Bread and gooey, melted cheese: There are few food combinations that are more comforting (and easy to prepare) than that. To top it off, there aren't many calories in a grilled cheese sandwich, and eating one could provide you with several nutrients your body needs.
For a fully prepared grilled cheese sandwich, calories come in at just under 400. Lowering the calories in a cheese sandwich is tough with limited options for swapping ingredients, but you can ensure you're getting a nutrient-dense meal by keeping a few things in mind.
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A grilled cheese sandwich made with white bread and American cheese has 378 calories. If you use whole wheat bread instead, you'll get 377 calories from your meal, along with more protein and fiber.
Grilled Cheese Calories and Nutrition
According to the USDA, a grilled cheese sandwich made with American cheese and white bread will give you:
- Calories: 378
- Total fat: 21.8 g
- Saturated fat: 10.8 g
- Trans fat: 0 g
- Cholesterol: 51 mg
- Sodium: 923.4 mg
- Total carbs: 33.4 g
- Dietary fiber: 1.6 g
- Sugar: 6 g
- Protein: 12.1 g
Keep in mind, your grilled cheese sandwich calories and nutrition info may vary depending on what ingredients you use and how you prepare it. For example, adding more than one slice of cheese will add calories and fat, as will using butter.
Grilled Cheese Sandwich Macros
A grilled cheese sandwich provides almost 22 grams of fat or 28 percent of your recommended daily value (DV), 33.4 grams of carbs (11 percent of your DV) and 12.1 grams of protein (12 percent of your DV). Daily values are based on a 2,000-calorie diet.
Grilled Cheese Sandwich Vitamins and Minerals
Eating a grilled cheese sandwich will give you a generous amount of some other important nutrients, too. According to the USDA, one sandwich provides:
- Calcium: 51% DV
- Phosphorus: 31% DV
- Vitamin B12: 26% DV
- Vitamin A: 24% DV
- Vitamin D: 14% DV
- Iron: 14% DV
- Zinc: 13% DV
Thanks to the cheese, your grilled cheese sandwich may be high in sodium. Adults should not exceed 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, according to the USDA 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The American Heart Association recommends taking in 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day or less to reduce the risk of heart disease and other complications.
Making Your Grilled Cheese Sandwich Healthier
1. Reach for Whole Grains
The Mayo Clinic recommends swapping the white bread for whole wheat or whole grain bread. While this won't necessarily save you many calories, it provides more complex carbohydrates than white bread. A whole wheat grilled cheese sandwich will give you more protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals than one made with white bread, per the USDA.
You can also use sourdough or gluten-free bread, if those fit into your diet plan.
2. Use a Sharper Cheese
American cheese is a traditional choice for a grilled cheese sandwich, but it's actually not even really cheese; it's a highly processed cheese product, according to the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts.
Aside from that, American cheese has a very mild flavor, so you may have to use more of it to achieve the taste you want. If you use a sharper cheese, like cheddar, you'll be getting fewer artificial ingredients and you may be able to use less because it has a stronger taste.
3. Keep the Fat
While you may think it's a good idea to choose low-fat products like margarine or fat-free cheese to save yourself some calories, resist the urge. Cheese naturally contains fat and if you use a low-fat version, the amount of sugar in your grilled cheese may go up, as food manufacturers often replace fat with sugar to make their products taste better. Plus, despite the fact that it's been vilified in the past, research has shown that you actually need dietary fat in your diet.
Eating dairy foods was associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, according to a February 2016 study in the British Journal of Nutrition. Full-fat dairy (but not low-fat dairy) also showed to reduce the risk of developing metabolic syndrome, per another January 2016 study in The Journal of Nutrition. In fact, researchers from a September 2019 study in Advances in Nutrition call the advice to avoid full-fat dairy "outdated," and say there's no reason to cut it out of your diet in favor of low-fat choices.
4. Try This Cooking Tip
Instead of spreading butter directly on your bread, melt a small amount in your pan instead and then place the bread on top. When the butter is melted, it will coat the bread more easily so you won't have to use as much.
- Mayo Clinic: "Healthy Recipes: A Guide to Ingredient Substitutions"
- Advances in Nutrition: "Effects of Full-Fat and Fermented Dairy Products on Cardiometabolic Disease: Food Is More Than the Sum of Its Parts"
- British Journal of Nutrition: "Dairy Consumption and CVD: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"
- The Journal of Nutrition: "Total and Full-Fat, but Not Low-Fat, Dairy Product Intakes are Inversely Associated with Metabolic Syndrome in Adults"
- USDA MyFoodData: Grilled cheese sandwich with white bread and American cheese
- American Heart Association: Sodium
- USDA: 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
- USDA MyFoodData: Grilled Cheese with American Cheese on Whole Wheat Bread
- Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts: Is American Cheese Real Cheese?