Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Spartan Way to Celebrate PB&J Day

Today is National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day in the United States. It's not a real holiday, but a marketing gimmick invented seven years ago by Smuckers, a company that makes unhealthy industrial peanut butter and jelly.

When most people think of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, they think of that staple of American youth: 1) Processed white bread filled with preservatives, sugar and chemicals; 2) peanut butter augmented by sugar, salt and trans fats; and 3) jelly, which is essentially processed juice and water, massive quantities of sugar and corn syrup all gelled into a solid with industrial pectin.

The standard, junk-food version of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich weakens muscles, slows digestion and metabolism, spikes insulin, promotes fat storage, decays teeth and provides almost no nutrition. The average American child eats 1,500 of these before adulthood.

The peanut butter and jelly sandwich was popularized by American G.I.s during World War II who were trying to make due in the field with the MRE rations available to them. When they returned, the sandwich "spread" fast, accelerated by the American love affair with futuristic science and industrial food innovation during the 1950s.

We've abandoned many of the foods from that era. For example, most of us don't drink instant coffee, or coffee from a can and brewed in a percolator. We don't eat Spam, or fruit cocktail from a can or any of other futuristic foods from that era. Why do some people eat 50s-era peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?

These three junk-food ingredients are pretend versions of real foods. Why eat fake food, when the real thing is so much healthier and satisfying?

Here's the Spartan Diet way: First, start with whole grain bread (not "wheat," or "whole wheat" bread, which can contain a lot of processed white flour). Bake it yourself, buy it locally or get it at the health food store (we love Ezekiel breads from Food for Life).

Next, peanut butter is nice, especially if organic, freshly ground and not augmented by any other ingredient. Even better is almond butter. Check the bin section of your healthy supermarket for a machine that fresh-grinds organic almond butter or grind it yourself at home.

And, finally, use a banana instead of jelly, or dried figs and honey.

There you go: an American classic, Spartan Style!