The Humble Sandwich – Yay or Nay?

Feb 22, 2020

Over the years, bread and therefore sandwiches have received a lot of bad press due to fad diets that claim carbohydrates and therefore bread, is not only bad for you, but also fattening. Sandwiches are actually great for those on the run. Not only are they high in easily available energy and often protein, but they are also easy to make, easy to store and carry around, and widely available. Whether you make your own sandwiches or buy them from your local deli, cafe or supermarket, your choice of bread and fillings could make the difference to your health, waistline or energy levels.

Sandwich for runners

You do the comparison! KJ Fat (g)
Regular chicken mayo sandwich made with regular margarine and mayo. 2121 34.8
Lite chicken mayo sandwich made without margarine and using low fat mayo and chicken cooked without the skin 1099 7.3

Good fillers for runners

Generally, runners should be choosing sandwich fillers that are low in fat, yet high in energy, protein, electrolytes and of course taste.  Most bread is low in fat including your average government loaf, sliced pre-packaged breads, bagels, ciabatta, French loaf, seed loaf, pita bread, etc. This means that sandwiches are fattening not because of the bread, but because of fattening fillers or toppings.

In the build-up to a run, you should choose a low GI bread or seed loaf as they are higher in fibre which means that they will sustain your energy levels for longer. Just before a run or just after a run, you may prefer to eat a more quickly absorbed bread such as ordinary white or brown bread. Having bread that is high in fibre just before a run might cause abdominal discomfort, so make sure you experiment to see which bread is better for you. Also, adding a protein or fat filling to your sandwich will make it release energy slower into your blood stream. So if wanting instant energy just before a run, then choose a white bread sandwich with honey, jam, syrup, Bovril, etc as these toppings are low in fat and protein.


Keep sliced bread in the freezer for extra convenience and for emergencies. Slap your filling straight onto the frozen bread and put in a plastic container – a few hours later, you will have a perfect (defrosted) sandwich.

Replacements for butter or margarine

  • Choose a low fat or medium fat spread such as the Floro Light or Extra Light spread, Canola light margarine or Olive oil light margarine. (Yes, a tub margarine is better than butter while a block type margarine is worse than butter).
  • Those with high cholesterol should use Proactive flora margarine.
  • Use low fat or fat free smooth cottage cheese instead of margarine to moisten your sandwich
  • Mustard, low fat mayonnaise or oil-free salad dressings can also replace the need for margarine especially for meat, chicken, tuna or egg sandwiches.
  • Pickles or chutney are great for cheese sandwiches
  • For those who like it hot, use a salsa or chili spread to moisten your bread.
  • Where possible leave out margarine completely. For example, if having avo or peanut butter or cottage cheese, then you won’t miss the margarine.

Suitable toppings or fillers


  • Marmite, Jam, honey, syrup or marmalade
  • Sandwich spread with lettuce and tomato
  • Peanut butter (preferably sugar free and salt free)
  • Mashed banana – (add marmite on top or a sprinkling of cinnamon)
  • Sliced tomato (raw or cooked) with fresh basil leaves and 1 teaspoon of basil pesto
  • Baked beans on toast – add fresh chili for spice or chopped fresh basil leaves
  • Sweet corn with chopped pepper dews on toast
  • Tofu with slices of tomato and fresh basil leaves
  • Mashed avocado with lemon juice and black pepper – stretch out the avocado by adding some fat free cottage cheese
  • Make a salsa with chopped avocado, onion, chives and tomato and seasoning
  • Tzatziki or hummus (thinly spread) – low fat versions are available if you need to reduce your calories
  • Fat free or low fat cottage cheese – add pickles or some chilli jam or mix with finely chopped spring onions, walnuts and celery
  • Low fat crumbly cottage cheese with chopped dried apricots and 1 tsp. of sunflower seeds or with banana slices and honey
  • Crumbled feta and finely sliced olives and lettuce
  • Ricotta cheese with chutney or onion marmalade
  • Grated extra mature cheddar cheese or parmesan cheese (strongly flavoured so you only need a little) with mango pickle, cucumber slices and fresh coriander leaves.
  • Low fat processed cheese spread or wedges

Interesting information

Processed cheese is not very popular as most people think it must be very “processed”. However, the only processing this cheese has gone through is that they have taken ordinary cheese, added emulsifying salts (these enable fat and water to combine) and water to give it a spreading texture. This thereby reduces the fat content of the cheese.

Fish, Poultry or Meat

  • Bovril or oxo
  • Anchovy or fish paste – delicious with fresh slices of tomato and fresh coriander
  • Ham, beef, chicken, turkey slices – with mustard, low fat mayo and pickles
  • Leftover savoury lean mince or eggs scrambled in a non-stick frying pan
  • Tinned tuna, chopped onion and gherkins with low fat mayo and plain fat free yogurt mixed together
  • Egg mayonnaise as above but with curry powder added to taste
  • Smoked salmon and fat free cottage cheese with capers
  • Grilled lean bacon with lettuce and tomato and low fat mayo
  • Smoked snoek or angel fish flaked into cottage cheese and drizzled with lemon juice

High fat (and high cholesterol) sandwich fillers to avoid

  • Anything made with regular mayonnaise
  • Where there is more than one filler such as cheese and cold meats
  • Pates and liver spread
  • Processed or fatty meats such as salami and polony
  • Butter and hard margarines
  • Regular bacon

Low fat or fat free condiments

The following condiments are generally used in such small quantities that their contribution to calorie intake is negligible.

  • Tomato sauce, Chutney, HP sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, Salsa, Chili sauce, Piccalilli, Relish, Sweet & Sour sauce, Mustard
  • Pickles that are pickled in vinegar e.g. gherkins, pickled onions, pepperdews

Karen Protheroe

Karen is a registered dietitian and author of numerous books on nutrition. She also runs a private practice in Stellenbosch. Read more about Karen here.

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