In our Mad Food Science™ Program, we empower kids to make better food choices. I just love how it gets the kids thinking about what everything they eat. This week a boy in year 5 asked me Is a A Sandwich Healthy?
It’s a great question. Given sandwiches are still a staple in many Australian lunchboxes, I thought I would write about it some more.
My Short Answer:
This was my short answer to this child and about 100 other kids which were also in his Mad Food Science session.
Some sandwiches can be healthy, whilst some can be not so healthy. Just like the processed packaged food, there are some which are better than others.
First there is the type of bread the sandwich is made from. For instance, a white bread is not as good for you as a wholegrain bread or a sourdough. Then there is what you put on your sandwich – the filling. For instance, a spread like jam, Vegemite or Nutella is not as good for you as having a nourishing filling like egg, chicken or even yummy homemade baked beans.
My Longer Answer (i.e. the rest of this article…)
From our experience in visiting many schools along the east coast of Australia, and now starting on the west coast, a sandwich is by far still the staple main lunchbox item.
Many parents consider a sandwich to be a child’s main lunch course. This means the quality of the sandwich is super important. It needs to nourish a child’s body and brain so they can concentrate, and stay full.
Let’s break the sandwich down and look at what makes a sandwich healthy.
Part 1 – The Bread
In the discussion about bread, we need to consider what grains are like in the whole form. Wholegrains unadulterated (i.e. before they are refined/processed) are a nutritional powerhouse. They contain bran, germ and a starch part called the endosperm. Wholegrains are a valuable source of vitamins and minerals. They also contain protein and fats, albeit a small amount and are loaded with fibre.
Wholegrains are a complex carbohydrate. This means when we eat them, they get released slowly by our body and give long lasting energy.
Sadly, most of the breads today are made from flours which have undergone a heavy refining process. These flours only contain part of the grain, the starchy part. When this refining is done, the part of the grain which provides the nourishment and the long-lasting energy is removed. What’s left is a simple carbohydrate. This means our body uses the energy faster, so it doesn’t sustain us for as long.
I always try to break things down into bite sized chunks which are easily understandable and so you can speak to your kids about it.
The colour of bread
Take a look at this picture of wheat. Notice the colour of wheat?
It’s kind of a golden brown or tan colour. How do you think a grain this colour ends up white? The short answer is during refining process. it goes through a bleaching type process to make the flour look clean. Research shows this bleaching process produces a small and unintended byproduct called Alloxan. Further research has linked Alloxan to contributing to diabetes. Obviously as this is a byproduct, it does not need to be listed as an ingredient so many people are unaware how white bread may be detrimental to their health.
The more white a bread is, the more processed it is, and the less likely it is to have nutritional value.
Before industry took over our food supply, that is, when we were in control of what went into our food, and how it was made, bread was made from just 4 simple ingredients. These ingredients were pantry staples:
- Yeast or a culture
Some also used a bit of sweetener too but even then, that’s only 5 ingredients.
Today. if you look at breads, the ingredients lists are usually significantly longer. The reality is this: The grains are now so heavily processed into flour that most of the nourishment is gone. Bread manufacturers know this, so they are trying to reproduce what mother nature provides naturally in grains by creating this synthetically in a lab, then adding this into the ingredients. In marketing speak, you have probably seen this on packets using words such as “enhanced” or “fortified”.
In addition to trying to synthetically recreate the goodness removed from processing, many breads are having preservatives added to them. Preservatives in the 280 to 283 range are commonly included. In particular, the preservative 282 has the potential to trigger these conditions:
- Aggressive behaviour
- Behavioural problems
- Learning difficulties
- Sleep disturbance
We have experienced the effects of 282 many years ago on our daughter, where her behaviour just went out the window after eating bread containing 282. My mother-in-law suggested we check the ingredients of bread, because one of her children (my brother-in-law) was affected by it as a young boy.
Be extremely wary of breads with claims which use marketing language such as “No Artificial Preservatives.” This is likely to mean that in the lab, instead of using calcium propionate (282), they have used a natural ingredient such as whey, wheat or dextrose and cultured it with a propionbacteria to create a ‘natural’ propionate preservative. The results on behaviour are considered the same according to Fedup.com.au.
This is food science gone mad, people! Profit over health! (OK, my rant is over – thanks!)
Wholemeal, Multi-Grain, Wholegrain, Sourdough – the differences
White bread, without a doubt, is least nutritious because pretty much most of the goodness is stripped out.
Wholemeal bread is still made on refined flour but has had some of the fibre (bran) added back in.
Multi-grain, in some cases, is a marketing wonder. Look closely at the ingredients for the flour used. Many are just refined flour with some extra grains and seeds added back in.
Wholegrain breads use the whole grain, so you’re consuming all 3 parts of the grain – the bran, germ and the endosperm. Everything mother nature intended.
Sourdough is considered better for our health because it’s made from a starter culture which has been fermented. This culture is used instead of yeast, and the culture makes the bread more readily digestible. Of course, the quality of the flour used in making the sourdough is also important. Follow the same principles as outlined about (e.g. go for a wholegrain flour).
If you’re interested in making your own sourdough, then check out this post and video by Cultures for Health.
Well that’s bread done for you. Now for the other important part of the sandwich – the filling.
Part 2 – The Filling
Choosing the right bread will help give your child longer lasting energy. Choosing the right filling will help keep them fuller for longer and help with their concentration. For this to happen, your filling needs to include a protein source and good fats.
A great sandwich filling does not have to be hard at all. It’s as simple as 1, 2, 3. Follow these 3 steps and BAM! a great filling is made. Combine it with a healthy bread option, and you have a nutritious sandwich.
Of course, if you can’t manage to get 3 in, that’s ok too – but remember the more vegetables you can include in the lunchbox, the less pressure there is to have a dinner plate piled high with vegetables.
Here’s some ideas on how you can build you sandwich using the 1, 2, 3 method.
1. Add good fat
- Mashed avocado
- Real butter* – Georgia from Well Nourished wrote this great post about is butter and margarine healthier?
- Real egg mayonnaise* – check out this dead simple recipe I found on Simone’s Kitchen
- Coconut butter*
The ones marked *, use just a small amount, don’t lather it on.
2. Add Protein
- Chicken (real, preferably organic or at least free range)
- Homemade baked beans
- Beef (real, preferably grass fed)
3. Add Vegetables / Fruit
- Grated carrot
- Baby spinach
- Apple slices
- Pear slices
- Red onion
- Snow peas
If you’d like some sandwich filling ideas, click here. Be sure to add your good fat selection to these too.
Part 3 – How To Transition Your Kids To Healthier Sandwiches
My philosophy with any of this is to go at a speed which works for your family, but the key factor is you just need to start. Here’s my tips:
Tip 1: Choose what to tackle first – i.e. changing the bread, or changing the filling. There’s no point trying to change everything at once, because you will overwhelm yourself, and throw your kids into the deep end. Choose one thing only to get started.
Tip 2: When changing the bread, you could adopt the approach of using one slice of what they are used to, and one slice being the new better bread choice. Cut the sandwich and present it in the lunchbox with one half with the bread they are used to showing, and the other with the new bread showing – like a checkerboard. This will help make it interesting.
Tip 3: When changing / adding fillings, get your child’s involvement. An easy way is to put some pictures of the different fillings on a piece of paper, then get them to circle what they want. Or make it like a sandwich bar (think Subway) and they can choose. Your rules though – they need to choose at least one vegetable, and a protein.
What are your favourites?
What are your favourite sandwich fillings, or bread types? Leave a comment below and share what works for your family, what you want to transition to, or any other questions you might have that I might be able to help with 🙂