Growing up, grilled cheese was a staple around my house. They are so easy to make, and it has become that “easy lunch” to throw together for my own kids. Until recently, I was totally unaware that there are butter substitutes that can be used in the construction of the sandwich. So, I looked into the topic and decided to share what I learned.
Keep in mind that some butter substitutes help reduce the number of calories found in this meal, while other replacements will only add to this sandwich’s unhealthy reputation. I’ll be sure to point that out, where applicable. And, for those counting calories I will include the calorie savings for each substitute.
Eggs make an excellent replacement for butter. Beat one egg and brush it onto the bread, cook as normal, and you are all set. It’s very similar to making French toast. If you like really crisp grilled cheeses, this is a very good option.
This is a great choice, nutritionally. Cooking the bread in egg allows the bread to soak in some of the omega 3’s eggs have in them. Use egg whites only to cut the calories way down.
Calorie Savings: 94 per sandwich. If you use half an egg white per sandwich (perfectly reasonable), then it is only 8 calories added on top of the bread and cheese.
2. Olive Oil
Using olive oil in your grilled cheese will make the sandwich much healthier than using regular butter. However, it will not cut down the overall high-calorie count of this sandwich.
Also, it will give your grilled cheese sandwich a somewhat different taste. Don’t expect your kids to somehow not notice because they will. Even so, for those with a more refined palette, it might be a pleasing modification that leaves you feeling less heavy after consuming the sandwich.
Nutrition-wise, Olive oil is certainly superior. It has been found to produce more vitamin K1 and E than butter. Vitamin K1 helps with blood clotting, while Vitamin E is good for your vision. Surprisingly, though, butter is actually an overall denser source of vitamins and minerals.
Pro Tip: If you use olive oil to make a grilled cheese, you can use slightly higher temperatures since olive oil has a higher smoke point than butter.
Calorie Savings: -17. Olive oil has slightly more calories than butter. However, low calories are not why we eat olive oil. If you weigh the health benefits of each, olive oil beats butter in virtually every category.
This is probably the most well-known and often used replacement for butter in making grilled cheese sandwiches. In fact, many people prefer to use mayo and think it’s the superior option.
Mayo allows for even browning on the exterior much like butter does; though, mayo tends to make the exterior a tad bit more crispy while maintaining a soft and moist interior. It is important to note the exterior of the mayo covered bread will be crisp but not dried out like the exterior of butter covered grilled cheese sandwich sometimes can be.
The best part of using mayo is that it is soft and ready to go right off the bat. Unlike butter, there is no melting or softening necessary.
Mayo has a tangy taste. It can sometimes take a grilled cheese traditionalist a while to become accustomed to this sharp new taste. Personally, I have often added mayo to the inside of my grilled cheeses anyway, so the extra mayo taste on the outside is a big bonus.
This is definitely not the healthiest option, and lite mayo simply won’t cut it for frying up the bread properly. I recommend only using the regular stuff. If you are only looking for healthy substitutes, try the next option on my list.
Calorie Savings: 8 per sandwich. Surprisingly, mayonnaise has slightly fewer calories per tablespoon than butter.
Margarine works well in grilled cheese sandwiches because the product was designed to simulate butter. While butter is made from churned cream, margarine is made from vegetable oils. In fact, most people will be unable to notice a difference between the taste of margarine and butter once the sandwich is cooked up.
For those that are health conscious, margarine is known to be better for your heart health. It contains polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which are considered “good” fats that help reduce bad cholesterol. Just make sure the margarine you buy does not have trans fat.
Margarine also provides access to vitamins that are not found in a lot of other foods. Vitamin K2, for example, found in butter, is good for the bones. The conflicting health benefits of margarine and butter is something to consider if you are trying to make healthier choices in your diet.
Calorie Savings: 0. Margarine and butter have almost exactly the same amount of calories.
5. Bacon Grease
Bacon grease may be the most unhealthy butter substitute on the list, but I decided to include it anyway. It is certainly not the most heart-healthy option, but it can make a good treat every once in a while.
Saturating your grilled cheese in bacon grease gives your sandwich a little bit of bacon flavor. As a bonus, this option also provides you with an avenue to get rid of any bacon grease leftover in the frying pan.
Calorie Savings: -13. Bacon grease has slightly higher calories than butter but virtually no nutritional value.
Ingredients to Add to Your Grilled Cheese
The grilled cheese is a staple comfort food. However, if your tired of the traditional cheese plus bread variety, there are many ingredient options that you could introduce to jazz up your grilled sandwich.
Some of the best grilled cheese additions include:
- Avocado Slices
- Apple slices
- Caramelized Onions
Why Is a Grilled Cheese Unhealthy?
A grilled cheese can be called unhealthy because it is high in calories. A traditional grilled sandwich can consist of 700 calories per serving. This is approximately 1/3 of your daily calorie intake.
These unhealthy sandwiches tend to be high in saturated fats. Consuming too many saturated fats can raise your bad cholesterol levels. With high levels of bad cholesterol, your risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke increases. This food should only be eaten occasionally to avoid any dangerous health consequences.
It is important to strive for a balanced diet full of vitamins and minerals. It is also crucial to eat a diet low in sodium and unsaturated fats to maintain good health.
Finding suitable substitutes for butter in recipes has been sort of a mission for me lately. I have been trying to eat healthier but still want to enjoy some of my favorite foods. Now, that doesn’t mean that all the options on this list are healthy, far from it. I just thought I’d mention it.
Unfortunately, there are far fewer substitutes for butter out there than I hoped to find. I guess I’ll keep looking. If you have any ideas, please feel free to include them in the comments. I’d love to expand my list!
Thanks for reading!
For more, don’t miss Can I Use Margarine Instead of Butter for Baking?.
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