The USDA has found that half of adults eat sandwiches on any given day, and contribute 12% of calories to Americans’ diets. On average, they have more unhealthy fats and refined grains, and less fiber, vegetables, and potassium than the overall diet.
Is your favorite sandwich providing essential nutrients, satisfying hunger, and making you healthier? Or is it adding extra calories and contributing to higher risk for conditions such as high cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure? Here are ways to make some of the most popular sandwiches in the US healthier.
Salami, corned beef, pastrami, bologna, and ham are examples of cold cuts that add flavor and texture to sandwiches. They can also add saturated fat, excess calories, sodium, and carcinogenic compounds, and numbers are worse when sandwiches are enormous subs instead of smaller types. Veggie burgers and fat-free refried beans are just as convenient, tasty, and varied so you cannot get bored. Using whole-grain bread with pesto or olive oil instead of mayo, and adding lettuce and tomato to make it bigger, can give you a high-fiber lunch.
Deli turkey breast is leaner than many processed meats, but it still has sodium and carcinogenic nitrates, and often comes with mayo and cheese on refined white bread. Instead of choosing processed meats such as turkey breast or ham, it takes no extra effort to make extra protein the night before, such as chicken breast, bean burgers, or turkey meatballs, and use those in your sandwich. Using whole grain bread and mustard, and packing your sandwich with vegetables, can make your lunch high in protein and fiber, and filling enough to last for hours.
A peanut butter sandwich can so easily be a health food, but not when it is on refined white bread and includes 20 grams of sugar – the amount in 3 chocolate sandwich cookies – due to jelly. Cut the added sugar by skipping the jam and instead using fresh fruit, such sliced banana, diced ripe pear, or blueberries, for sweetness. Add fiber and antioxidants with whole-grain bread, or by getting creative with whole-grain English muffins or a whole-grain tortilla.
Tried, true, and still beloved, tuna, chicken, and egg salad sandwiches can be cringeworthy when considering their calories and fat – largely from mayo. Swapping yogurt for mayo can get rid of most of the excess while keeping it tasty and moist. Choosing whole-grain rye or other whole-grain bread, and adding vegetables such as diced tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, and peas, can make your sandwich downright healthy.
Comfort food at its finest can also be nourishing when you toast the sandwich instead of fry it in butter, choose whole-grain bread or a whole-wheat English muffin, and use low-fat cheese. Spreading non-fat cream cheese inside the bread can add creaminess, and there is no shortage of healthy combos you can try to liven up your grilled cheese sandwich. Examples include mozzarella with tomato and basil, spinach with oregano and feta cheese, and swiss with mushrooms and egg whites.
No matter what kind of sandwich you love, there’s a way to make it healthier. Just think about using whole-grain bread when possible, adding as many vegetables as you can, or some fruit, and choosing lean proteins, such as low-fat cheese, peanut butter, chicken breast, tuna, or egg whites. You’re ready to grab and go!