Bread, butter and cheese: there aren't a lot of food combinations that are more comforting (and easy to prepare) than that. But while a grilled American cheese sandwich may be bring back some serious childhood memories, the grilled cheese calories might not fall in line with your adult goals.
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For a fully prepared grilled cheese sandwich, calories come in at just under 500. Since the sandwich is so simple, there aren't a lot of healthy swaps you can make to lower those calories, but there are a few small tricks you can do.
A grilled cheese sandwich with two slices of white bread, two slices of American cheese and one tablespoon of butter has 440 calories. If you use whole wheat bread instead, calories actually increase a little bit to 464.
Grilled Cheese Calories
The exact amount of grilled cheese calories you'll have in your finished sandwich depend on the specific ingredients that you use, but typically two pieces of white bread will contribute 134 calories (67 calories per slice), two pieces of American cheese adds 204 calories (102 calories per slice) and a tablespoon of butter packs on another 102 calories. That's a grand total of 440 calories for the entire sandwich.
Aside from the calories, the rest of the grilled cheese nutrition breaks down like this:
- 27.3 grams of carbohydrates
- 5.2 grams of fiber
- 16.2 grams of protein
- 29.9 grams of fat
Make Healthier Swaps
Since the ingredients in a grilled American cheese sandwich are really simple, there's not a lot you can do as far as substitutions go, but there are some small changes you can make to save yourself some calories and make the sandwich a little bit healthier.
Instead of spreading butter directly on the 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.
The Mayo Clinic also recommends swapping the white bread for whole wheat or whole grain bread. While this won't necessarily save you any calories (since wheat bread has more calories at 79 per slice), it provides more complex carbohydrates than white bread. You can also use sourdough or gluten-free bread, if those fit into your diet plan better.
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. Aside from that, it also has a mild flavor, so you have to use more to achieve the taste you want. If you use a sharper cheese, like cheddar, instead, you'll be getting fewer artificial ingredients and you may be able to use less, since it has a stronger taste.
Keep the Fat
While you may be thinking it's a good idea to choose lower 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, your grilled cheese sugar content may go up since food manufacturers often replace fat with sugar to make their products taste better. That's something you don't want. Plus, research has now shown that fat is not the evil nutrient it was made out to be.
One study that was published in the British Journal of Nutrition in February 2016 reported that dairy intake was associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke. Another study from a January 2016 issue of The Journal of Nutrition found that full-fat dairy (but not low-fat dairy) could reduce the risk of developing metabolic syndrome. In addition, a September 2019 report in Advances in Nutrition calls the advice to avoid full-fat dairy "outdated" and says there's no reason to cut it out of your diet in favor of lower fat choices.
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: "Cheese, Pasteurized Process, American, Fortified With Vitamin D"
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: "Butter, Salted"
- 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 National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: "Bread, Wheat"
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: "Bread, White Wheat"