go wrong with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The salty-sweet concoction – complete with a little crunch, if you like – is practically irresistible to most kids and, well, bigger kids. But before you next put a PB&J together, you should hear what food expert Natalie Rizzo has to say. According to her, you see, the beloved sandwich could have an unexpected impact on your body.
Regardless of the effect that the PB&J has on our health, though, one thing’s for sure: the sandwich has firmly cemented its place in the pantheon of quintessentially American meals. But this wasn’t always the case. The PB&J is a relatively recent invention, in fact, and it took a whole lot of ingenuity to birth the treat that so many love today.
Any potential nutritional value wasn’t a huge consideration at the time of the PB&J’s creation, of course. To begin with, there was the bread. And while this versatile foodstuff has actually been eaten for millennia, the start of the 20th century saw Otto Frederick Rohwedder come up with a game-changing idea.
Yes, it’s Rohwedder whom we have to thank for creating the bread slicing machine. And while his incredible contraption got rejected at first, it soon found its way into baking shops across the country. Before long, the inventor would proclaim his brainchild to be “the greatest step forward in baking since bread was wrapped.”
At around this time, peanut butter was starting to come to the fore, too. And you may be surprised to hear just how recently the now-ubiquitous spread hit the shelves. Peanut butter actually made its debut at the Chicago World Fair in 1893, although it didn’t become a success until after its appearance at the St. Louis World Fair 11 years later.
Rather astonishingly, though, the PB&J was created prior to that event in 1904. A woman named Julia Davis Chandler is credited with the sandwich’s creation, and she put the idea forward in The Boston Cooking-School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics in 1901.
Then after the Great Depression hit, struggling households added peanut butter to their shopping lists. It was filling, after all, and a good source of protein. But even at this time, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches still didn’t catch on with Americans at large. So, how did the PB&J finally break out as a kitchen staple?
Well, the National Peanut Board website bestows that particular honor to World War Two. During the conflict, you see, American soldiers had rations that included both peanut butter and jelly. The troops also had access to bread slices onto which they spread both the PB and J – thus creating the tasty sandwich.
So, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich became the go-to snack for U.S. soldiers. And, unsurprisingly, their love for the combination didn’t taper off upon their return to America. As sales of both peanut butter and jelly began to soar, then, it kickstarted a craze across the nation.
And the popularity of the PB&J has endured throughout the decades. It helps, too, that the sandwich is incredibly easy to put together – even a child can do it. Still, in these health-conscious times, should we really be promoting the PB&J as a handy solution for lunch? And what exactly happens to you when you eat one of these treats?
Well, there are ways to avoid more obvious nutritional stumbling blocks if you’re intent on enjoying a PB&J. And even though sandwiches and white bread go together like, er, peanut butter and jelly, you may want to consider what Shereen Lehman had to say about the subject if you’re at all concerned about your diet.
In a piece for the Verywell Fit website, the healthcare writer explained, “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 wholewheat versions and has a soft, light texture.”
Yet Lehman noted that white loaves don’t just lose the germ layers and bran. The expert continued, “The nutritional value of white bread is subpar to wholewheat because several nutrients are removed during the refining process.” To give you a better idea of what’s missing, both calcium and protein levels are generally much lower in white bread than its wholewheat equivalent.
So, wholewheat bread is pretty much the healthier option. And, luckily, it’s pretty abundant in stores, whether you prefer a whole grain loaf or a specialist spelt-made version. There’s an added bonus, too: depending on your choice, wholewheat slices can give a nuttier bite to your PB&Js.
For those of you who don’t like wholewheat bread, though, don’t worry. You see, Lehman reminds us that “whole grain white bread” is also available to buy in supermarkets. And those loaves give us pretty much the best of both worlds. Not only do they retain the goodness of wholewheat products, but they also possess a similar taste to any white variety.
That’s the bread sorted, but what about the jelly? Which products should you be on the lookout for if you want a healthier PB&J? Well, although there’s plenty of choice out there, Lehman revealed that you may want to think about avoiding certain jars on the shelves of your local grocery store.
The journalist explained in her piece for Verywell Fit, “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.”
This may not sound too appetizing on the face of it, as sweet jelly is pretty much essential to that PB&J experience. But hear us out. According to Lehman, the reduced-sugar options are often just as moreish as the more processed products. Slather your sandwiches in jam, then, and they should retain their mouth-watering flavor.
Then there’s the all-important final component in a PB&J. But finding the right kind of peanut butter can be tricky, too. And when browsing your supermarket shelves, you’re likely to spot three variations of the spread – all with their own pros and cons. So, what are the differences between “regular” and “natural” peanut butter? And how about the unsweetened varieties?
Unsweetened peanut butter is pretty much what the name suggests. Much like the reduced-sugar jams that we spoke about, there are no additional sweeteners in the mix. Regular spreads, on the other hand, use sweeteners, hydrogenated oils and salt, and each jar’s contents also have to be made up of at least 90 percent peanuts.
There’s also the “natural” peanut butter option, which requires some work on your part. Don’t worry, though: even the laziest of us won’t have to do much. After unscrewing the top of a jar of natural peanut butter, you’ll notice that it has a sheet of oil on the surface. All that’s required to create a creamy spread, then, is to combine this layer with the nutty goodness underneath.
Then, when left untouched, the natural peanut butter will return to its original state, leaving the oil at the top again. But if you’re still unsure what type of PB to get, then consider what Max Bonem had to say in a 2017 article for Food & Wine.
Bonem said, “Natural peanut butter tends to be a bit grainier than its conventional counterpart – even if it’s ‘creamy.’ The natural separation [between the spread and the oil] is more likely to occur if you store peanut butter at room temperature. However, if you refrigerate it, natural peanut butter becomes much more difficult to work with.”
“Conventional peanut butter is a cohesive spread that remains as is – regardless of temperature or where it’s stored,” Bonem added. “[So], if you’re someone who enjoys the occasional spoonful of peanut butter to snack on, conventional is undoubtedly the way to go.” And with that info under your belt, you should now be able to choose a spread that’s right for you.
But regardless of your bread, jelly and peanut butter selection, what actually happens to your body once you consume a PB&J? And does the snack have any kind of effect on your long-term health? Let’s hear what food expert Natalie Rizzo has said about the topic – as she definitely knows her stuff.
Once, Rizzo worked in the advertising sector; now, though, she’s a dietitian. And she’s used her knowledge as a self-professed “gym rat” to focus on the importance of exercise and healthy nourishment. So, given all that expertise, what does she have to say about PB&Js? Well, it could surprise you, as it certainly surprised us.
Speaking to the Eat This, Not That! website about the American food staple, Rizzo revealed, “The healthiest part of the PB&J sandwich is the peanut butter. A natural peanut butter is made from just peanuts, which contain more than 30 vitamins and minerals, fiber and healthy fats.” We always assumed that the bread would take the trophy.
But that’s not all. Apparently, a single PB&J houses a fifth of your suggested vitamin E consumption for the day. And as that particular vitamin is an antioxidant, it should help shield your body from volatile molecules called “free radicals” – which is a very good thing indeed.
A 2018 piece for the SFGate website claims that a PB&J will give you 14 percent of your suggested magnesium and calcium for the day, too. And if you’re a guy, one of the sandwiches may provide 12 percent of your recommended daily zinc intake along with 30 percent of the iron you need.
However, those numbers are significantly different for the opposite sex, as women reportedly take in 17 percent of their recommended daily zinc and just 13 percent of iron after consuming the snack. But Rizzo’s mention of healthy fats shouldn’t be lost in the shuffle, as it ties into the PB&J’s next health benefit.
Simply put, the fats in a PB&J can help shield you from catastrophic illnesses. And heart disease – one of the world’s biggest killers – is among those ailments. Harvard School of Public Health professor Walter Willett has covered this subject in a Q&A on the college’s website.
Willett explained, “Over the years, numerous studies have shown that people who regularly include nuts or peanut butter in their diets are less likely to develop heart disease or type 2 diabetes than those who rarely eat nuts. The body’s response to saturated fat in food is to increase the amounts of both harmful LDL [low-density lipoproteins, or so-called “bad cholesterol”] and protective HDL [high-density lipoproteins, or “good cholesterol”] in circulation.”
“In moderation, some saturated fat is okay,” Willett added. “Eating a lot of it, though, promotes artery-clogging atherosclerosis – the process that underlies most cardiovascular disease. In contrast, unsaturated fats, which make up the majority of the fat content in peanut butter, help reduce LDL cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease.”
Then there are the hunger-curbing effects of a PB&J. That’s right: according to Rizzo, you’ll feel full up for a longer period of time after consuming the tasty snack than you would if you, say, ate a BLT. You may only experience this sensation, though, if you’ve used a certain type of bread.
Rizzo told Eat This, Not That!, “If you make your PB&J sandwich on wholewheat bread, you’ll also get some added protein and fiber from the bread. Those two nutrients together help with appetite control.” In most cases, a standard PB&J contains 3.5 grams of fiber and around 13 grams of protein.
If you use a couple of slices from an Ezekiel loaf, however, then those numbers receive a sizable bump. When chowing down on your sandwich, you should be taking in around 7 grams of fiber and nearly 20 grams of protein. Pretty impressive, right? And all that should fill you up for a bit until your next meal.
As with anything that tastes so good, though, there are health risks associated with PB&Js. So, don’t suddenly use this article as an excuse to scarf down too many, people, as you could well feel ill later on! And Lehman has suggested exactly why that is, writing, “Most jelly is loaded with sugar.”
Rizzo expanded on this danger, explaining, “For instance, a normal grape jelly has about ten grams of added sugar in just one tablespoon. [However], most people use more than one tablespoon in their sandwich.” And that’s sobering to hear, considering that the FDA recommends consuming no more than 50 grams of sugar over the course of a day.
We all know the damage that sugar can do if you overindulge, of course. For one, it makes you more susceptible to diseases such as cancer and diabetes down the line. But with all of what we’ve said in mind, you’re probably now curious about the best way to prepare a PB&J going forward.
In Rizzo’s opinion, a single tablespoon of jelly and peanut butter should be enough. And she’s offered up some alternatives, too. The dietitian concluded, “Dave’s Killer Bread makes thin-sliced bread, which is smaller and lower in calories but… still has plenty of protein and fiber. Blueberry chia jam is [also] incredibly easy to make and has very little added sugar.”
PB&Js can actually be good for us, then, as long as we don’t fall back on layers of sugary jelly. But what should you do if you find that your trusted bread – the one that makes the perfect sandwich – has grown a few unsavory spots of mold? Cut the offending area off and keep going, or throw the whole loaf in the trash?
Picture the scene: you’ve just made a sandwich packed with your favorite ingredients and taken a bite. After you’ve savored the first mouthful, though, you notice a few spots of fuzzy green mold on the bread. Then fear begins to take over as you wonder what the fungus is doing to your insides. So, what are the real implications of ingesting mold by accident? Well, the answer may actually come as some surprise.
And mold is probably more common than you think, too. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Safety Inspection Service explains, “Molds are microscopic fungi that live on plant or animal matter. No one knows how many species of [them] exist, but estimates range from tens of thousands to perhaps 300,000 or more.”
“Most [molds] are filamentous – threadlike – organisms, and the production of spores is characteristic of fungi in general,” the service continues on its website. “These spores can be transported by air, water or insects.” The best conditions for mold to grow, then, are when its surroundings are humid and warm, and alarmingly it can materialize in any size or shape.
Mold on food items won’t always look the same, however, as it can be dusty, furry, black, white, gray, green or yellow. And in 2020 Dr. Carla Gervasio – who specializes in Oriental medicine – explained to Shape magazine that its spores don’t just grow on food. They can be in the air, for instance, as well as on the countertops where we prepare our food and even on the sponges with which we clean our dishes.
Edible items are where you’re most likely to spot mold, however – particularly when they are spoiled. And, of course, the length of time it takes for food to become unsuitable for consumption depends on whether it’s been labeled perishable, semi-perishable or non-perishable.
Perishable goods such as meat, fish, fruit, milk, and some vegetables begin to spoil almost instantly unless they are adequately stored. Semi-perishable items such as eggs, carrots, potatoes, onions and beans, on the other hand, can stay edible for several weeks if kept in a cool, dry pantry. And as the name suggests, non-perishable nuts, pulses and cereals can stay in good condition for much longer periods of time.
Don’t chance cooking up a meal with rotten food, however, as it could prove dangerous. During the spoiling process, you see, the product experiences chemical and physical changes as a result of the heat, light, moisture and air to which it has been exposed. And, worryingly, these conditions are often good ones for microorganisms to grow in.
To make sure that our food lasts long enough to enjoy it safely, many of our favorite grocery products have chemical preservatives added to them. These not only help ensure that an item is in its best condition, but they can also help the food look fresher for a greater period of time.
For example, antioxidants such as butylated hydroxytoluene slow down the process of fatty, oily foods like margarine going rancid. Humectants, meanwhile, absorb the water in products such as shredded coconut, with this aiding in keeping any moisture content consistent.
Antibiotics are even added to food, as tetracyclines combat the growth of dangerous bacteria in fish, chicken and various canned items that could otherwise make someone sick. And the preservatives used to curb mold’s development are known as antimycotics. These include sorbic acid and sodium propionate, and they are added to fruit, cheese, and bread as well as many fruit juices.
However, some preservatives used for aesthetic purposes have proved rather controversial. For instance, sodium nitrate and simple nitrite are both used in meat curing as they help prevent the development of bacteria which could cause botulism – a condition of the nervous system. That said, these substances are also added because they give bacon and ham its appetizing reddish-pink coloring.
And the food industry argues that the natural brown color of many cured meats would deter people from buying them, as they may look otherwise unappealing. Some critics believe, though, that our modern level of cleanliness and access to refrigeration makes adding preservatives to food largely unnecessary.
But in our everyday lives, how do we recognize a food item that has spoiled? Well, the first guideline is the expiry or sell-by date on the packaging – and if you’ve gone past the expiry, it’s recommended that you steer clear. Sometimes items that haven’t reached this date may have already gone bad, in fact. A tell-tale sign here would be a change in color – like white bread becoming yellow or green vegetables going black.
So, if food has a foul odor or just doesn’t smell the way it should, it may have begun to go rot and therefore shouldn’t be eaten. That’s also the case if your produce is sticky or slimy or has any kind of film over it. And if a fruit or vegetable has become blemished, wrinkled or unusually soft, it, too, is normally beyond saving.
Still, you probably fall under one of two camps when it comes to spotting mold on your food. You may be the kind of person who simply cuts the offending section off a piece of bread before eating the rest of the slice anyway; alternatively, you may throw out the entire carton of strawberries if just one looks a little rotten. But which of these tactics is correct? Well, it depends entirely on the food in question.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service notes that mold has roots and branches that grow like threads and can penetrate deeply into food items. This means that, more often than not, the safest course of action is to avoid eating moldy food entirely. But if you really want to take the risk, some produce is safer to eat when spoiled than others.
According to the USDA, harder foods such as some cheeses, vegetables, salami and firm fruits can be eaten even if they’ve become moldy. As long as you make sure to cut at least an inch around and below the mold, that patch can be removed and then consumed as normal. Ensure that the knife you use doesn’t touch the mold itself, however, to reduce the risk of spreading it and then cover the item in new plastic wrap afterward.
By contrast, bread, baked goods or soft fruits should be thrown out if any mold at all is discovered, and that similarly applies to yogurt, canned goods, jams or uncooked meat and poultry. These foods all contain a higher level of moisture than others, making it easier for the mold toxins to spread more thoroughly.
And if you’re of the belief that toasting bread can actually kill the mold bacteria on it, the USDA says otherwise. You see, bread is actually extremely porous, which means that mold roots can take hold deeply – and so your loaf should be thrown in the trash if it’s visibly spoiled in this way.
How can you stop your food from going moldy in the first place? Well, firstly, you should always keep any perishable items in the refrigerator. Food should also be covered when it is being served, or at the very least it should never be left uncovered for more than two hours. Finally, always be sure to maintain high standards of hygiene in your cupboards and your fridge.
It should be known, though, that mold can grow on food in almost any environment. Yes, while it spreads quickest in humid, warm places, it is also perfectly capable of hanging on in colder climates. This means putting something in the fridge won’t negate the risk of mold entirely; rather, it will simply slow the process down.
Yet there are some mold-limiting steps you can take when shopping for groceries. For example, the USDA advises avoiding purchasing large amounts of food at once. You should also try not to buy any bruised produce such as discolored fruit, as bruising is an indicator of a disruption to the cellular makeup of the product – leaving the door open for mold to grow.
But what if there’s mold on the tasty sandwich you’ve just prepped for yourself? Well, experts claim that there’s usually no reason to worry if you’ve consumed this type of fungi by accident. In May 2020 Providence Saint John’s Health Center gastroenterologist Dr. Rudolph Bedford told Women’s Health, “You’re not going to die from eating mold.” He added that as long as your immune system is in good working order, you should be capable of digesting the substance in the same manner as any other food item.
Yet while Bedford also acknowledged that you may feel unwell after ingesting mold, that’s not down to any dangerous toxins; rather, it’s because it tastes so horrid. He said, “The stomach is a harsh environment, so, for the most part, most bacteria and fungus won’t survive. It’s very uncommon that you’re going to get sick from mold.”
Even so, Bedford advised that if you do become ill after eating mold, you should see whether you eventually suffer from more than just a bad stomach. If you are regularly vomiting, for instance, then you should contact your doctor, who is likely to prescribe anti-nausea pills or a medication to clean out your digestive system by inducing diarrhea.
Bedford also told Women’s Health that while he has never encountered a patient in his 30 years of practice who has died from ingesting mold, this doesn’t mean there aren’t people who are at a higher risk than others. An allergic reaction to mold can lead to respiratory problems, after all – although, according to the gastroenterologist, these issues are very treatable and usually temporary.
Maria Yuabova – a New York City doctor of nursing practice and nurse practitioner – went into more scientific detail with Shape. She told the publication in January 2020, “When the immune system works well, and healthy gut flora is abundant, molds will have no negative impact on the health and wellness of that individual.”
“In the case of people whose immune systems are weak, ingested fungal spores could cause more severe issues,” Yuabova went on. “When fungal invasion becomes systemic, the fungus can invade the digestive tract, upper respiratory tract and brain. Those cases become more serious.” Those with allergies, asthma or a chronic condition of some sort should contact their doctor, then, if they’ve eaten mold.
You should know, too, that symptoms of a bad reaction to the ingestion of mold can be similar to those of food poisoning. That’s according to nutritionist Lisa Richards, who is the creator of the Candida Diet – “a low-sugar, anti-inflammatory diet that promotes good gut health and eliminates the sugars that feed a candida overgrowth.” For reference, her advice focuses on balancing the bacteria in your gut.
Richards told Shape that it’s best to simply ride it out if you inadvertently eat some mold. She continued, “If you notice gastrointestinal symptoms, [however], it’s a good idea to add a probiotic into your health regimen and follow a fairly bland diet to help replenish the healthy bacteria in your gut.”
And you may even have ingested mold without realizing it and lived to tell the tale. Brie, camembert and a variety of blue cheeses all have penicillium cultures added to them, with these creating the tell-tale blue-gray or dark blue veins. Other molds used in cheesemaking include P. candidum, roqueforti, P. and glaucum.
These substances are often key to certain cheeses’ unique texture and flavor, as they eat the sugar and proteins in the milk used in curdling. The method of aging blue cheese then creates levels of density, acidity, moisture and oxygen flow that prevent the growth of dangerous molds with harmful toxins.
And while blue cheese also contains extremely high levels of sodium – making it typically saltier than other forms of the dairy-based product – it can have health benefits if consumed in moderation. For starters, blue cheese is typically less fatty and has more nutrients than its counterparts.
The Penicillium roqueforti mold used in the creation of blue cheese can help lower cholesterol by combatting the bad parasites and bacteria that can increase levels of the lipid in the body. This fungus even obstructs the angiotensin-converting enzyme, helping better control blood pressure.
And that’s not all. The mold in blue cheese also works in an anti-inflammatory capacity – thus reducing the risk of diseases such as arthritis and inflammation of the bowel. It may similarly contribute to the lowering of plaque levels in our arteries, strengthen the immune system and combat sinus and food allergies.
What’s more, blue cheese is brimming with minerals such as potassium, phosphorus, calcium, zinc and magnesium as well as vitamins A, D and B12. And that’s good to hear, as magnesium is great for reducing muscle stiffness and, in conjunction with calcium, strengthening bone density. Meanwhile, vitamin B12 helps the nervous system and plays a big part in cell metabolism and the formation of red blood cells.
And according to a 2018 article by the website Health Fuze, every ounce of blue cheese possesses on average six grams of protein – which can contribute to the growth of bones, cartilage, muscles, hair, skin and blood vessels. The dairy product can also improve cognitive function by encouraging the regeneration of brain cells – making it ideal for the elderly and growing children.
Finally, if the penicillium used in blue cheese is ringing a bell in your head, that’s likely because the word reminds you of penicillin. This, of course, is still one of the most commonly used antibiotics all over the world and was actually originally derived from the penicillium mold. Scottish bacteriologist Alexander Fleming unintentionally made the discovery in 1928.
Specifically, Fleming found that the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus was prevented from growing in a culture he was preparing, as his concoction had been accidentally contaminated by Penicillium notatum. Intrigued by this phenomenon, he went on to isolate the penicillium mold and cultivate it in fluid form. And after going through this process, Fleming noted that the resulting substance had the ability to kill many of the bacteria that commonly infect human beings.
Then, thanks to British biochemist Ernst Boris Chain and pathologist Howard Florey from Australia, penicillin was purified by the late 1930s, with an injectable form of the drug arriving soon after that. And as you may know, penicillin is still used today to treat diseases today – including meningitis and throat infections.