Can Grilled Cheese Be Healthy?

Kelly Hogan, MS, RD
by Kelly Hogan, MS, RD
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Can Grilled Cheese Be Healthy?

We’ve talked about how cheese and bread can be a healthy part of a well-balanced diet. Still, the delightful marriage of the two (grilled cheese!) often gets a bad reputation as an unhealthy comfort food. In reality, no food — whether it’s grilled cheese, ice cream or pasta should be off-limits. Doing so can lead to feelings of guilt and disordered eating habits like bingeing after a period of restriction. By depriving yourself of comfort foods, you’ll miss out on the good emotions that can come with these foods (i.e., joy and satisfaction) as well as the nutritional elements.

NUTRITIONAL BENEFITS

Bread is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, which provide the body with lasting energy. By choosing a whole-wheat or sprouted-grain bread, you can also pack extra fiber, vitamins and minerals into your sandwich.

Cheese is a good source of protein and calcium, but it should be limited in those with elevated cholesterol due to its high saturated fat content. In women trying to conceive, however, consuming cheese and other full-fat dairy products may decrease the risk of infertility, which is why it is often recommended as part of a fertility diet. The fat content in cheese also makes it a satiating addition to a sandwich, and it may help keep blood sugar steady. By using a more flavorful cheese such as sharp cheddar, smoky gouda, nutty gruyere or pungent blue cheese, you can maximize flavor using a smaller amount. Keep in mind the recommended portion size is 1 ounce or 28 grams.

Cheeses with higher water content, such as goat, mozzarella and feta, contain slightly fewer calories and fat than harder cheeses, such as cheddar. However, harder cheeses like cheddar and gruyere have less lactose than soft cheeses, so they tend to be tolerated better by those with dairy sensitivities.

HEALTHY ADD-ONS

Adding veggies like antioxidant-rich leafy greens and fiber-rich fruits can make the sandwich more filling, satisfying and nutrient-dense. For example, a popular combination is sprouted-grain bread, cheddar cheese, sautéed kale and thinly sliced apple. You could also add probiotic-rich, gut-friendly pickles (the refrigerated kind made without vinegar) or lean proteins like turkey breast, egg or beans. If you’re in the mood for something sweet, Swiss cheese with arugula and figs (which are high in fiber and potassium) or pear is a delicious pairing.

It’s also a good idea to consider what you’re eating with your grilled cheese and hunger levels. Maybe you have half of a sandwich and fill the other half of your plate with a hearty, colorful salad or tomato soup, which is rich in antioxidants like lycopene that fight inflammation. Or, if you’re hungrier, opt for the whole sandwich.

THE BOTTOM LINE

As a part of a varied, plant-forward diet, grilled cheese can be healthy. Remember to look at your diet as a whole instead of the diet culture mindset of judging foods as “good” or “bad.” By choosing whole-grain or sprouted-bread, keeping cheese portion sizes in mind, and playing with different add-ons, you can make a delicious and nutritious grilled cheese that satisfies your comfort food cravings.

Product: Discover hundreds of healthy recipes — including delicious sandwiches— via “Recipe Discovery” in the MyFitnessPal app.

About the Author

Kelly Hogan, MS, RD
Kelly Hogan, MS, RD

Kelly Hogan, MS, RD is an NYC-based registered dietitian specializing in women’s health, sports nutrition and plant-based eating. She is passionate about helping people develop a positive relationship with food and their bodies, and uses a non-diet approach in her practice. When she’s not talking or writing all things nutrition, Kelly can be found running in Central Park – she’s run 11 marathons and counting! – cooking recipes new and old, handstanding at the yoga studio or hanging with friends and/or her rescue dog, Peanut.

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