Is Mac and Cheese Healthy? [Everything You Need to Know!]

Ever wondered if your ultimate comfort food – mac n cheese is healthy?
Of course, it is loaded with calories since we do add a lot of cheese and dairy. But aren’t they good for us? After all, we only have a bowl or two in a week.
Is it too much? Is it still healthy?

Classic boxed Mac n Cheese isn’t healthy as its low in nutrition and fiber, however, it can be had in controlled portion once a week. You can opt for homemade mac n cheese with whole wheat or legume-based pasta with loads of vegetables, lean meats, fresh herbs, and healthier fats to make it healthy!

In this article let us find out if our loved mac n cheese is healthy and how many calories are there in a bowl of mac n cheese.

Is Mac n Cheese Good or OK?

Mac n cheese might be okay for you if you are able to burn the calories that you have eaten in the day! Generally, a bowl or a serving size of mac n cheese which is about 150 -250 grams consists of 350 – 400 calories.

The dish is particularly high in calories as it consists of pasta, cream, cheese, butter, and milk ingredients which are mostly high in carbohydrates and fat.

Many Brands such as Kraft and others use reduced-fat milk and margarine. However, you will have to check each box for the ingredients list to find out the ingredients in every boxed macaroni and cheese.

Calories and nutrition in a bowl of mac n cheese

The table given below is a list of some of the popular brands of boxed macaroni and cheese and their nutritional values.

Kraft 350 1110 50 710 
Velveeta 360 1213  49 2 880
Stouffer’s 310 14 13 32 1 870
Annie’s 270 3.59 49 3 430
Cracker Barrel 340 2111.4  28 2 657
Cheetos 340 1710  47 2 620
Daiya 290 9 146 2 670
Banza 280 1116  39 5 660
Amy’s Organics 450 1818  55 3 680
Lean Cuisine 270 513  44 2 740
Severino 360 10 7 52 2 860
Knorr 680 17 25 101 7 1690
Great Value 420 1810  55 7 690
Homemade 510 29 24 39 2 590
The values are in grams except for sodium which is in milligrams.

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Is Kraft Mac N Cheese Healthy?

Kraft Mac n cheese is not healthy compared to a homemade pasta. Any processed food has higher amounts of processed carbs, saturated fats and sodium. Also, it is not rich in fiber, does not have fresh vegetables or meats added in it.

Kraft mac n cheese can be made healthy by addition of vegetables, meat, fresh herbs and using healthier fats and cheese.

Suggested Reading : How to Make Kraft Mac and Cheese? [Healthy, Tasty, Creamy!]

The table below shows the DRV(Daily Recommended Values) for a healthy adult according to the USFDA guidelines.

 DRVKraft Mac n Cheese (1 serving of 250 grams)
Calories2000 for Women & 2500 for Men 350
Fat65 grams 11 grams
Protein50 grams 10 grams
Carbohydrates225-325 grams 50 grams
Fiber30 grams approx. 2 grams
Sodium< 2300 mg 710 mg

As you can see from the table above, comparing the DRV to a serving size of Kraft Mac n Cheese we can see the portion however small has significantly higher values. This does not take into consideration any additions that will be made by you to the dish to make it according to your preference.

The GI of Kraft Mac n Cheese is also on the higher side which is 64. GI of 70 and above are considered high.

Also, this is just one meal throughout the day there are other snacks and meals that you will be having throughout the day. Thus, all in all Kraft Mac n Cheese is not healthy although you can have a controlled portion as well as include it in your diet not more than once or twice in a week.

Is mac and cheese a good source of protein?

Mac and cheese are not a good source of protein as per the guidelines stated by the US FDA a value of 50 grams of protein shall be the DRV for adults and children 4 or more years of age. As per the data above, boxed macaroni and cheese with 1 cup as the serving size gives you above 10-13 grams of protein.

However, there are quite a few ways by which we can increase the protein intake as per the DRV of protein.

  1. Adding various vegetarian or non-vegetarian protein sources to mac n cheese such as kidney beans, chickpeas, different types of meats, etc.
  2. Increasing your portion size might help you increase your protein intake, however, it will also increase the calories and sodium levels.
  3. Another way to increase your protein intake when you eat mac n cheese is to opt for pasta made with flour high in protein such as Banza Mac n cheese as their pasta is made with chickpeas. Also, it provides 16 grams of protein 5 grams more than an average brand of mac n cheese.

Suggested Reading :Is Mac and Cheese Vegetarian? [Here’s What to Know!]

is mac and cheese healthy for weight loss?

Classic mac and cheese is not good for weight loss as it is loaded with calories. A simple serving of mac n cheese that a bowl is about 400 calories. If there are more ingredients and various other cheese and dairy added to the dish it will make the dish more calorie-rich. However, there are many ways by which mac and cheese can be made healthier and lesser in calories.

Let us look at some of the ways by which mac n cheese can be made healthier.

1. Choose Whole Wheat Pasta over pasta made with refined flour.

Choosing whole wheat pasta is a better option than the ones made with refined flour. Whole Wheat pasta is more nutrient-dense as they are rich in manganese, selenium, copper, and phosphorous as well as various other micronutrients. It is lower in calories as well as higher in fiber.

2. Add more lean meats to the mac n cheese.

Lean meats are less rich in fats and are more healthy. Lean red meats are a good source of iron, zinc, and B12. Also, leaner cuts of meat are more easily absorbed making it easier for our bodies to process them. Adding meats will also increase the protein intake that you get from the dish.

3. Add more vegetables and leafy greens to the pasta.

Vegetables frozen or fresh are a good choice to add to your mac n cheese. They provide color, and texture as well as increase the nutrient profile of mac n cheese. You can add vegetables of your choice such as Peas, Corn, Spinach, Carrots, Sauteed Onions, or Fried Onions, Diced Tomatoes, Broccoli, Bell Peppers in assorted colors, Mushrooms, and zucchini.

Also adding fresh herbs such as oregano, basil, thyme, sage, and chives will give the mac n cheese a boost in nutrients and flavors.

4. Make a sauce with a roux to reduce the cheese.

It is recommended to start your cheese sauce for the mac n cheese with a roux as the inclusion of a roux will call for lesser cheese in the sauce. This will make your mac n cheese healthier.

Suggested Reading :What is Roux in Cooking? [All you need to know!]

5. Use healthy fats.

Instead of using butter for making roux you can use fats such as olive oil, coconut oil.

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6. Add pureed vegetables to the sauce.

Adding vegetable purees to the sauce is another interesting way to make the sauce healthier. Just steam vegetables such as carrots, beetroots, spinach and puree and add them to the sauce. You can even add purees of butternut squash and avocado to the pasta.

7. Use plant-based milk

Plant based milks are a great way to avoid dairy and for those who have lactose intolerance. Their addition to the mac and cheese will not only make it more healthier and dairy free but nutritious as well. Coconut milk, oat milk, soy milk, cashew milk are a few options.

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Adding Goats milk is a good option as goat milk will mimic the dairy flavor as well as is more tolerated by people having lactose intolerance.

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8. Use vegan cream cheeses.

Various vegan cream cheeses such as cashew cream cheese, sunflower cream cheese, hemp seed cream cheese, and various other plant based cream cheeses are a great addition if you want to go dairy free as well as make the mac n cheese rich.

Suggested Reading : What Cream to Use for Pasta? [With Table and Examples!]

Although vegan creams will not make the dish as creamy as a dairy based creamers. However, they are a healthier alternative.

9. Use pasta made with Lentil flour.

Various pasta made from lentil flour are a healthier option compared to wheat based pasta. Red lentils, chickpeas, etc. are used to make pasta. These pasta are much more healthier as they are gluten free and filled with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and powerhouse of plant based proteins.

They are a better way to ensure in fulfilling your daily intake of protein.

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is macaroni and cheese healthy for diabetics?

Mac n cheese is not a healthy choice for diabetics as they are loaded with carbohydrates and dairy. This will increase the blood glucose levels as they are processed by the body. Also, boxed mac n cheese is generally high in sodium which isn’t diabetes friendly, as increase in sodium levels will increase the blood glucose levels in Type-2 diabetes.

Also, classic mac n cheese does not have enough fiber which shall in turn increase the Glucose levels. Many packaged versions mention the Glycemic index of the product on the label of the box. Glycemic index gives you an idea how fast teh carbs get converted to glucose. Generally products with GI of 70 or more are not good for you.

Melissas states that a boxed version of Kraft Mac n Cheese contains 55 grams of carbs with a Glycemic Index of 64 and Glycemic level of 33. Which is significantly higher compared to other food products that can be consumed by diabetics.

However, mac n cheese can be made diabetes friendly by ensuring the following steps:

  1. Check the product packaging to be aware of the GI level of the mac n cheese. If it is not mentioned on the packaging it can be checked online.
  2. Go for homemade version of pasta.
  3. Select pasta which are specifically diabetic friendly, are made from whole wheat flour or lentil flour.
  4. Have highly controlled portions of mac n cheese.

is mac and cheese healthy for bodybuilding?

Mac and cheese is good for bodybuilding. Since pasta is an easily digested carbohydrate it provides a pack of energy and including cheese in the diet increases the muscle protein synthesis rate, the rate at which the skeletal muscle tissue undergoes extensive remodeling in a matter of weeks, instead of months. Thus, it is a good inclusion in the diet for bodybuilders.

Pasta has been touted as a healthy pre-workout and post-workout meal. Due to the high amount of carbs that are easily digestible. Carbohydrates as stored as glycogen in our body. It is the energy that is obtained while processing glycogen that helps bodybuilders and athletes to endure strength training.

Lack of adequate carbs leads to fatigue and lack of energy while training. Pasta is also very high in B vitamins that increase the body’s metabolism and help us lose weight faster. Hence it is a go-to choice for many athletes and bodybuilders alike.

Pasta is a rich source of carbohydrates. Healthline states that 1 cup of Pasta which is about 151 grams provides about 46 grams of carbs. If you are thinking of switching to whole wheat pasta it also has pretty high amounts of carbs about 45 grams in 1 cup. Pasta also contains about 2.25 grams of fiber per 150 grams. Which is a decent amount of fiber for the body.

Suggested Reading : Is Macaroni and Cheese Pasta?

Research conducted by the National Library of Medicine suggested that including cheese in our diet increases muscle protein synthesis both at rest and during recovery from exercise. The increase in muscle protein synthesis helps the skeletal muscle tissues to shape themselves at a faster rate. This reduces the time taken from months to weeks.

Another study showed that muscle protein synthetic rate (MPS) is elevated in humans by 50% at 4 hrs following a bout of heavy resistance training, and by 109% at 24 hrs following training. Thus, adding proteins post-workout will make an impact in shaping the muscle.

Since mac n cheese is high in carbs and proteins it provides enough energy during workouts as well as helps shape muscles. Thus, it is a good inclusion in your diet in moderate amounts and is beneficial for individuals who perform high-intensity workouts such as bodybuilders and athletes.

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is mac and cheese bad for your heart?

Mac n cheese is bad for your heart as it is high in fats and sodium which is bad for your heart. To maintain your cardiovascular health you should avoid foods high in fats and salt. However, controlled portions or occasional consumption of mac n cheese or opting for a healthier version of mac n cheese is a better choice.

Traditional mac n cheese also has a higher GI which leads to spike in Blood glucose levels which can have an overall impact on your cardiovascular health.

Also, cheese is a great source of protein and calcium however, it is higher in saturated fats and salt which adversely impacts your cardiovascular health. Adding controlled portions of the cheese will help to make mac n cheese heart friendly.

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is mac and cheese healthy for a toddler?

Mac n cheese is healthy for a toddler as it contains pasta which is a good source of fiber, b vitamins, manganese, selenium, and carbohydrates. Pasta is also easily digestible thus making it a good source of energy for the toddlers having bundles of energy.

Cheese is also a good source of protein and calcium thus providing the essential building blocks for muscle development and making the bones stronger.

Advantages of Mac n cheese for toddlers:

  1. Provides good source of energy throughout the day to carry out their play and remain active through the day.
  2. Cheese and dairy provide protein and calcium which are essential for muscle development and strengthening of bones.
  3. Easier to mask vegetables for fussy toddlers as some toddlers do not repel the idea of vegetables coated with cheese sauce. Also, pureed vegetables can be added for fussy toddlers.
  4. Introduction of meat-based proteins becomes easier.
  5. Many kinds of pasta contain eggs in smaller amounts that help to introduce eggs slowly into the system and help eliminate egg-related allergies. Similarly, the introduction of pasta that contains gluten may help r eliminate gluten-based allergies.
  6. It is a completely well-rounded food for toddlers if the mac n cheese dish is enriched with vegetables, healthy fats, and meats.
  7. It is fun and easier for toddlers to pick you small macaroni and eat, especially when they are in the phase where they prefer finger foods.
  8. It helps them become independent eaters while introducing them to various flavors and textures.

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However, there are quite a essential things that do not mac n cheese a healthy choice for your toddler:

  1. Having boxed macaroni and cheese. Boxed mac n cheese is high in chemicals such as phthalates which might create complications for little children. However, studies haven’t conclusively proven so.
  2. Boxed mac n cheese is high in sodium and less in fiber as well as nutrient deficient, not a healthy choice for a growing child who needs a lot of vitamins and minerals for its growing needs.

More Related Articles

Here are some more articles related to Macaroni and Cheese that you may find interesting!

  1. Should You Put Egg in Macaroni and Cheese? [Here’s a Complete Guide!]
  2. Why is Your Macaroni and Cheese Oily? [And How to Fix It!]
  3. Is Pasta and Macaroni the Same? [Here’s the Difference!]
  4. Can You Use Pizza Sauce for Pasta? [Here’s a Better Way!]
  5. Is Pizza and Pasta Flour the Same? [Here’s the Differences!]

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