From toddlers to grandparents, people of all ages love grilled cheese sandwiches, especially served with a hot bowl of tomato soup. They’re convenient, easy to make, and delicious.
Yet, you may wonder whether this popular sandwich is a healthy choice. This article explores grilled cheese’s health benefits, downsides, and how to make a healthier grilled cheese sandwich.
Grilled cheese can come in many variations, but it starts as cheese melted between two pieces of bread.
Your basic grilled cheese sandwich comprises two slices of white bread with American cheese. The sandwich is then cooked with butter in a pan until the bread becomes golden brown and the cheese begins to melt.
Upgraded grilled cheese sandwiches may use fancier bread, such as sourdough or ciabatta, and melt together unique types of cheeses like mozzarella or Monterey Jack.
The type of cheese and bread you select, the amount of butter or mayonnaise you use to crisp the bread, and which additional toppings you may choose all affect the nutrition and flavor of your grilled cheese sandwich.
Grilled cheese is a classic sandwich that can come in many varieties. Depending on the toppings, bread, and amount of cheese you use, the flavor profile and nutrition will vary.
Cheese — one of the main ingredients of a grilled cheese sandwich — may have some health benefits.
On its own, cheese is a good source of some vitamins, minerals, and protein. Riboflavin, vitamin B12, folate, vitamin A, and niacin are the significant vitamins in cheese. Calcium and phosphorus are its most abundant minerals (
1. May reduce muscle loss in older adults
Protein is important for muscle growth, and it may be especially important for older adults to get enough protein. There are 5 grams of highly absorbable protein in a slice of cheese (
One randomized control trial including 100 people over age 60 examined the effects of cheese on muscle mass.
Those who ate a serving of ricotta cheese with 18 grams of protein, in addition to their regular diets, showed improvements in skeletal muscle mass, compared with those who skipped the cheese (
2. May help prevent vitamin B12 deficiency
Cheese is an excellent source of vitamin B12, a vitamin responsible for optimal brain health and megaloblastic anemia prevention (
Vitamin B12 is rich in animal-based products, making it a critical nutrient for nonmeat eaters. Cheese may be a good option for vegetarians to help them meet their vitamin B12 needs (
3. Helps keep teeth strong
Cheese may prevent dental cavities due to the bioactive peptides in casein, the primary protein found in milk and milk products. These bioactive peptides hinder bacteria that cause dental cavities.
The peptides also prevent substances from attaching to teeth, which may lead to weakening by breaking down tooth enamel and helping promote tooth remineralization (
4. May strengthen bones
A large study including men and women analyzed their dairy intake and its association with bone mineral density — the amount of calcium, phosphorus, and other minerals in bones.
Higher intakes of dairy foods, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt, were associated with greater bone mineral density among men, but not among women (
Yet, a review including almost 80,000 postmenopausal women with osteoporosis found that those who took calcium and vitamin D supplements or ate fortified dairy products had significantly increased total bone mineral density (
5. Might be tolerated by people with lactose intolerance
Grilled cheese sandwiches may be a good dairy option for those with lactose intolerance who want to enjoy dairy. Many hard cheeses are naturally lower in lactose, which makes them more tolerable than liquid milk for these individuals (
The nutrition components of cheese may help maintain your muscle mass, add key vitamins to your diet, and strengthen your bones and teeth.
1. May reduce your ability to lose weight
Grilled cheese sandwiches aren’t the cause of weight gain; however, they may hinder your weight loss progress. A grilled cheese sandwich can pack 500 calories or more depending on its assembly and the cooking method.
Eating excess calories can lead to weight gain, so depending on what else you’ve eaten that day, your grilled cheese sandwich may contribute to weight gain (
Even though grilled cheese can be a high calorie food, there are ways to make it with fewer calories (more tips below).
2. High in saturated fat
Grilled cheese sandwiches contain saturated fat from the cheese, butter, and potential additional toppings like bacon.
Saturated fats may elevate LDL (bad) cholesterol. Yet, some studies don’t report a link between saturated fats and heart disease (
The U.S. dietary guidelines still recommend limiting calories from saturated fats to under 10% of your daily calories (
3. Tend to be high in sodium
A high salt intake is linked to elevated blood pressure and adversely affects the bones, brain, and kidneys (
It can help to purchase low sodium cheeses and check the labels on breads to find a lower sodium option.
4. Poor source of fiber
The typical components of a grilled cheese sandwich (cheese and white bread) are not good sources of dietary fiber. Sufficient fiber intake is important in your diet and may promote cancer prevention, lower cholesterol, and weight loss (
Despite grilled cheese sandwiches’ health benefits, there may be drawbacks to eating them. They are high in calories, fat, sodium, and low in fiber. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them in moderation.
Grilled cheese in its traditional form lacks fiber and can be high in calories. It’s best eaten in moderation or prepared in healthier ways. Here are some tips to make your grilled cheese sandwich a little bit more nutritious.
1. Pick a healthier bread
The traditional white bread used to craft grilled cheese sandwiches lacks fiber and can taste a little bland. For a healthier substitute, choose a whole grain bread.
Whole grain breads include the bran, endosperm, and germ, so you get extra nutrients from the wheat. Some multigrain bread also include seeds, such as sunflower seeds and flaxseeds.
The whole grains and seeds give a nuttier flavor and heartier texture but they also deliver added fiber.
2. Be choosy with cheese
Choosing flavorful cheeses like Gruyère, sharp cheddar, Gouda, and havarti bring a richer, distinct flavor to your grilled cheese. You also may find yourself using less cheese, since their flavors are bolder than that of American cheese.
Using less cheese means fewer calories for your sandwich, but it doesn’t mean you have to lose that cheesy goodness and flavor.
3. Add color and flavor with plant-based foods
Enhance your grilled cheese sandwich by adding fruits and vegetables of various colors. The addition of these plant foods will boost the color appeal and nutritional content of your sandwich.
Experiment with fruits and vegetables by throwing in some apples, avocados, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, spinach, onions, or peppers. For more fun flavors, add herbs like basil leaves, chives, or parsley.
4. Make the switch to a healthier fat
Slapping a hunk of butter in your pan or slathering your bread with mayo are common ways to prepare grilled cheese. Lots of butter and mayo adds extra calories and saturated fat.
To lower your saturated fat intake, try using avocado oil or olive oil in your pan instead of butter.
Grilled cheese can be made a little bit healthier. Start with fiber-rich whole grain bread, choose flavorful cheese, try some plant-based toppings, and use a healthy fat when cooking.
Grilled cheese offers a range of nutrients that can promote health benefits, including increased muscle mass and stronger teeth and bones. It’s a source of vitamins, minerals, and protein.
The drawbacks come from its tendency to be high in calories and sodium yet low in fiber. Consider making your own sandwich healthier by choosing nutrient-rich bread, a sharp cheese, fruits or vegetables, and a healthier type of fat.
Generally, it’s best to avoid labeling foods as healthy and unhealthy, as this depends on how they’re prepared, and all foods can be eaten in moderation as part of a healthy diet. Fortunately, grilled cheese is a versatile food that can be made and enjoyed in many ways.
Just one thing
Try this today: Try making a grilled cheese with finely chopped spinach and onion to add color, flavor, and nutrients to your sandwich.