Ah, peanut butter and jelly. The unofficial food of childhood! But don't we love it as adults, too? I know I do. We know jelly can be packed with sugar, which isn't good for heart health. So I wanted to share some of my best tips for choosing a healthy jelly brand from your super market!
What makes some jelly so unhealthy?
You probably guessed it. It's the added sugar. And while a little sugar throughout the day is fine, it adds up way too quickly! (See my video about added sugar for more info.)
Did you know that added sugar consumption is an independent risk factor for heart disease, too?! That means that even if you are healthy in every other way - you exercise and eat right, don't smoke, etc. - if you consume more added sugar than recommended, you are at an increased risk for heart disease. Yikes! Read more about added sugar and recommendations from the American Heart Association.
Why so much sugar in jelly?
Sugar's main role in jelly and jam is for preservation. It can also help thicken it a bit, but typically pectin is used for that.
But this is a somewhat antiquated practice. We have other ways of preserving food now, as well as much healthier ways of making jelly. Many brands have already started moving in that direction, and the internet abounds with no added sugar jam recipes.
But there's another reason: it's delicious! That's right. Humans LOVE sugar. It's hardwired in our DNA for survival, even though most of us experience an overabundance of food daily (and highly processed foods at that).
But, that being said, most fruit is quite sweet enough without the added sugar.
How to identify healthier jellies
Of course, we're going to look at added sugar here mainly. Ideally, you want 0g added sugar. That's not the total sugars number. Jelly made from fruit will have a good deal of naturally occurring sugar. That's fine. The important thing to look at is the added sugar total. If you can't find zero, get one as low as you can. Look for a jelly or jam that is all fruit.
You also want to be on the look out for jelly that says it's sugar free. Those usually contain a zero-calorie sweetener, like Splenda. I don't necessarily recommend avoiding these sweeteners all together, but I don't think it's advisable to consume them all the time. Mainly because when your taste buds are used to eating highly sweet things, they sort of expect that, which can lead to feelings of craving sweet foods. Same with salt actually. Anyway, opt for jelly without either added sugar or zero-calorie sweeteners if possible.
Heart healthy jelly options
Here are some options when it comes to no added sugar jelly:
- Polaner All Fruit Spreadable Fruit (not the sugar free with fiber variety)
- Trader Joe's Organic Fruit Spread - comes in raspberry, super fruit, and strawberry
- Grandma's Jam House (no website available) has some no added sugar varieties (read labels), and can often be found at farmer's markets, Walmart, and Amazon
- Newport Jerky Company's GATOR Jam (other jams are not sugar free) - also available on Amazon
- Mrs. Miller's Amish Homemade Sugarless Jam - also available on Amazon
- Consider making your own - try Blueberry Thyme Chia Jam!
What's the difference between jelly and jam?
The terms are often used interchangeably. I did it in this very article!
Jelly is typically a spread made from thickened fruit juice and sugar. Jam is a thickened spread usually made from pureed fruit and sugar.
Preserves are often made with large chunks of fruit suspended in a gel. You will also see the terms fruit spread or spreadable fruit typically denoting the use of more fruit and less added sugar, but not always.
Are you looking to make the healthiest PB&J sandwich out there? Read about how to choose the heart healthiest peanut butter.
So, did your favorite healthy jelly make the list? Tell me in the comments!