Eating grilled cheese sandwiches in moderation can be part of a healthy diet, but they should not be a daily staple. Grilled cheese sandwiches are high in calories, fat, and sodium, so they should be enjoyed as an occasional treat. Choosing whole grain bread, low-fat cheese, and vegetable toppings can help make grilled cheese sandwiches more nutritious. Portion control is also important when eating grilled cheese sandwiches to limit calorie intake.
Nutritional Value of Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
The main ingredients in a basic grilled cheese sandwich are bread, cheese, and butter or oil. Here is the nutritional value for a typical grilled cheese sandwich with 2 slices of white bread, 2 slices of American cheese, and 1 teaspoon of butter:
|Total Fat||24 g|
|Saturated Fat||15 g|
|Trans Fat||1 g|
|Total Carbohydrate||28 g|
|Dietary Fiber||1 g|
As you can see, a single grilled cheese sandwich provides almost 400 calories, 24 grams of fat, and 744 milligrams of sodium. The saturated fat content is very high at 15 grams, accounting for most of the total fat grams. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat to no more than 13 grams per day based on a 2000 calorie diet.
The calorie count can add up quickly if you eat multiple grilled cheese sandwiches in one sitting. Consuming extra calories can lead to weight gain over time. Here are the approximate calories for different serving sizes of grilled cheese sandwiches:
– 1 sandwich: 387 calories
– 2 sandwiches: 774 calories
– 3 sandwiches: 1,161 calories
– 4 sandwiches: 1,548 calories
To keep calories in check, limit consumption to 1 full sandwich or occasionally half a sandwich. You can also opt for a kid-sized grilled cheese which will have fewer calories than a regular sandwich.
The high saturated fat content of grilled cheese sandwiches can also be concerning. Saturated fats have been linked with increased LDL (bad) cholesterol levels which raises risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends getting only 5-6% of total daily calories from saturated fat. For a 2000 calorie diet, this equals about 13 grams of saturated fat per day. Just one grilled cheese sandwich provides 15 grams of saturated fat.
The cheese and butter provide most of the saturated fat grams. Using reduced-fat cheese slices and going light on the butter can help lower the saturated fat amount. Still, even made with 2% milk cheese and light spread, a grilled cheese sandwich will supply a significant amount of your daily limit for saturated fat.
With 744 milligrams of sodium, a single grilled cheese sandwich accounts for nearly one-third of the daily sodium limit of 2,300 mg. The cheese and bread provide most of the sodium. Regular intake of high sodium foods like grilled cheese sandwiches can increase blood pressure, putting you at greater risk for heart disease and stroke. Those with high blood pressure or heart problems should be especially cautious about high sodium intake from grilled cheese sandwiches and other sources.
Healthier Ways to Enjoy Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
You don’t have to give up grilled cheese sandwiches completely to eat healthy. There are several simple ways to make grilled cheese sandwiches more nutritious:
Choose Whole Grain Bread
Picking whole grain bread over white provides more fiber, vitamins, and minerals. For example, 2 slices of whole wheat bread have 4 grams of fiber versus only 2 grams in white bread. Whole grains also give you magnesium, potassium, zinc and B vitamins. The extra nutrition will help balance out some of the less healthy aspects of grilled cheese sandwiches.
Use Reduced-Fat Cheese
Regular cheeses like cheddar and American contain about 110 calories and 9 grams of fat per ounce. Reduced-fat cheeses made with 2% milk have around 90 calories and 6 grams of fat per ounce. Low-moisture, part-skim mozzarella offers 80 calories and 5 grams of fat per ounce. Using reduced fat cheese will cut some calories, fat and sodium.
Cut Back on Butter
Butter adds flavor to grilled cheese but also unnecessary saturated fat and calories. Use just enough melted butter to lightly coat the bread, about 1/2 tablespoon per slice. Switch to olive oil or try using just a couple spritzes of cooking spray on the bread instead of butter.
Add nutrition and texture by loading up your grilled cheese with sliced tomatoes, spinach, onions, avocado, mushrooms or other favorite vegetables. Try spreads like pesto or tapenade too. The extra fiber from veggies can help fill you up.
Opt for Leaner Protein
Branch out from regular cheeses to leaner protein-packed options. Grilled sandwiches with cheese plus turkey, ham, or tuna provide more balanced nutrition. Beans, chickpeas, or lentils are fiber-rich vegan grilled cheese options.
Stick to a single sandwich rather than multiple to control calories, fat and sodium. Share a grilled cheese sandwich as an appetizer. Choose kid-sized grilled cheese sandwiches to help with portion control. Measure servings of cheese and butter to keep them reasonable.
Boost Nutrition with Side Dishes
Serve your grilled cheese sandwich with nutritious side dishes like salads with low-calorie dressing or lightly sautéed vegetables. The side dishes will add volume, nutrients and satisfaction to your meal. Soup also pairs perfectly with grilled cheese for a comforting combo.
Health Concerns with Frequent Grilled Cheese Consumption
While the occasional grilled cheese sandwich can fit into a healthy diet, making it a regular staple is problematic for several reasons:
Grilled cheese sandwiches are typically high in calories, especially when served with sides like French fries. Eating them frequently can lead to excessive calorie intake and eventual weight gain if you are not careful about portions. Even healthy adults need to watch calories from high-fat foods like grilled cheese to maintain their weight.
High LDL Cholesterol
The high amount of saturated fat in regular grilled cheese sandwiches can raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels when consumed often. Having chronically high LDL cholesterol increases your risk for atherosclerosis, heart attack and stroke. If you already have elevated cholesterol, eating grilled cheese sandwiches regularly could make it more difficult to control your levels.
High Blood Pressure
A diet high in sodium from sources like grilled cheese sandwiches can contribute to high blood pressure, especially in those who are sodium-sensitive. Uncontrolled high blood pressure damages arteries and is linked to heart disease. If you already have hypertension, the high sodium content of grilled cheese sandwiches could exacerbate the problem.
Lack of Nutrients
While cheese does provide protein and calcium, grilled cheese sandwiches are lacking in other nutrients. They contain almost no vitamins or antioxidants and minimal fiber. Relying too heavily on grilled cheese could lead to vitamin, mineral and fiber deficiencies. The empty calories also displace healthier choices providing more complete nutrition.
Some people experience bloating, gas or diarrhea when eating dairy products. Lactose intolerance or sensitivity to milk proteins can make grilled cheese sandwiches unappealing and difficult to digest for those with GI issues. The high fat content can also be hard on the digestive system when consumed regularly.
For those at high risk for cardiovascular disease, eating grilled cheese sandwiches often boosts chances of a heart attack or stroke. The high saturated fat, sodium and calories are a triple threat increasing LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight – all risk factors for cardiovascular events. Moderation is advised.
Healthier Sandwich Alternatives to Grilled Cheese
If you are looking to eat sandwiches more often while improving your nutrition, consider these healthier alternatives to classic grilled cheese:
Turkey, Avocado and Cheese
Turkey is leaner than the red meats and provides a good source of protein. Avocado adds heart-healthy fats, fiber and key antioxidants. Use reduced-fat cheese and mustard for flavor.
Hummus and Veggie Wrap
A whole wheat tortilla filled with hummus, shredded carrots, cucumber, spinach and tomato offers plant-based protein and many vitamins.
Tuna Salad Sandwich
Made with low-fat mayo, tuna salad, lettuce and tomato on whole grain bread supplies lean protein, omega-3s and vitamin C.
Chicken Salad Sandwich
Chicken breast mixed with a little light mayo, celery, onion and herbs gives you a lean protein choice full of nutrients.
Veggie and Bean Sandwich
Loaded up with sliced veggies like bell peppers, mushrooms and onions along with fiber-rich beans or lentils for a meatless sandwich.
Peanut Butter and Banana
A simple kid-favorite combo of peanut butter and banana on whole grain bread. Provides lean protein, potassium and healthy fats.
Egg Salad Sandwich
Hard boiled eggs mashed with light mayo, mustard, onion and celery offer protein, vitamins and healthy fats without the saturated fat of cheese.
The Bottom Line
Grilled cheese sandwiches certainly taste delicious and provide nostalgia for many people. However, the high amounts of saturated fat, sodium and calories are downsides – especially when eaten regularly. Enjoying grilled cheese sandwiches occasionally while focusing on more balanced nutrition daily is the healthiest approach. Make grilled cheese sandwiches more nutritious by using whole grains, lean meats, reduced fat cheeses and plenty of veggie toppings. Stay mindful of portion sizes as well.