You May Be Making Your Sandwich All Wrong

Follow these 4 tips to make sure you're keeping your sandwich healthy

Sandwiches are an American lunchtime favorite. They’re quick, delicious, and satisfying, which makes them the perfect on-the-go meal for the typical fast-paced, hectic schedule. But if you’re not careful, you could be loading up on hidden calories, carbs, fat and salt.

A study published recently called out Americans and their sandwich habits. Turns out, we can do better. The study, out of the University of Illinois, reviewed the 2003-2012 NHANES Survey for sandwich eaters and compared their total calorie intake on days they ate sandwiches to days they didn’t.

Researchers found that about 50 percent of Americans eat a sandwich for lunch, and those who do take in on average 100 extra calories, more fat, sodium and sugar, compared to the days they didn’t. While 100 calories don't seem like a lot, they add up fast, especially considering that many of us gobble down sammies on a daily basis.

Before you give up on PB&J or creamy egg salad, learn the basics to building a healthier sandwich and become a brown-bag lunch pro in no time.

1. Wheat Check!

Are you choosing whole grains over white bread? Studies show a diet rich in whole grains and dietary fiber (aim for 2-plus grams per slice) may lower diabetes risk by helping to control blood sugar. On top of that, high-fiber whole grains provide the body with a steady stream of energy and curb cravings.

Not fond of plain old whole grain bread? Try whole-grain sandwich or bagel thins instead—they’re the best thing since… well, sliced bread.

You get two halves for the same calorie count as one slice of regular bread (about 100 calories) and most brands are brimming with filling fiber.

2. Be Smart About Protein

Make protein the star of your sandwich. Eating any type of food gives your body a metabolic boost. That’s because it takes energy to digest the food you eat.

But get this—protein contributes the greatest benefit to your metabolism when compared with carbohydrate and fat. Not only that, protein can increase your metabolism by helping to maintain and build muscle mass.

Choose from a variety of lean protein sources; think hard-boiled eggs, skinless poultry, tofu, tempeh and fish. And here’s a cool trick: Topping any sandwich with a poached egg instantly takes the deliciousness factor up a notch, and the runny yolk becomes the sauce!

3. Think Outside the Veggie Box

Want to beef up your sandwich and boost the health quotient for minimal calories? Think veggies! Two slices of tomato and two leaves of lettuce add a measly 10 calories to your tasty sammie. You’d be surprised at how stacking your hero with a variety of vegetables can increase the flavor and nutrition scores.

Think outside the box and go with everything from jicama, bell pepper strips, banana pepper rings, kale, sautéed mushrooms, onions, roasted root vegetables, and even thinly sliced cucumbers.

4. Choose Condiments Carefully

Picking the wrong toppings can ruin a perfectly healthy hoagie. Slathering a couple tablespoons of mayo, butter, or “special sauce” on your bread can set you way back. Instead, try mustard (brown and spicy, Dijon, or honey) or spread 1 to 2 tablespoons of light mayo on your sandwich. You can easily jazz up light mayo by blending in minced cilantro, or a squirt of ketchup or hot sauce.

Also, get creative and try some of the more unexpected toppings to help liven up your menus and surprise your taste buds, such as hummus, pesto, avocado, or guacamole. Not only are these additions flavorful, they’re also great sources of healthy fats and other good-for-you nutrients.

Take a look at some of my favorite (and super-simple!) creations and give them a try:

Joy Bauer, MS, RDN, CDN, is the health and nutrition Expert for NBC’s Today Show and founder of Nourish Snacks.

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