Macaroni and cheese gets a bad rap for being an unhealthy indulgence — especially when referring to the canned or boxed variety. On the outside, macaroni and cheese is just cheese and carbs, but dive a little deeper, and you’ll find that America’s favorite comfort food has some surprising health benefits.
While you probably shouldn’t eat macaroni and cheese for every meal — in this case, the bad outweighs the good — you can rest assured knowing that giving into a Kraft Macaroni and Cheese craving isn’t the worst dinner choice.
Discover the surprising health benefits of macaroni and cheese, ahead.
Protein is one reason macaroni and cheese can be considered healthy. In fact, a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner contains nine grams of protein per serving. So, if you’re like us and end up eating the whole box, that’s 27 grams of protein. Not bad!
While the average box of macaroni and cheese contains protein, it’s not exactly the best — read: healthiest — option. Healthy foods rich in protein include eggs, lentils, quinoa, beans, chia seeds, and spirulina.
Another surprising health benefit of macaroni and cheese? The average store-bought brand is an excellent source of copper. Copper plays a significant role in the absorption of iron and can help increase energy, too. Albeit rare, a deficiency in copper could lead to cardiovascular disease among other ailments.
Some other healthier sources of copper include sunflower seeds, cashews, quinoa, avocado, dried apricots, and shiitake mushrooms.
In addition to copper, canned or boxed macaroni and cheese is also a good source of manganese. Manganese is a naturally occurring antioxidant found in the body that can neutralize damaging free radicals, protect the body from premature aging, boost the metabolism, and is essential to healthy brain function.
That said, getting manganese from a healthier source is better. Some foods rich in manganese include leafy greens, berries, turmeric, almonds, garlic, and rice.
Macaroni and cheese can also be an excellent source of selenium. The naturally occurring mineral can aid in cardiovascular health, protect against free radicals, improve the body’s ability to detox, and boost the immune system.
Other good sources of selenium include shrimp, chicken, hard-boiled eggs, brown rice, whole wheat bread, potatoes, peaches, and bananas.
How to make macaroni and cheese healthy
Despite the health benefits of store-bought macaroni and cheese — and the fact that Kraft blue boxes don’t contain artificial flavoring, artificial preservatives, or synthetic dyes — the favorite dish can still be considered unhealthy. That said, there are ways to make macaroni and cheese healthy.
One favorite way to make macaroni and cheese healthy is to go vegan with a butternut squash sauce instead of cheddar cheese. You can also replace some of the cheese with yogurt, or try adding some vegetables to the mix. Also, you can add garlic for enhanced flavor and added health benefits.
If making macaroni and cheese from scratch, some recommend using whole wheat noodles. You can also add spinach to the mix, use low-fat milk instead of whole milk, and add turmeric to the sauce.