American cheese is a common ingredient in some classic American dishes, such as cheeseburgers and grilled cheese sandwiches.

While you’ve most likely tried it before, you wonder what American cheese is — and whether it’s as low quality as its reputation may suggest.

This article explores American cheese, from its nutritional makeup and potential benefits to its downsides.

A grilled cheese sandwich full of melting American cheese.Share on Pinterest
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American cheese is a type of processed cheese made by mixing one or more types of cheeses, including Cheddar cheese, washed curd cheese, Colby cheese, and granular cheese (1).

Despite being called “American cheese,” its official name is “pasteurized process cheese food.”

Unlike natural cheese, which is made directly from milk, American cheese is made from a blend of cheeses. The cheese blend should not comprise less than 51% of the final product’s weight (1, 2).

Other ingredients include acidifying agents, water, salt, artificial coloring, emulsifying agents to prevent separation, and spices or artificial flavors (1).

American cheese has a mild flavor and smooth texture. Its color may range from white to light yellow or orange (3).

It’s typically sold in the form of solid blocks, shredded, cubes, spread, or individually wrapped slices commonly known as “singles.”

Summary

Unlike natural cheese, which is made from milk, American cheese is a processed cheese made by mixing Cheddar cheese, washed curd cheese, Colby cheese, and granular cheese, among other ingredients.

American cheese has both healthy and not-so-healthy nutritional qualities.

A 1-ounce (28-gram) single slice of American cheese provides (4):

  • Calories: 102
  • Carbs: 1.3 grams
  • Protein: 5 grams
  • Fat: 9 grams
  • Calcium: 23% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Sodium: 21% of the DV
  • Phosphorus: 14% of the DV
  • Vitamin D: 11% of the DV
  • Vitamin A: 10% of the DV
  • Zinc: 6% of the DV

On the one hand, American cheese is a low carb cheese and source of high quality protein. It’s also fortified with vitamin D and naturally high in other vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A, phosphorus, calcium, and zinc.

While vitamin D helps strengthen your bones by improving the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, vitamin A promotes eye and immune health, while zinc plays an essential role in growth, digestion, and DNA synthesis (5, 6, 7).

On the other hand, American cheese is a high calorie food with high contents of saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium.

Of the 9 grams of fat in a slice of American cheese, 5 grams come from saturated fats, which account for 25% of the DV — or the recommended amount to consume or not to exceed per day. The same serving size also provides 10% of the DV for cholesterol (4).

Diets high in saturated fat and sodium are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, including atherosclerosis — or plaque buildup — and high blood pressure (8, 9, 10).

How does it compare with other cheeses?

While American cheese is one of the most popular sliced cheeses, there is quite a selection of sliced cheeses to choose from.

The chart below compares 1-ounce (28-gram) slices of American, Swiss, and Cheddar cheeses (4, 11, 12):

American cheeseSwiss cheeseCheddar cheese
Calories102111114
Fat9 grams9 grams9 grams
Saturated fat5 grams5 grams5 grams
Protein5 grams8 grams6 grams
Carbs1.3 grams0.4 grams0.9 grams
Calcium23% of the Daily Value (DV)19% of the DV15% of the DV
Sodium21% of the DV2% of the DV8% of the DV

Both Swiss and Cheddar cheese have slightly higher calorie contents due to their higher protein counts, compared with American cheese. However, all three cheeses provide the same amount of total and saturated fat per slice.

However, American cheese has the highest carb and calcium content, and its sodium content is 10- and 4-fold higher than both cheeses, respectively.

Summary

American cheese is a high calorie, high fat, and high sodium food. However, it also provides high quality protein, vitamins, and minerals, such as vitamins A and D, phosphorus, calcium, and zinc.

American cheese does have some benefits to offer.

High in calcium

While calcium is available in dairy and nondairy foods, dairy products like American cheese provide about 72% of the dietary calcium supply in the United States (13).

Calcium is a mineral that makes up most of your bones’ structure. It’s important for bone strength and may help prevent osteoporosis, a condition characterized by an increased risk of fractures due to fragile bones (14).

Despite being most commonly known for bone support, calcium is involved in many other bodily functions, including:

  • Blood pressure. Human and animal studies show that a high calcium intake may help lower systolic blood pressure — the upper number of a reading — among those with a low calcium intake and reduce the risk of preeclampsia among pregnant people (13, 14).
  • Blood cholesterol. Evidence suggests that calcium may help lower total and LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase HDL (good) cholesterol (13, 14).
  • Nerve transmission. Your body relies on calcium to help its brain cells communicate with one another to coordinate muscle movements, bodily secretions, and organ functions (14, 15).

High quality protein source

Along with carbohydrates and fats, protein is one of the three macronutrients.

Its nutritional value changes according to its amino acid composition. Protein sources may be categorized as high or low quality depending on whether they provide all essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein.

Since dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt provide all essential amino acids, they are considered high quality protein sources (16).

Thus, enjoying an occasional slice of American cheese may help you boost your intake of high quality protein.

Extended shelf life

Being a processed product, American cheese has an extended shelf life compared with natural cheeses (2).

In fact, unlike soft cheeses, which must be refrigerated for safety, American cheese doesn’t need refrigeration until they’re opened. However, it will last longer if you do refrigerate it (17).

Once opened, it may last up to 2 months in your fridge (18).

Summary

American cheese is a good source of calcium and high quality protein. It also has a longer shelf life than soft natural cheese.

The primary health concerns associated with eating American cheese are its high saturated fat and sodium contents.

A high saturated fat intake may raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of atherosclerosis (8, 19).

Atherosclerosis is characterized by a narrowing of the arteries due to plaque buildup. It’s a risk factor for heart disease and stroke, as well as a major cause of death worldwide (8, 19).

While current dietary guidelines for Americans recommend consuming fat-free or low fat dairy products, research suggests that saturated fat from dairy doesn’t harm heart health. Contrarily, it may have a neutral or even protective effect (20, 21, 22).

As for its sodium content, evidence shows that diets high in sodium increase the risk of hypertension, or high blood pressure, whereas reducing your sodium intake may help lower the risk of this condition (9, 23, 24).

Data shows that the average sodium intake in the United States exceeds the recommendations by 48%, and as shown above, just a single slice of American cheese provides 20% of the recommended daily amount of sodium (4, 24).

This means that consuming too much American cheese may lead to sodium overconsumption. As such, it may increase your risk of developing high blood pressure.

Summary

American cheese is high in saturated fat and sodium, both of which may increase the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.

American cheese provides some high quality nutrients. However, the not-so-healthy ones may outweigh the good ones.

While there are no official recommendations on American cheese consumption, it may be best to consume it sparingly to avoid increasing your risk of heart disease.

Additionally, while it may be a good source of calcium and protein, other dairy products like milk, yogurt, and many other healthier cheeses are great sources of those nutrients as well (11, 12, 16).

Summary

While American cheese provides some quality nutrients, it may be best to consume it in moderation to avoid the potential adverse health effects of excess saturated fat and sodium intakes.

American cheese is a processed food made by combining different cheeses, including Cheddar cheese, washed curd cheese, Colby cheese, and granular cheese.

As a dairy product, it’s a good source of calcium and high quality protein. It also has an extended shelf life compared with other cheeses.

However, it should be consumed in moderation due to its high saturated fat and sodium contents, which may increase the risk of heart disease.