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Let’s say you’ve gotten the whole grain message loud and clear. You’ve combed the bread aisles or your local bakery, you’ve read your labels and you’ve found your healthy, 100% whole grain bread. But wait—what’s going on those healthy breads? How you spread ’em matters, too.
My husband’s grandfather could not make a sandwich, even a peanut butter sandwich, without first spreading both slices of bread with margarine. Based on the dizzying array of products on the market, a lot of people must share his passion for oleo. You’ve got spreads, sticks and sprays, fat-free ones and ones that promise to ‘support healthy cholesterol.’ Calorie-wise, the full-fat margarines are pretty much identical to butter, although they do have less saturated fat. Fat-free spreads are really low in calories, usually only about 5 per tablespoon compared to 80 or so for the regular stuff. But sometimes people use that as a reason to just slather on even more. For some, the sprays work well to give a hint of flavor for only about 1 calorie per spritz.
Light versions of high-fat spreads like margarine can save you a lot of calories, and the same goes for light cream cheese and mayonnaise. But consider this: if you habitually slather mayo on your sandwich, cream cheese on your bagel or margarine on your toast, you’ll use the high-fat versions when you eat out, since the lower fat varieties usually aren’t available. You might be wiser to try to break the spread habit altogether.
If you like your bread topped with something sweet, like jams, jellies, preserves, fruit butters and honey, they’ll set you back about 45 calories a tablespoon. And don’t be fooled into thinking that the ‘all fruit’ jams count as a serving of fruit. Jams that are made with fruit and fruit ingredients may list ‘fruit syrup’ (sugar), or ‘apple juice concentrate’ (sugar) as the first ingredient. From a nutrition standpoint, regular and ‘all fruit’ jams are pretty much the same.
If peanut butter is your thing, try some delicious almond or pistachio butter for a change. Yes, nuts are heart-healthy, but peanuts aren’t nuts at all—they’re beans. As such, they’re pretty good sources of protein. But the fat in peanuts isn’t nearly as healthy as the fat in tree nuts like walnuts, almonds or pistachios. They’ve got half the saturated fat of regular peanut butter. If you can’t give up your peanut butter, stick with the natural style. The oil floats because, unlike ‘regular’ peanut butter, it hasn’t been turned into shortening. Store it upside down in the fridge to make it easier to use.
And let me just say that if you like those nutty-chocolatey spreads, I’d suggest you save those for very special occasions. Yes, they taste like melted candy bars, but they have more calories and saturated fat than even regular-style peanut butter.
Here’s something else to consider: if you think bread’s only function is to hold a spread or a topping, maybe you’re not eating the right bread. Delicious bread—fresh and fragrant, warm and yeasty—is so good on its own that it doesn’t really need any adornment.