Dr. Becky Maes - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Becky Maes

Is A Cheesesteak Bad For You?

Also Known As: Philadelphia cheesesteak, Philly cheesesteak



Short answer

While enjoying a cheesesteak in moderation isn't necessarily bad for you, regular consumption can contribute to health issues due to its high saturated fat, calorie, and sodium content. Health-conscious adjustments such as opting for lean meats, lower-fat cheeses, smaller portions, and whole-grain bread can make a cheesesteak a more balanced meal choice. Balancing indulgence with healthy eating habits and portion control is key to incorporating cheesesteaks into a nutritious diet.



Recommended Alternative

Long answer

Saturated Fat Content and Heart Health Implications

When evaluating the impacts of a cheesesteak on health, one cannot overlook the saturated fat content inherent to its most common ingredients - beef and cheese. Saturated fats are a type of dietary fat found mainly in animal products and have long been associated with heart health risks. The typical cheesesteak sandwich, filled with slices of ribeye or top round steak and melted cheese - often provolone or Cheese Whiz - brings with it a significant amount of saturated fat.

For context, health recommendations suggest that saturated fats should comprise less than 10% of total daily calorie intake to maintain heart health. Consuming foods high in saturated fats can raise the level of cholesterol in your blood, specifically the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) known colloquially as 'bad' cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol in your blood increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

A standard cheesesteak can contain anywhere from 10 to 20 grams of saturated fat, depending on the size and specific ingredients used. This represents a substantial portion of the recommended daily limit for saturated fat, which is around 20 grams for a person consuming a 2000-calorie diet.

However, recent studies have begun to challenge and refine our understanding of saturated fats and their linkage to heart health. For example, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a meta-analysis which suggested that the evidence linking saturated fat consumption to cardiovascular disease is not conclusive. This re-examination has led to a growing emphasis on the overall dietary pattern rather than single nutrients in isolation.

Still, the American Heart Association continues to advocate for minimizing intake of saturated fats as a strategy to prevent heart disease. They endorse a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats - a dietary composition in stark contrast to a typical cheesesteak intake.

In light of these concerns, it's worth considering the modifiable factors that can affect the saturated fat content in a cheesesteak:

  • Choice of Cheese: Opting for a lower-fat cheese or even a modest amount of a stronger-flavored option can reduce the saturated fat content.
  • Quantity of Cheese: Simply using less cheese can also help limit saturated fats.
  • Type of Beef: Choosing lean cuts of beef and trimming excess fat can decrease the saturated fat in the sandwich.
  • Cooking Method: Grilling or baking the beef rather than frying can reduce added fats.

It's crucial to balance the occasional indulgence of a cheesesteak with an otherwise heart-healthy diet. Moderation is key, and pairing a cheesesteak with healthier food choices throughout the day can help mitigate potential negative impacts on heart health.

For those with existing heart conditions or elevated cholesterol levels, it may be wise to consult a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian to discuss how a cheesesteak fits into a heart-friendly diet plan tailored to individual health needs.

Remember, it's the overall dietary pattern rather than a single meal that most significantly affects heart health. Conscious choices and portion control contribute to a balanced diet, even when indulging in richer foods like a cheesesteak.

Calorie Density and Weight Management

Understanding the calorie density of a cheesesteak is crucial when considering its place in a weight management plan. A typical cheesesteak consists of sliced beefsteak, melted cheese, and a long hoagie roll, often topped with onions, peppers, and mushrooms. The combination of these ingredients can make a cheesesteak quite calorie-dense, providing a high amount of calories in a small volume of food.

One of the primary aspects to assess is the size of the cheesesteak. Portion sizes can vary widely, but a standard restaurant or takeaway cheesesteak can range anywhere from 600 to 1200 calories. The calorie content is highly dependent on the amount and type of cheese, the quantity of steak, and any additional condiments or toppings used. For example:

  • Beef: A serving size of 100 grams (approximately 3.5 ounces) can contain about 250 calories before cooking.
  • Cheese: Depending on the type of cheese used, one ounce can add between 50 to 100 calories.
  • Bread: A typical hoagie roll contains 200 to 300 calories.
  • Toppings and Condiments: Additional toppings like fried onions or peppers contribute more calories, with common condiments like mayonnaise or ketchup adding 50 to 100 calories per tablespoon.

When it comes to weight management, calorie intake is a fundamental component. Consuming more calories than you burn can lead to weight gain, while eating fewer calories than your body uses can result in weight loss. A cheesesteak, due to its high calorie density, can quickly consume a significant portion of an individual's recommended daily calorie intake. For instance, an average adult male may require between 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day, while an average adult female may need between 1,600 to 2,400 calories daily, depending on age, metabolism, and activity level. Consuming a single cheesesteak could account for over half of the daily caloric needs for some individuals.

Moreover, the high-fat content in a cheesesteak, primarily from the cheese and beef, can contribute to the overall calorie count. Dietary fats contain 9 calories per gram, which is more than double the calories found in the same amount of proteins or carbohydrates (4 calories per gram). For those watching their weight, it is essential to be mindful of the fat content as well as the calorie density of the meal.

Balancing a cheesesteak within a weight management regimen requires planning and moderation. Some strategies to reduce the calorie impact of a cheesesteak include:

  • Choosing a smaller portion or eating only half and saving the rest for later.
  • Opting for low-fat cheese options to decrease calorie intake.
  • Requesting lean cuts of beef to reduce fat and calorie content.
  • Adding more veggies to increase the meal's fiber content, which can promote satiety with fewer calories.
  • Being cautious with condiments, choosing those with lower calories or better yet, skipping them altogether.

Remember that individual caloric needs vary greatly, and maintaining a balanced diet with moderate portion sizes is key to effective weight control. While a cheesesteak can be a high-calorie food, incorporating it thoughtfully into a diverse and balanced diet allows for occasional enjoyment without derailing weight management goals.

Sodium Levels in Cheesesteaks and Blood Pressure Concerns

The classic cheesesteak, an iconic sandwich that originated in Philadelphia, is a combination of thinly sliced beef, melted cheese, and a long hoagie roll. While it tantalizes taste buds with its rich and savory flavors, it's important to shine a light on one component of its nutrition profile - sodium. Sodium is an essential nutrient that our bodies need to conduct nerve impulses, contract and relax muscles, and maintain the proper balance of water and minerals. However, too much sodium can lead to elevated blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

Cheesesteaks, like many fast foods, are notoriously high in sodium. A standard cheesesteak can contain over 1,000 milligrams of sodium, which is nearly half of the American Heart Association's recommended limit of 2,300 milligrams per day for healthy adults, or 1,500 milligrams for those with high blood pressure or elevated risk of heart disease. Let's delve into how the sodium content in a cheesesteak can impact blood pressure and overall cardiovascular health.

  • Impact on Blood Pressure: Consuming high-sodium foods such as cheesesteaks can cause water retention, leading to an increase in blood volume and, subsequently, high blood pressure. Chronic high blood pressure is a condition known as hypertension, which damages arteries and can lead to heart disease.
  • Key Ingredients: The primary sources of sodium in a cheesesteak are the processed cheese, the meats which are often seasoned and cooked with sodium-heavy additives, and the bread, which surprisingly contains salt as well.
  • Variability: Different cheesesteak vendors and recipes will vary in their sodium content. Add-ons such as pickles, peppers, sauces, or extra cheese can significantly increase the sodium level of the sandwich. It's essential to consider the cumulative sodium intake from all food consumed throughout the day, not just the cheesesteak itself.
  • Considerations for At-Risk Populations: Individuals with hypertension, kidney disease, diabetes, or cardiovascular concerns should be particularly mindful of their sodium intake. It is advised that these groups adhere to the lower recommendation of 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day.

In conclusion, while a cheesesteak may not be considered 'bad' in moderation, regular consumption of such high-sodium meals can lead to long-term health implications, particularly concerning blood pressure. Modifying the cheesesteak by choosing lower-sodium cheese options, reducing condiments, and even opting for a smaller portion size can decrease sodium consumption and help manage blood pressure more effectively. It's also worth noting that many people are unaware of how sodium sensitive they might be, which can only be determined by monitoring blood pressure in response to dietary sodium changes.

Evaluating the meal as part of an overall daily diet is crucial. For individuals who love their cheesesteaks but are concerned with their health, balance is key. Compensating with low-sodium meals throughout the rest of the day, along with regular blood pressure monitoring, can help mitigate the potential negative impact of indulging in this iconic sandwich.

Nutritional Value: Protein, Vitamins, and Minerals

Assessing whether a cheesesteak is bad for you involves delving into its nutritional components. At the core, a cheesesteak sandwich includes sliced beef, cheese, and often sautéed onions and peppers, served on a long hoagie roll. This combination delivers a mix of nutrients that can be both beneficial and potentially concerning, depending on the context of your overall diet.

Let's start with the protein content. Beef, the primary ingredient in a cheesesteak, is a rich source of high-quality protein necessary for building and repairing tissues, making enzymes and hormones, and supporting immune functions. An average cheesesteak can provide about 25-30 grams of protein, which is a considerable portion of the recommended daily intake for an adult. It's also a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids our bodies cannot synthesize.

Regarding vitamins and minerals, beef contributes significantly to the intake of B-vitamins, particularly vitamin B12, niacin, and riboflavin, which play vital roles in energy metabolism and red blood cell formation. It is also a source of important minerals, including iron, zinc, and selenium. Here is a quick breakdown of these key vitamins and minerals commonly found in a serving of beef:

Nutrient Amount % Daily Value (DV)
Vitamin B12 2.1 µg 88%
Niacin 7.3 mg 46%
Riboflavin 0.2 mg 15%
Iron 2.7 mg 15%
Zinc 6.3 mg 57%
Selenium 28.5 µg 52%

The cheese in a cheesesteak adds to the protein content and also provides calcium, which is crucial for bone health. Depending on the type of cheese used, such as provolone or American, there will be variance in the specific amounts of calcium and fat provided. Additionally, onions and peppers contribute vitamin C, potassium, and dietary fiber, along with several antioxidants.

However, it's important to consider that the nutritious components of a cheesesteak come alongside saturated fats, cholesterol, and sodium, which can impact cardiovascular health if consumed in excess. Balancing a cheesesteak within a diet that is mindful of these other components is crucial for determining its overall impact on your health.

Moreover, the nutritional value can vary widely depending on the preparation methods and portion sizes. For example, a homemade cheesesteak with lean cuts of beef and reduced-fat cheese can offer a healthier profile compared to a commercially prepared one that may use higher fat meat and cheese options.

When enjoyed in moderation and as part of a balanced diet, the protein, vitamins, and minerals in a cheesesteak can contribute positively to your nutritional needs. As with any food, awareness of portion size and frequency of consumption is key to fitting a cheesesteak into a healthful eating pattern.

Balancing Indulgence: Portion Size and Frequency of Consumption

When it comes to enjoying a cheesesteak, the adage "everything in moderation" takes front and center stage. Cheesesteaks, like many high-calorie comfort foods, can find a place in a balanced diet when approached with mindful strategies focusing on portion size and consumption frequency.

Understanding Portion Sizes:

  • Standard Cheesesteak Size – A typical cheesesteak can range from 9 to 12 inches, packed with beef, cheese, and potentially other toppings, leading to large calorie counts.
  • Recommended Serving – To better align with dietary guidelines, consider consuming a smaller portion, such as a 6-inch sandwich, and supplement with nutrient-rich sides like a salad or steamed vegetables.

Frequency Matters:

  • Occasional Treat – While it's fine to indulge in a cheesesteak now and then, making it a rare treat rather than a regular meal can mitigate negative health impacts.
  • Mindful Scheduling – If cheesesteaks are a part of your diet, planning their consumption within the context of your weekly calorie and nutrient intake is essential. Aim for balance throughout the week.

Healthy Alternatives:

  • Protein Choices – Opt for leaner cuts of meat or even meat substitutes to reduce saturated fat content while still enjoying the equivalent flavor profile.
  • Cheese Options – Choosing lower-fat cheese or simply using less cheese can greatly reduce the overall calorie and fat content without compromising on taste.

Conscious Eating:

  • Active Choices – Be mindful of your food choices surrounding your cheesesteak meal. Ensuring the rest of your day is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help balance out this indulgence.
  • Listen to Your Body – Pay attention to hunger cues and stop eating when you feel full. Eating slowly and savoring each bite can also enhance satiety and prevent overindulgence.

While a cheesesteak can certainly be a savory and satisfying meal, the key to enjoying it without adverse health effects relies on managing the portion size and limiting the frequency of consumption. Embarking on a strategy of moderation allows for the incorporation of these delectable sandwiches within a diverse and health-conscious eating routine.

Healthier Cheesesteak Alternatives and Modifications

A traditional cheesesteak sandwich can be high in calories, saturated fat, and sodium, which may not align with certain dietary goals or health considerations. Modifying the classic recipe or opting for alternative approaches can make a cheesesteak more nutritionally balanced. Below, find several healthier twists and tweaks to enjoy this beloved sandwich with a health-conscious perspective.

1. Choosing Leaner Meats:

  • Opt for sliced chicken breast - By substituting beef with chicken, you significantly cut down on saturated fat while still getting an excellent source of protein. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition suggests replacing red meat with poultry to potentially reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
  • Go for grass-fed beef - If sticking to beef, select grass-fed varieties, which are often leaner and contain more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed beef, as pointed out by research in the Nutrition Journal.

2. Portion Control:

  • Downsize the sandwich - Choose a smaller roll or half the size of a regular one to cut down on carbohydrates and overall calorie intake.
  • Be mindful of meat portions - Limit the amount of meat to about 3 to 4 ounces to control protein portions and saturated fat levels.

3. Revamping the Bread:

  • Select whole-grain bread - Whole-grain options are rich in fiber and other nutrients. A study from the Journal of Nutrition has linked whole grain consumption with lower risks of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
  • Consider open-faced sandwich styles - By using only one slice of bread, you're halving the calories from carbohydrates and promoting a more balanced meal.

4. Focusing on Cheese:

  • Choose healthier cheese options - Low-fat mozzarella or provolone can decrease the amount of saturated fat without sacrificing flavor. A publication in the Circulation journal identifies high saturated fat intake as a potential risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
  • Use cheese sparingly - Reduce the amount of cheese to a light sprinkle to enjoy the taste while minimizing calorie and fat intake.

5. Enriching with Vegetables:

  • Add sautéed peppers and onions - Vegetables are high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which can enhance satiety and provide essential nutrients.
  • Include leafy greens - Spinach, kale, or arugula add texture, flavor, and are packed with iron and calcium.

6. Modifying Cooking Techniques:

  • Grill or bake instead of frying - These cooking methods can reduce the need for excess oil, thereby lowering the fat content of the meal.
  • Use healthier oils - When sautéing vegetables or cooking meat, opt for oils high in unsaturated fats like olive oil or avocado oil.

By implementing these alterations, you can enjoy the rich flavors of a cheesesteak while keeping nutritional value in mind. Tailoring the sandwich to suit your own health goals allows you to indulge responsibly, aligning with expert nutrition recommendations for a balanced diet.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, substituting beef with chicken in a cheesesteak can still provide an excellent source of protein. Chicken is a lean protein source and contains all the essential amino acids required by the body, making it a suitable alternative for maintaining protein intake while potentially reducing saturated fat compared to beef.

To enjoy a cheesesteak on a low-sodium diet, opt for lower-sodium cheese options, select reduced-salt beef or prepare your own seasoning mix without added salt, and choose a low-sodium hoagie roll. Additionally, skip or limit high-sodium condiments and toppings, and complement your cheesesteak with fresh vegetables to maintain flavor without the added sodium.

A cheesesteak can fit into a weight loss plan when consumed in moderation and with mindful modifications. Choose smaller portions or split the sandwich for a later meal, use lean meat and low-fat cheese, increase the sandwich's vegetable content, and be cautious with calorie-dense condiments. Ensure the rest of your daily meals are balanced and nutrient-dense to accommodate the occasional indulgence in a cheesesteak.

To make a cheesesteak more heart-healthy, choose leaner cuts of beef or plant-based alternatives, use smaller amounts of low-fat cheese, pile on the veggies for added nutrients and fiber, and opt for whole-grain bread. Cooking methods like grilling or baking, rather than frying, can also lower the unhealthy fat content, aligning the sandwich with a heart-healthy diet.

Ask a question about Cheesesteak and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible long-term side effects

  • increased risk of heart disease
  • elevated blood pressure
  • weight gain
  • potential nutrient deficiencies

Ingredients to be aware of


  • source of protein
  • source of b-vitamins
  • source of iron
  • source of zinc
  • source of selenium
  • source of calcium

Healthier alternatives

  • leaner meats like chicken
  • grass-fed beef
  • smaller portions
  • whole-grain bread
  • low-fat cheese
  • open-faced sandwich
  • added vegetables
  • grilled or baked methods
  • healthier oils like olive oil

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Amy's Vegan Burrito

  • Organic ingredients
  • Gluten-free meal
  • Dairy-free product
  • Convenient microwavable
  • Rich in plant protein
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 01-22-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 01-22-2024

Random Page

Check These Out!