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Is That Right? Bologna Beats PB&J

In response to my Tuesday blog about donating healthful food to shelters for the homeless, a reader reported feeling ill at ease with his or her church's long-standing practice of donating bologna sandwiches to the homeless.

That got me wondering about bologna's nutrition profile. (It also got me craving a bologna sandwich, but that's neither here nor there.)

So I went to Kraft's Oscar Mayer Web page, where I found the most curious claim: "PB&J has nothing on b-o-l-o-g-n-a," the copy says. "Bologna has just 4 grams of sugar," it continues. It notes in small print below that a PB&J sandwich has 16 grams of sugar, 18 grams of fat, 3.5 grams of saturated fat and 490 milligrams of sodium, while a bologna sandwich has 4 grams of sugar, 12 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat and 800 milligrams of sodium.

"Our bologna has 75% less sugar, 33% less fat, and it's made with premium beef, no fillers," the web site says. That makes bologna "A kid favorite you can feel good about."

Well, thank you, Kraft, for opening my eyes. It never occurred to me that MEAT would have any sugar in it at all. Of course I expect sugar in my PB&J: It's sweet. But what's it doing in bologna?

For some, it will make matters worse that the "sugar" in bologna is in fact corn syrup. (Oddly, though the Web site touts that 4 grams of sugar, the Nutrition Facts panel lists just 1 gram.)

Sugar aside, the bologna sandwich hardly benefits from the comparison with PB&J (a spurious comparison to start with, as we aren't told what kinds of peanut butter, jelly or bread were analyzed -- or, for that matter, which variety of bologna they used on what kind of bread).

Eight hundred milligrams of sodium isn't exactly something to brag about; nor is having 4.5 grams of saturated fat. (Sure, peanut butter has more total fat, but a lot of it is the monounsaturated kind that's actually good for your heart.) And why don't they mention protein? A slice of beef bologna has 3 grams, while a two-tablespoon serving of peanut butter has 8 grams.

Plus, peanut butter delivers a bit of fiber, iron, niacin and Vitamin E. And, unlike bologna, it has no cholesterol. A slice of bologna has 20 milligrams.

Bologna better than PB&J? Baloney. (Sorry; couldn't resist.)

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  October 9, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Is That Right? , Nutrition and Fitness  | Tags: oscar mayer bologna nutrition, peanut butter and jelly versus bologna  
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Does the sugar include from the bread? It is the whole sandwich they are comparing.

Posted by: mdem929 | October 9, 2009 9:25 AM | Report abuse

You know, I saw that ad in a parenting magazine. It also caused a brief craving for a bologna sandwich, with mayo, on white bread. I was doubtful, though, that it beat out PB&J healthwise. Thanks for doing the research for me. PB&J with natural PB and whole wheat bread has some good stuff in it. We eat a lot of them in our house, even the adults. The thing about bologna is that I only want it on white bread with processed cheese. Sigh...

Posted by: TakomaParkMD | October 9, 2009 9:26 AM | Report abuse

TakomaPark - exactly! Nothing makes me crave soft white bread and mayo quite like bologna. . . .

BTW, Jennifer, sounds like those nutritional figures include the full sandwich, not just the bologna. Which may explain the 4 vs. 1 g of sugar question -- the other three are probably from the bread.

If you're going to be comparing overall healthfulness, it also matters what PB you choose. When I was growing up, peanut butter had so much sugar and partially-hydrogenated fat in it that I'm not quite sure it counted as a "healthy" food choice! Seems like the big brands have gotten better, but Jif does have 3 grams of saturated fat in a 2T-serving, which isn't exactly great. Natural peanut butter may be a better choice -- but then again, I always have to have it with honey or jam to make it sweet enough, so not sure there's a net gain there. :-)

Posted by: laura33 | October 9, 2009 9:45 AM | Report abuse

I had the same thought as the first person to comment... the reason the package says one gram of sugar and the sandwich says 4 is probably the bread.

Posted by: tb1982 | October 9, 2009 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Why does the title say "Bologna Beats PB&J" when the article says the opposite?? I get the "Is That Right?" part, but at least make it "Bologna Beats PB&J?" -- note the question mark! If I hadn't been curious for more details and read the article, I'd have just assumed that somehow bologna was better.

Posted by: spunkydawg1 | October 9, 2009 10:46 AM | Report abuse

For what it's worth, I haven't heard of anyone having a bologna food allergy.

Decetn Wikipedia article on it at

Posted by: mhoust | October 9, 2009 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Oscar Meyer and Butterball both make turkey bologna. I get that instead of the regular bologna. I make sandwiches with the turkey variety on Arnold health nut bread (a favorite full of grains and nuts), mustard, and bread and butter pickles. Yummo. Would much prefer that over PB&J anyday -- some people just don't like sweet sandwiches.

Posted by: Baltimore11 | October 9, 2009 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Don't forget the nitrites and nitrates in bologna. Another wapo article said people who ate a lot of processed meat had shorter life spans, probably due to these common additives.

Posted by: jackaroe | October 9, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Not to mention the environmental costs of raising peanuts versus raising ... wait, where does bologna come from these days?

We always choose plant based foods whenever possible, for many reasons.

Posted by: Marimom | October 9, 2009 2:14 PM | Report abuse

This claim by Oscar Meyer reminds me of that line of books called "Eat This, Not That!"
The "Eat This, Not That!" book would have told you to eat a bologna sandwich rather than a pb&j one using the same stupid data.
Definitely go with the pb and j. (and definitely don't buy that book!)

Posted by: iRunOninsulin | October 9, 2009 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Ad aside, I'm gonna go with the bologna sandwich.

Posted by: ChrisCombs | October 9, 2009 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Oh baloney. Those figures come from some goober grape P&J not quality Peanut butter and Jelly on whole wheat. That is the shizznit! So yummy and so good for you.

Not that ratmeat bologna Oscar Meyer is trying to pass off on white bread with miracle whip. Ugh!

Posted by: Homunculus | October 9, 2009 9:58 PM | Report abuse

The sodium nitrate in the bologna is a terrible additive. I would take PB&J anyday just because of that!

Posted by: play25 | October 10, 2009 3:26 AM | Report abuse

The sodium nitrate in the bologna is a terrible additive. Plus, who knows what garbage meat and from how many countries is blended in that bologna!
I would take PB&J any day just because of that!

Posted by: play25 | October 10, 2009 3:29 AM | Report abuse

Consider that more than a few homeless folks have dental issues. Foods that involve serious chewing can be difficult. PB&J on soft bread would be easier to gum-down.

My gripe with PB in prepared food settings is that they often put way more on than is necessary. If you go to a bagel place and order something with PB you'll get at least twice to portion that's recommended.

Posted by: RedBird27 | October 10, 2009 7:49 AM | Report abuse

I love the "...but I eat the turkey [processed meat].

Let's say that we make a sandwich with 3 slices.
13.5 grams of fat - 21% Daily Value
900 mg of sodium - 39% Daily Value

While only getting 18% DV of protein. There's not much nutritional value, but you do get all of the added nitrates!

If you want processed meat, eat it in moderation. Don't fool yourself into thinking that it's healthier.

I eat nitrate-free bacon once every couple of weeks. I enjoy it, but know what I'm getting.

Posted by: MzFitz | October 10, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse

There are plenty of "old-fashioned" or natural varieties of peanut butter that have no sugar or oil added--plenty of both in peanuts and peanut butter naturally. I find natural peanut butter so sweet that I like to sprinkle a little sea salt on it--can't imagine ever eating the processed stuff with the additives again.

There is nothing that satisfies that afternoon snack craving for sweet/salty better than a tablespoon of natural peanut butter on whole wheat toast with a spiral of honey on top--you don't need all that much!

Posted by: kroshka | October 12, 2009 3:20 PM | Report abuse

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