Healthier Mac & Cheese Is Possible With These Hacks

Dr. Maya Warren stopped by The Dr. Oz Show to share her tips.

mac and cheese

Oct. 7, 2020

Mac & cheese is the comfort food we can all agree on. The cheesy goodness can be irresistible — and when you’re making most of your meals at home, reaching for something fast and delicious can be the solution you’re looking for. But should you be avoiding store-bought mac n cheese? Is it possible to eat healthy mac & cheese? And what’s really going on with rumors that there’s a mac n cheese shortage?

Production lines are reportedly running around the clock to meet surging demand for grocery store mac n cheese. To find out more, Dr. Oz spoke with Dr. Maya Warren, a food scientist who can explain why you’re craving mac n cheese right now, the difference between store-bought types, and how to add some nutritional value to your mac n cheese dinner. 

Why You Crave Mac & Cheese

According to Dr. Warren, “Carbs found in these foods not only make us salivate, but they’re also thought to promote the production of a ‘feel-good’ chemical in the brain called serotonin.” When released, serotonin helps us feel happy and comforted. “This is key during hard times when we feel like the world outside is falling apart.” she says. 

Dr. Warren also spoke with a plant manager at a Kraft mac & cheese factory who said they can’t make enough mac n cheese right now to meet demand. “People are comparing it to the ‘70s, with people revisiting brands they haven’t touched in a while,” says Dr. Warren.

Should You Shop for Orange or White Mac & Cheese?

“Back in the day, cows in Cheddar, England had a diet very rich in beta carotene,” says Dr. Warren. “This made the cheese that was produced a yellow-orange color.”

However, this only happened when the cows ate from the pasture (warmer months). In the winter, when the cows ate hay, less beta carotene was contained in their milk. Farmers and cheese makers noted that the cheese rich in beta carotene had a richer flavor and was more desired by consumers. Overtime, companies started using artificial dyes, like Yellow No. 5 and No. 6 to achieve this iconic yellow-orange color. 

However, in recent years consumer demand for healthy and simple ingredients have gotten noticed by mac & cheese giants like Kraft, who made a pledge to stop using artificial preservatives and dyes back in 2016. Now, they color their cheese naturally using spices like turmeric, annatto, and paprika.

How to Read the Labels

“If you’re torn between white or orange mac & cheese, it’s really a matter of preference, not health,” says Dr. Warren. Often, the squeezable packets will be labeled with “cheese product” or “processed cheese food/spread,” which is obviously not real cheese. From the label, you may see dairy ingredients, but the FDA makes sure that products that do not fit under the standard of identity for “cheese” are not labeled as such. Technically, powdered cheese products can be made from real cheese, but then a ton of additives are added to prevent it from caking, provide the desired shelf-life, flavor, etc.

“Again, this is a matter of preference, but if you’re a cheese purist, go with the powder,” says Dr. Warren. 

Here are more of Dr. Warren’s mac & cheese tips:

Find more Grocery Guides from The Dr. Oz Show here.

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