Dr. Thomas Dwan - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Thomas Dwan

Are Processed Cheese Slices Bad For You?

Also Known As: American cheese, cheese singles, processed slices



Short answer

Processed cheese slices are more convenient but less nutritious than natural cheese. They generally contain more sodium and additives and less protein. While not harmful in moderation, their high sodium content can impact heart health, so it is wise to consume them sparingly, especially for individuals with specific health concerns.



Recommended Alternative

Long answer

Nutritional Content of Processed Cheese Slices

Processed cheese slices, also known as American cheese or cheese singles, are a staple in many refrigerators due to their convenience and meltability. However, when evaluating their place in a healthy diet, understanding their nutritional content is crucial. These cheese products are made by combining cheese curds with emulsifying salts, milk fats, preservatives, and artificial colorings, resulting in a product that differs significantly from natural cheese.

Lets dissect the nutritional profile of a typical serving of processed cheese slices:

  • Calories: A single slice of processed cheese typically contains around 60 to 70 calories, which is comparable to a slice of natural cheese.
  • Fat Content: You can expect about 4 to 6 grams of total fat, with 2 to 3 grams being saturated fat. A noteworthy point here is that natural cheese is likely to contain more beneficial fats, like conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).
  • Protein: Processed cheese slices contain less protein than traditional cheese, with about 2 to 4 grams per slice. Protein is essential for building and repairing tissues, so this reduction could be of concern for those seeking high-protein diets.
  • Carbohydrates: While traditional cheese typically has little to no carbohydrates, processed cheese slices may contain up to 2 grams per slice due to added ingredients.
  • Sodium: Perhaps the most significant concern with processed cheese is the high sodium content, often ranging from 250 to 400 mg per slice. High sodium intake is linked to increased blood pressure and risk of heart disease.
  • Calcium: Cheese is known for being a good source of calcium, and processed cheese maintains a relatively high level of this nutrient, providing about 150 to 200 mg per slice. Calcium is vital for bone health.
  • Vitamins and Minerals: Some vitamins and minerals are present in processed cheese slices, typically Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Phosphorus, and sometimes added Vitamin B12. However, the levels may be lower than those found in natural cheese.
  • Additives: Processed cheese often contains additives like preservatives and artificial colors. Although these are considered safe within regulatory limits, their necessity in a healthy diet is debatable.

To illustrate, here's a comparison table between processed cheese slices and cheddar cheese:

Nutrient Processed Cheese Slice Cheddar Cheese
Calories 60-70 113
Fat (g) 4-6 9
Saturated Fat (g) 2-3 6
Protein (g) 2-4 7
Carbohydrates (g) Up to 2 0
Sodium (mg) 250-400 174
Calcium (mg) 150-200 204

While processed cheese slices may offer convenience, their nutritional profile suggests they are higher in sodium and contain additives absent in natural cheese. In contrast, natural cheese like cheddar provides more protein and potentially beneficial fats without the unwanted extras. Bear in mind that individual brands and formulations of processed cheese will vary, thus it's indispensable to read labels and make informed choices based on personal health goals and dietary needs.

Relevant studies to consider include those published in the Journal of Food Science and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which analyze the impact of processed foods on overall diet quality. Health advocates often point to the results of such studies as evidence to moderate consumption of highly processed foods, including processed cheese slices.

Artificial Additives in Processed Cheese: Safety and Health Concerns

Processed cheese slices are commonplace in supermarkets and perhaps equally as common in the average diet. However, concerns often arise regarding the artificial additives they contain. These additives serve various functions, from prolonging shelf life to improving taste and texture. Let's delve into some of these additives and explore their potential impacts on health.

Emulsifiers: Chemicals like sodium phosphate, potassium phosphate, and citric acid are often added to processed cheese to maintain a smooth, consistent texture and to prevent separation. While these additives are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA, high intakes may be linked to digestive issues and, in large quantities, may disturb mineral balance in the body.

Artificial colors: Annatto, paprika extract, and synthetic dyes like Yellow #5 and Yellow #6 are added to give processed cheese its appealing color. While rare, some individuals may experience sensitivity or allergic reactions to artificial colors. Moreover, there's ongoing debate among researchers about the potential long-term effects of synthetic dyes on health, including concerns about hyperactivity in children.

Flavor enhancers: Monosodium glutamate (MSG) and other flavor enhancers can be found in some processed cheese products to enrich taste. MSG is another additive that is considered safe by most health authorities, yet some reports suggest that it could lead to symptoms like headaches and flushing in sensitive individuals, a condition sometimes referred to as 'MSG symptom complex.'

Preservatives: To extend the shelf life of processed cheese, preservatives such as sorbic acid and calcium propionate may be utilized. While these preservatives can prevent the growth of mold and bacteria, they can also be irritants and have been implicated in exacerbating asthma symptoms or causing other allergic reactions in susceptible people.

Concerns about artificial additives are not just isolated rumors; they are often grounded in scientific inquiry. For example, a study published in The Lancet showed that certain food dyes and the preservative sodium benzoate could increase hyperactivity in some children. Nonetheless, health authorities like the FDA and the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) continue to assess these additives and currently permit their use within regulated limits.

It's crucial to emphasize that the dose makes the poison. Most of these additives are only harmful in large quantities, far more than what is typically consumed in an average serving of processed cheese. However, for individuals with specific health concerns or sensitivities, paying attention to these ingredients is essential. Those managing chronic conditions, following special diets, or with a history of food intolerances should be particularly mindful of the artificial additives in processed cheese slices.

Comparison of Saturated Fat and Sodium: Processed vs. Natural Cheese

When examining the health impact of processed cheese slices, two key components that cannot be overlooked are saturated fat and sodium. These nutritional factors contribute to the overall health profile of foods and have implications for heart health, blood pressure, and more. To assess how processed cheese stacks up against natural cheese, let’s dive into the comparison of their saturated fat and sodium content.

Saturated Fat Content: Saturated fats are a type of dietary fat found in higher proportions in animal products. They have been associated with increased levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, often termed "bad" cholesterol, which can raise the risk of heart disease if consumed in excess (American Heart Association).

  • Processed Cheese: Processed cheese slices generally have a similar or slightly higher amount of saturated fat compared to natural cheese. For instance, a typical slice of American processed cheese contains about 3 to 5 grams of saturated fat.
  • Natural Cheese: Natural cheese such as cheddar or mozzarella can vary in saturated fat content, but a slice equivalent in weight typically has 1 to 6 grams, depending on the variety and fat content.

Sodium Content: Sodium plays a crucial role in maintaining fluid balance and is essential for nerve and muscle function. However, excessive sodium intake is linked with high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke (CDC).

  • Processed Cheese: One of the hallmarks of processed cheese is its high sodium content, which is added as both a preservative and a flavor enhancer. A slice of processed cheese can contain between 150 to 300 milligrams of sodium.
  • Natural Cheese: While natural cheeses also contain sodium, the amounts are often less than in processed varieties. For example, a slice of natural cheddar cheese may contain about 170 milligrams of sodium, but this can vary widely between different types of natural cheeses.

It's clear that both processed and natural cheeses can contribute to the daily intake of saturated fats and sodium. The American Heart Association recommends aiming for a dietary pattern that includes no more than 5% to 6% of calories from saturated fat, and keeping sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams a day, with an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 milligrams for most adults.

Cheese Type Saturated Fat (grams per slice) Sodium (milligrams per slice)
Processed Cheese 3-5 150-300
Natural Cheddar Cheese 1-6 ~170
Natural Mozzarella Cheese 1-4 150-200

While moderation is key, it's evident that the choice between processed and natural cheese can influence your saturated fat and sodium intake. Notably, individuals with specific health concerns, such as high cholesterol or hypertension, should take these comparisons into account when making dietary choices.

Role of Processed Cheese in Diet and Potential Impact on Heart Health

Processed cheese slices, a staple in many kitchens, offer convenience and a longer shelf life compared to natural cheeses. However, their place in the diet and their impact on heart health are subjects of discussion among nutrition experts. When we talk about the role of processed cheese in diet, we must look at its nutritional composition and how it may affect cardiovascular health.

Nutritional Composition: Processed cheese slices are often made by combining several types of cheese along with additives such as emulsifiers, which provide a smooth, uniform texture. They tend to be high in sodium and saturated fats, both of which are watched closely by health professionals for their links to heart disease.

  • Saturated Fat: A high intake of saturated fats is associated with increased levels of LDL cholesterol (often referred to as 'bad' cholesterol) in the bloodstream, which is a risk factor for heart disease.
  • Sodium: Excessive sodium consumption can lead to hypertension, a major risk factor for cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes.

It is important to note that portion control plays a significant role. Regular consumption of processed cheese slices in large quantities could contribute to an unhealthy intake of these substances.

Calcium and Protein Content: On the positive side, processed cheese slices do offer the benefits of calcium and protein, two essential nutrients. Calcium is vital for bone health, while protein is important for muscle repair and growth.

Heart Health Impact: The impact of processed cheese on heart health is an area of keen interest due to the concerning levels of saturated fat and sodium they contain. Several studies have pointed to the potential risks associated with the consumption of processed foods in general.

  • A meta-analysis published in The BMJ [1] indicated a correlation between processed food intake and the risk of coronary heart disease.
  • The Global Burden of Disease Study [2] found a significant association between diets high in processed meats and cheeses with non-communicable diseases, including heart disease.

While these studies often focus on a range of processed foods rather than exclusively on cheese slices, the findings underscore the importance of moderation when including such products in the diet.

For individuals with existing cardiovascular concerns or those at elevated risk, it's particularly crucial to limit intake of processed cheese slices. The advice of a registered dietitian or healthcare provider can help in making dietary choices that support heart health.

It's also worth exploring healthier alternatives, such as low-sodium and reduced-fat processed cheese options, or preferably, switching to natural cheese varieties that are lower in sodium and without added preservatives.

Ultimately, processed cheese slices can fit into a balanced diet if consumed in moderation and as part of a varied diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Individual dietary needs and health goals should guide the role these cheese products play in one's diet, especially regarding heart health.

[1] Micha, R., et al. (2017). Association Between Dietary Factors and Mortality From Heart Disease, Stroke, and Type 2 Diabetes in the United States. The BMJ. https://www.bmj.com/content/357/bmj.j1453

[2] Global Burden of Disease Study (2017). Health Effects of Dietary Risks in 195 Countries, 1990-2017: A Systematic Analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. The Lancet. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(19)30041-8/fulltext

Processed Cheese and Lactose Intolerance: What You Need to Know

Understanding the relationship between processed cheese slices and lactose intolerance involves examining the lactose content in these products. Lactose, which is a sugar found in milk, can cause uncomfortable digestive symptoms for those who lack the enzyme lactase that is required to digest it properly. Processed cheese slices can vary in their lactose content and might be easier to digest for some individuals with lactose intolerance, depending on how they are made.

In the manufacturing process, cheese is usually heated and combined with emulsifiers, which can lead to a reduction in lactose due to the added processing steps. The level of lactose in processed cheese slices tends to be lower than that of traditional cheeses. For example:

  • American cheese (a common type of processed cheese slice) typically contains less than 2% lactose.
  • The heating process involved in creating processed cheese can further break down lactose.
  • Fermentation and aging used in making processed cheese also reduce lactose levels.

It's important for individuals with lactose intolerance to consider their personal tolerance levels. Some may find that they can consume processed cheese slices with minimal to no discomfort, while others may still experience symptoms. Studies suggest that while many lactose-intolerant individuals can tolerate at least 12 grams of lactose (equivalent to about one cup of milk), the tolerance may vary greatly among individuals. Therefore, consulting with a healthcare provider or dietitian can provide personalized guidance for those with lactose intolerance.

Fermented dairy products, such as certain processed cheeses, produce lactic acid bacteria. These bacteria can convert a portion of lactose into lactic acid, which can be especially helpful for those with lactose intolerance (National Center for Biotechnology Information).

Please note that while processed cheese slices might be more tolerable for lactose-intolerant individuals, these products often contain additives like sodium phosphates, which may be concerning for other health reasons.

When considering the inclusion of processed cheese slices in a diet for those with lactose intolerance, it is also worthwhile to look at alternative options. Lactose-free cheese products are becoming increasingly available, and these explicitly designed alternatives could provide the cheesy enjoyment without the risk of lactose-induced symptoms.

It's advisable for lactose-intolerant individuals to read labels carefully, checking for ingredients and nutritional content. Labels may also indicate the presence of lactase enzyme that has been added to the cheese, making it more digestible for individuals with lactose intolerance.

In summary, while processed cheese slices often contain less lactose than traditional cheese, individual tolerance levels can differ greatly. Lactose intolerant individuals should proceed cautiously, considering the potential benefits of processed cheeses that may be easier to digest against the risks associated with added additives and personal sensitivity to lactose.

Frequently asked questions

Processed cheese slices offer benefits such as convenience, consistent meltability, and sometimes a longer shelf-life than natural cheese. They also maintain a moderate level of calcium, an essential nutrient for bone health. However, from a nutritional perspective, natural cheese typically contains higher-quality fats, more protein, and fewer additives. Those seeking nutritional benefits should weigh these factors and consider portion sizes and frequency of consumption.

Processed cheese slices can be incorporated into a weight management diet when consumed in moderation. With around 60 to 70 calories per slice, they can be similar in calories to natural cheese. However, it's important to take into account their higher sodium content and the presence of additives. Choosing low-calorie, reduced-fat, or naturally-made cheese options and pairing them with a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is recommended for those looking to manage their weight.

Both processed and natural cheeses contain saturated fats known to affect cholesterol levels. Processed cheese slices usually have similar or slightly higher saturated fat content compared to natural cheese, which can impact LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. For individuals concerned with cholesterol, it's advisable to limit intake of saturated fats and opt for cheeses lower in saturated fats, or to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized dietary advice.

Processed cheese slices can fit into keto or low-carb diets since they contain up to 2 grams of carbohydrates per slice, which aligns with the low-carb aspect of these diets. The fat content, essential to keto diets, is also sufficient. However, individuals should be cautious of the saturated fat and sodium levels, and consider the overall quality and nutritional balance of their diet when including processed cheese.

Ask a question about Processed Cheese Slices and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • digestive issues
  • headaches
  • flushing
  • allergic reactions
  • hyperactivity in children

Possible long-term side effects

  • increased ldl cholesterol
  • hypertension
  • heart disease
  • exacerbated asthma symptoms

Ingredients to be aware of


  • convenience
  • meltability
  • source of calcium and protein

Healthier alternatives

  • natural cheese
  • low-sodium cheese
  • reduced-fat cheese
  • lactose-free alternatives

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Sargento Sharp Cheddar

  • Natural cheese slices
  • Rich, sharp flavor
  • Conveniently pre-sliced
  • Protein-rich snack
  • No artificial flavors
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 04-27-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 04-27-2024

Random Page

Check These Out!