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

Is Nacho Cheese Bad For You?

Also Known As: Nacho cheese sauce



Short answer

Nacho cheese, typically high in saturated fats and sodium, can contribute to heart disease and hypertension when consumed excessively. Artificial colors and preservatives found in many nacho cheeses may also pose health risks. While not necessarily bad in small quantities, regular consumption, especially in large amounts or by individuals with preexisting health conditions, should be approached with caution. Healthier alternatives or moderation in consumption is advisable for those concerned about these nutritional aspects.



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Long answer

Saturated Fats and Sodium Content in Nacho Cheese

When considering the health implications of nacho cheese, two important nutritional factors to examine are saturated fats and sodium content. Here's why they are important and how they impact your health.

Saturated Fats in Nacho Cheese:

Saturated fats are a type of fat commonly found in animal products and some plant oils. They are known to raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, potentially increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke when consumed in excess. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fats to no more than 5-6% of total daily calories.

  • A typical serving of nacho cheese can contain several grams of saturated fat, which can quickly add up if consumed in larger quantities.
  • Regular consumption of high-saturated fat foods like nacho cheese can have long-term health consequences, particularly related to cardiovascular health.

It's important to consider the portion size of nacho cheese consumed and to be mindful of other sources of saturated fats in your diet.

Sodium Content in Nacho Cheese:

Sodium is an essential nutrient that helps maintain fluid balance and supports nerve and muscle function. However, too much sodium in the diet can lead to hypertension (high blood pressure), which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, and even less for individuals with hypertension or prehypertension.

  • Nacho cheese often contains high levels of sodium due to both its ingredients and the manufacturing process, which uses salt as a flavor enhancer and preservative.
  • A single serving of nacho cheese can contain a significant portion of the recommended daily sodium intake.

Individuals who are sodium-sensitive or prone to heart conditions should be particularly cautious with their intake of high-sodium foods like nacho cheese.

In the table below, we illustrate the average saturated fat and sodium content found in a standard serving of nacho cheese:

Serving Size Saturated Fat (grams) Sodium (milligrams)
1 oz (approximately 2 tablespoons) 3-5 300-500

The values in the table might vary depending on the brand and formulation of the nacho cheese. Consumers should check nutrition labels for the most accurate information.

Various studies have linked high intake of saturated fats and sodium to negative health outcomes. For reference, the "Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease Advisory" published by the American Heart Association in 2017 provided a detailed analysis of the role saturated fats play in increasing cholesterol and the risk for heart disease. Likewise, research on sodium consumption and health risks, such as a study published by the "New England Journal of Medicine" in 2014, highlighted the global implications of excess sodium intake on blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases.

Considering these factors, consumers are advised to enjoy nacho cheese in moderation, particularly those with existing health concerns related to heart health and hypertension. Additionally, seeking out nacho cheese alternatives with lower saturated fat and sodium content may be a healthier option for those concerned with these nutritional aspects.

Artificial Colors and Preservatives in Processed Nacho Cheese

Processed nacho cheese is a popular topping for chips, a classic component in snack foods at movie theaters and sporting events. However, it's essential to scrutinize the ingredients, particularly artificial colors and preservatives, to understand their potential health effects.

One of the hallmarks of processed nacho cheese is its bright, appealing color, which is often achieved with the help of artificial dyes such as Yellow #5 (Tartrazine) and Yellow #6 (Sunset Yellow). According to research, these synthetic dyes have been associated with various health concerns. For example, a study published in the journal "Lancet" indicated that some artificial food colors may contribute to increased hyperactivity in children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

  • Yellow #5 (Tartrazine): This dye can cause allergic reactions in individuals with a sensitivity to aspirin. Reactions may include hives, asthma, and in rare cases, anaphylactic-like reactions.
  • Yellow #6 (Sunset Yellow): Although relatively rare, some people may experience hypersensitivity to this dye, resulting in hives or other allergic reactions.

It's not just the artificial colors that necessitate caution; the preservatives in processed nacho cheese also merit attention. Preservatives such as sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate are commonly used to extend the shelf life of the product. While these compounds are generally regarded as safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), they are not without controversy. Research, including a study by the International Journal of Food Science, suggests that when sodium benzoate comes into contact with ascorbic acid (vitamin C), it can form benzene, a known carcinogen—though the levels found in foods are typically lower than those considered harmful.

  • Sodium Benzoate: Generally recognized as safe but can form benzene in the presence of vitamin C.
  • Potassium Sorbate: Generally benign but can cause skin allergies in sensitive individuals.

Notably, the cumulative effect of consuming multiple preservatives and color additives is still not well understood, and while occasional consumption of foods containing these additives might not pose a significant health risk, regular intake could be a different story. It's recommended to look at dietary patterns as a whole and opt for foods with minimal processing and artificial additives whenever possible.

The ongoing discourse in food science emphasizes a precautionary approach when it comes to artificial additives. Being mindful of the presence of artificial colors and preservatives in processed foods such as nacho cheese can help guide better dietary choices. Whenever possible, seek out nacho cheese products with a cleaner ingredient list or consider homemade alternatives to avoid or reduce the intake of these artificial substances.

Nutritional Comparison: Nacho Cheese vs. Real Cheese

When it comes to the debate of nacho cheese versus real cheese, there's more than just taste at stake—their nutritional profiles are also quite different. Real cheese, which is made from milk, cultures, enzymes, and sometimes additional flavors or herbs, typically contains a host of naturally occurring nutrients like calcium, protein, and vitamin B12. Nacho cheese, on the other hand, is often a processed product with ingredients aimed at enhancing flavor, preserving shelf life, and creating a desirable creamy texture.

Let's break down these differences further:

  • Calories: Nacho cheese generally has a higher calorie count per serving than most real cheeses. This is due to the added oils and sometimes sugars or starches in the processing of nacho cheese.
  • Fat Content: Real cheeses contain natural milk fats, which include a balance of saturated and unsaturated fats. Processed nacho cheese often contains added hydrogenated fats or oils, which can be a source of trans fats, known to increase the risk of heart disease.
  • Protein: Real cheese is a good source of protein, essential for muscle repair and growth, while many nacho cheese products offer less protein per serving and may contain protein from non-dairy sources.
  • Calcium: Dairy-based real cheese is typically high in calcium, which is crucial for bone health. The calcium content in nacho cheese can vary significantly depending on the product, and is often lower than in real cheese.
  • Sodium: Both real and nacho cheeses can have high sodium levels, but processed nacho cheese products often contain higher amounts because salt is a common preservative and flavor enhancer in processed foods.
  • Additives: Nacho cheese usually contains more additives, such as artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives, unlike real cheese that may be free of these ingredients, particularly in organic or artisan varieties.

A more detailed nutritional comparison can be illustrated in the following table, showcasing typical values for a single serving of nacho cheese sauce and a general real cheese (e.g., cheddar):

Nutrient Nacho Cheese (1/4 cup) Real Cheese (Cheddar, 1 slice)
Calories 140 113
Total Fat 11g 9g
Saturated Fat 4g 6g
Trans Fat 0-0.5g 0g
Cholesterol 20mg 30mg
Sodium 500mg 174mg
Total Carbohydrates 5g 0.4g
Dietary Fiber 0g 0g
Sugars 1g <0.1g
Protein 6g 7g
Calcium % Varies 204mg

Remember that the actual nutritional value can vary significantly between different brands and recipes, so it's important to check the nutrition label on specific products. Additionally, some research suggests that processed cheeses like nacho cheese might offer less nutritional benefit when compared to real cheeses. A 2017 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that cheese consumption was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, citing that natural cheese has a complex matrix that could be responsible for health benefits which are not observed in processed cheese.

Finally, while cheese can be part of a balanced diet, it's important to consume it in moderation, especially considering that high intake of sodium and saturated fat from any source, including cheese, can contribute to health issues like high blood pressure and heart disease.

Potential Allergens and Lactose Intolerance Concerns

When exploring the topic of nacho cheese and its impacts on health, a crucial area to examine is its potential for causing allergic reactions and issues related to lactose intolerance. Nacho cheese, like many other dairy-based products, contains proteins that could trigger allergies in some individuals as well as lactose, which can be problematic for those with lactose intolerance.

Identifying Common Allergens in Nacho Cheese:

  • Milk: As a dairy product, nacho cheese primarily contains milk proteins such as casein and whey, which are common allergens. A milk allergy is one of the most predominant food allergies, especially in children.
  • Additives: Some nacho cheese formulations might include additives like food colorings or flavor enhancers, which can be allergenic to a subset of the population.

Individuals with known allergies to milk or specific food additives should carefully read labels or avoid nacho cheese to prevent allergic reactions which can range from mild to severe.

Challenges for Individuals with Lactose Intolerance:

  • Lactose content: Nacho cheese contains lactose, a sugar found in milk and other dairy products that requires the enzyme lactase for digestion. Individuals deficient in lactase may experience symptoms such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, and abdominal pain after consuming nacho cheese. The severity of symptoms can vary depending on the level of intolerance.
  • Portion Size: The amount of lactose that might trigger symptoms can be different for everyone; however, even small portions of nacho cheese might cause discomfort for those with high sensitivity to lactose.

It is essential to understand your own body's reaction to lactose and consider lactose-free alternatives or enzyme supplements that can assist in the digestion of lactose if you wish to indulge in nacho cheese.

Expert Opinions and Research:

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, an estimated 2.5 percent of children under three years old are allergic to milk. Most children outgrow milk allergy, but for some, it persists into adulthood. Additionally, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that about 65 percent of the human population has a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy.

Reading food labels and being informed about the specific ingredients in nacho cheese products is paramount. Always consult with a healthcare professional if you suspect you have a milk allergy or lactose intolerance to ensure you are taking appropriate measures for your health.

Impact of Excessive Nacho Cheese Consumption on Health

While nacho cheese can be a tempting treat during gatherings or a quick snack at the movies, its excessive consumption can have numerous impacts on your health. Understanding these can help you make informed choices about your dietary intake.

Nutritional Profile Challenges: Nacho cheese is typically high in saturated fats and sodium, which are common constituents linked to an array of health concerns when consumed in excess. A diet high in saturated fats can lead to increased cholesterol levels, contributing to cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends that saturated fats make up less than 6% of your total daily calories to minimize the risk of heart disease. Moreover, with high sodium levels, there is an associated risk of developing hypertension or 'high blood pressure,' as well as a potential increase in the likelihood of stroke and heart failure.

Calorie Content and Weight Gain: High in calories, nacho cheese can contribute to unnecessary weight gain if consumed frequently and in large quantities. This weight gain is often a precursor to obesity, which increases the risk for conditions such as type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and additional heart problems.

Gastrointestinal Distress: Some individuals may experience gastrointestinal distress due to lactose intolerance or sensitivity to the preservatives and artificial flavors commonly found in nacho cheese products. Symptoms can include bloating, gas, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.

Impact on Blood Sugar Levels: Nacho cheese sauces often contain added sugars and high-glycemic index thickeners, which can lead to spikes in blood sugar. For people with insulin resistance, diabetes, or other metabolic syndromes, these spikes can be especially problematic and may exacerbate their condition.

Addictive Eating Patterns: The combination of fat, salt, and flavor enhancers in nacho cheese can have an addictive quality, prompting overconsumption. This can disrupt natural hunger cues and potentially lead to an unhealthy relationship with food.

To further elucidate these impacts, let's review some of the data:

  • A typical serving of nacho cheese can contain between 300 to 500 mg of sodium, which is approximately 20% of the recommended daily limit set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • Research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that high consumption of saturated fats, such as those found in nacho cheese, is correlated with an increased risk of heart disease.
  • The consumption of hyper-palatable foods, like nacho cheese, is linked to obesity and metabolic concerns, according to a study in the journal Obesity.

Individuals with pre-existing health conditions should be particularly cautious. People with heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, or high cholesterol levels would be wise to minimize their nacho cheese intake or seek out healthier alternatives.

Always consult with a healthcare provider or a registered dietitian when making significant changes to your diet, particularly if you have concerns about the health implications of foods like nacho cheese.

Healthier Alternatives to Traditional Nacho Cheese

Nacho cheese dips are a popular snack choice at gatherings, movie nights, and sports events, but they're often high in calories, saturated fats, and preservatives. For those who enjoy the creamy, spicy kick of nacho cheese but are looking for a healthier way to indulge, consider these alternatives that deliver on flavor without compromising nutritional value.

1. Nut-Based Nacho Cheeses: A heart-healthy alternative to traditional cheese dips are those made from nuts such as cashews or almonds. These provide a creamy consistency similar to real cheese and can be a great source of protein, healthy fats, and essential minerals.

Example Recipe: Soak cashews, then blend with nutritional yeast, garlic powder, turmeric, and a touch of chili for a flavorful, vegan nacho cheese.

2. Greek Yogurt-Based Dips: Using Greek yogurt as a base for your nacho cheese dip not only reduces the amount of fat but also gives an extra protein boost. Mix in some taco seasoning and a bit of real cheese for flavor, and you have a tangy, satisfying alternative.

3. Veggie Purees: Blending vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, or butternut squash adds vitamins and fiber to your nacho cheese. The natural sweetness and bright color of these veggies offer an appealing base to which traditional nacho flavors like jalapeños and cumin can be added.

4. Real Cheese, Lightened Up: If you can't give up dairy, opt for using real cheese in smaller quantities. Look for reduced-fat versions of cheddar or Monterey jack and combine with skim milk or a plant-based milk alternative. Paying attention to portions can help mitigate the calorie impact.

Tip: Add a bit of arrowroot powder or cornstarch to help thicken the mixture without adding too many extra calories or fats.

5. Bean-Based Nacho Cheese: Pureed beans can provide a thick, creamy texture for a nacho cheese alternative. Beans are great for fiber and protein, making this a filling option. Season with nutritional yeast and spices for a savory, non-dairy cheese experience.

When looking for healthier nacho cheese alternatives, consider the nutrient profile of each option. Aim for dips that provide protein, healthy fats, and are lower in sodium. Each alternative can also be a canvas for adding personalized flavors like smoked paprika, salsa, or fresh herbs to cater to your taste preferences.

Remember, it's not just about choosing healthier ingredients; portion control also plays a vital role in maintaining a balanced diet. Even with healthier alternatives, moderation is key.

Ingredient Calories Protein Fat Fiber
Traditional Nacho Cheese 150 5g 10g 0g
Nut-Based Cheese 120 4g 9g 2g
Greek Yogurt Dip 60 8g 2g 0g
Veggie Puree 90 2g 5g 3g
Lightened Real Cheese 100 7g 6g 0g
Bean-Based Cheese 110 6g 4g 5g

It’s essential to check labels for the ingredients list when selecting pre-made alternatives, and if you’re making your own, keep a keen eye on the nutritional content of each component. Enjoying healthier versions of nacho cheese allows for a balance of pleasure and well-being in your dietary choices.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, lactose-free alternatives to nacho cheese include nut-based nacho cheeses made from cashews or almonds, and bean-based nacho cheese. These alternatives are not only lactose-free but also provide a good source of protein and healthy fats.

Nacho cheese can fit into a heart-healthy diet if consumed in small portions infrequently due to its high levels of saturated fats and sodium. However, for individuals with cardiovascular concerns or high cholesterol, it's better to opt for lower-fat, lower-sodium cheese options or heart-healthy alternatives like nut-based or veggie puree nacho cheeses.

Real cheese typically contains more protein per serving than nacho cheese. For example, a slice of cheddar cheese might have around 7 grams of protein, whereas a quarter cup serving of nacho cheese generally provides about 6 grams of protein, with potential variances based on the brand and recipe.

Signs of an allergy to ingredients commonly found in nacho cheese may include hives, difficulty breathing, wheezing, itching around the mouth or throat, abdominal pain, or diarrhea. If you experience any of these symptoms after consuming nacho cheese, it's important to consult a healthcare professional.

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

Possible short-term side effects

  • bloating
  • gas
  • diarrhea
  • allergic reactions
  • asthma symptoms
  • hypertension
  • increased ldl cholesterol
  • weight gain

Possible long-term side effects

  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • type 2 diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • obesity
  • cancer risks
  • metabolic syndrome
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (adhd)

Ingredients to be aware of


  • protein source (real cheese)
  • bone health support (calcium in real cheese)

Healthier alternatives

  • nut-based cheeses
  • greek yogurt-based dips
  • veggie purees
  • lightened real cheese
  • bean-based cheese

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Primal Kitchen Queso

  • Dairy-free
  • Plant-based
  • Gluten-free
  • No artificial ingredients
  • Non-GMO
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 03-19-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 03-19-2024

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