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How To Build A Better Sandwich

Think back over the last couple of days. Did you start your morning with a breakfast sandwich, maybe grab a burger for lunch…… or at any time during the day, enjoy a delicious filling between two slices of bread? If so, you joined the almost 50 % of all American adults who eat one sandwich per day.  

What We Eat in America, NHANES 2009-2010    

Here are some of the most common traps that keep you from eating a truly healthy sandwich and give you some solid advice about how to upgrade every aspect of your sandwich so your meals will not only be refreshing they will raise your health potential!

You have 6 tasty and healthy opportunities to build a better sandwich.

  1. Strategic layering
  2. Bread choice – white to wheat to?
  3. Upgrading traditional fillings
  4. Transitioning to plant-based options
  5. Plant toppers for flavor explosion
  6. Selecting a Better Spread

I’m going to start off with the #1 opportunity – it’s called Strategic layering. Think about this: Have you ever had a sandwich where the bread was soggy? Or you took a big bite and half of the filling flopped out onto your lap? You might not consider this a nutrition tip, but if you don’t enjoy your lunch – if it isn’t high quality and easy to eat, you won’t have a great meal experience. And good nutrition not only contributes fuel to your body but adds to your quality of life. Here’s how to strategically layer your sandwiches. Thinly slice slippery veggies like tomatoes, cucumber or avocado and layer between spinach or other hearty green leaves. To keep the bread from getting soggy, put your condiments like mustard, ketchup or salsa between the meat and cheese instead of directly on the bread. And if you pack your lunch, pour liquids like balsamic vinaigrette into a snack-size baggie and when you’re ready to eat your sandwich, that’s the time to sprinkle on your veggies.

Your 2nd opportunity to build a better sandwich involves choosing the best bread. White bread, including focaccia and soft wheat – which is just really refined flour bread don’t contain much fiber or other nutrients. Fiber is needed to support a healthy gut (it provides food for your gut bacteria) and helps to lower the production of secondary bile acids associated with inflammation, heart disease, and colon cancer. If you like a softer texture, choose sourdough bread, which is fermented and offers a lower gluten content than yeast-derived breads. Some research suggests sourdough is beneficial to the gut and the immune system. And sourdough is offered in a whole grain version giving you more fiber. 

Microorganisms, Jul 2021

The highest fiber breads can be found in sprouted Ezekiel bread, or other breads containing nuts and seeds like Dave’s Killer Bread. There’s a great story behind that company – so be sure to check that out too! For those who are trying to cut calories, consider an open face sandwich with just one slice of bread or consider thinner Oro wheat thin buns, but know that the fiber content is not very high. You could always choose to wrap your sandwich in lettuce leaves which again aren’t going to contribute fiber but bring the calorie count of any sandwich down by over 100 calories. Red leaf lettuce varieties, such as Lollo Rosso gets its reddish hues from polyphenols called anthocyanins, which provide cancer fighting, anti-inflammatory benefits, so the larger leaves would make an excellent sandwich wrapper for the calorie conscious.

Upgrading your traditional fillings is my third tip to build a better sandwich. The First step to progressing to healthier fillings is to start to say no to red meat and deli meat more often. Consider homemade salmon patties or turkey burgers for a lower-fat hot sandwich. Choosing poultry or egg and cheese sandwiches for animal protein lovers might be the way to go, but keep in mind that when you choose “protein salads” like chicken, egg, or tuna salad, you are still getting saturated fat from the mayonnaise. I’ll talk a bit about that later. Finally, keep in mind that processed cheese singles and spreads should be replaced with real cheese or vegan cheese…or really, if you are trying to watch calories, cut your cheese slices in half…or just avoid cheese altogether.

This leads me to #4 – transitioning to plant-based sandwich options. I want to encourage you to get adventurous and work your way to vegetarian burger options – grilled portobello mushrooms, black bean burgers, sweet potato kale burgers are among my favorites. Veggie burgers made from soy, quinoa, carrots, or squash –there are so many options available – just google veggie burger recipes to find one that suits your palate. Just a note now about Impossible and Beyond Beef burgers—they contain the same amount of protein as traditional beef burgers and some fiber not found in regular burgers and no cholesterol. However, they are heavily processed and contain a lot of sodium, and surprisingly – the saturated fat content in these beef alternatives is comparable to a hamburger patty that is 85% lean. Still, they are better options than a traditional burger and you’ll begin to appreciate that plant-based burgers are easier on your digestion. If you want to reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease, I recommend you aim for veggie burgers that are legume-based and filled with seeds and whole grains, like brown rice and quinoa.

My #5 tip is to add plant toppers for a flavor explosion! Get creative by topping sandwiches with fruit (think pears or cranberries atop turkey, or mango salsa on a salmon burger). Add a crunch to your sandwich by layering bell or banana peppers, pickled red onions, or roasted and sliced Brussels sprouts. We just don’t get enough plants into our daily diet, so this is one way to get them in! It’s been estimated that over 7 M premature deaths caused by heart disease, cancer, and other chronic illnesses could be avoided every year if we ate 10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

Intern J Epidemiology, Feb 2017

Another study found that even eating 5 plant servings a day increases life expectancy by 3 years. 

Am J Clin Nutr, Aug 2013

You can learn more about the power of plants by watching my you tube video Plants for Longevity. So my point is… start adding plants wherever you can – starting with your sandwiches!

My last tip, the 6th opportunity to build a better sandwich involves selecting a better spread. Skip or Replace traditional mayonnaise with Canola and olive oil-based mayonnaises that offer healthier fats, but remember calories will still be high. Vegan mayonnaise is lower in calories and is cholesterol-free, but it is more processed. Pesto, Greek yogurt, hummus, or whipped avocado are healthier options for sure. And don’t forget about mustard! Mustard is low in calories and packed with plant isothiocyanates and five of the ingredients in mustard – vinegar, mustard seed, turmeric, paprika, and garlic – all provide major anti-cancer benefits. And Remember – condiments should go between veggies and patties, not directly on the bread!

By upgrading all the ingredients found in typical sandwiches, you will begin to eat healthier and feel better. You get to choose what changes you’ll make to your sandwich and when you’re ready, make another change. This advice is based on the principles of progressive nutrition—so you don’t have to tackle everything all at once.

And, while sandwiches can make for a quick and easy meal, they aren’t always the best choice if you want to cut calories.  Just take a guess here: what are the two most popular sandwiches in the US that would contribute some unneeded calories to your diet? Well, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most popular sandwiches in the United States are burgers and deli meat sandwiches. And there are other health implications to those choices  – check out my you tube video on The Real Reason Not To Eat Red Meat.

Public Health, Nov 2016

That said, Eating a sandwich of any kind… every day…. can contribute to weight gain. Researchers found that individuals who ate a sandwich two days in a row ate about 100 more calories per day compared to those who consumed a sandwich every other day. And on the days when they ate a sandwich, they tended to eat fewer fruits and vegetables (both staples of a healthy diet) and consumed more sodium, saturated fat, and sugar.  Did you know that if you eat an extra 100 Calories each day more than your body needs, by the end of a year you’ll have put on an extra 10 pounds in weight?

So, please…eat the healthiest sandwich possible AND if you are looking for another quick and easy option to that daily sandwich, consider a healthy meal replacement smoothie.  You’ll find the recommended smoothie powder brand on our website. I hope you consider ordering a personalized nutrition plan. It’s only $14.95 for a one-time fee. Whether you want to build a better sandwich or desire advice about how to progressively eat better, our dietitian-developed personalized nutrition plans can help you prioritize the foods that will impact your health the most. 

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