Maybe I’m not a real college kid, or just really weird, but I’m kind of scared of Easy Mac. In my opinion, anything you can microwave in a styrofoam cup and eat for a “meal” freaks me out. I’ve always been curious about if it should even be eaten, and with over 30 ingredients making up the “enriched macaroni product” and “cheese sauce mix,” I decided to find out once and for all. Here’s a breakdown of what’s in your Easy Mac.
First of all, this is a really descriptive ingredient name — not. Luckily, there are parentheses explaining what exactly “enriched macaroni product” entails. It includes: wheat flour, gyceryl monostearate, niacin, ferrous sulfate [Iron], thiamin mononitrate [vitamin B1], riboflavin [vitamin B2] and folic acid.
Wheat flour is pretty self-explanatory, but it has different degrees of nutrition depending on production techniques. I’m gonna take a random stab and say that the “wheat flour” they’re referring to probably isn’t whole grain considering the uniform smooth texture of the macaroni noodles. For more on the health benefits of whole grain vs. whole wheat, check out this article.
Glycerol monostearate, known as GMS for short, is an emulsifier and thickening agent in food, which is pretty necessary for Easy Mac. No one likes their fake cheese runny. Good news: this molecule is found naturally in the human body. It’s often used as a preservative in foods, but it can also be found in some cosmetics. Then again, some people eat their lipgloss. Do with that what you will.
Niacin, iron (ferrous sulfate), vitamin B1 (thiamin mononitrate) and vitamin B2 (riboflavin) are all common and necessary nutrients found in most bread and wheat products, so consider it a triumph that your microwaveable college dinner includes them. #winning
Oh hellz yeah, cheese sauce mix is defs what I crave when I really want to eat something delicious. It contains really fun and easy to pronounce ingredients such as: maltodextrin, corn syrup solids, palm oil, modified food starch, milkfat, salt, milk protein concentrate, and less than 2% of medium chain triglycerides, sodium tripolyphosphate, citric acid, sodium phosphate, natural flavor, lactic acid, calcium phosphate, guar gum, monosodium glutamate, yellow 5, yellow 6, artificial flavor, cheese culture and enzymes. Oh. Em. Gee.
I think we can agree for the most part that ingredients such as milkfat, salt, cheese culture, enzymes and even milk protein concentrate aren’t all that bizarre to be including in a cheese dish. Even palm oil sounds ok, but I’ve heard some buzz around that it’s not very healthy for you.
Maltodextrin, like glycerol monostearate, is used to thicken food. Again, kind of necessary for mac and cheese. However, it’s very structurally similar to sugar, and is often included in candy. And yep, corn syrup solids are exactly what you think they are — dehydrated high fructose corn syrup.
Ok, now for that scary sounding “less than 2%” in the ingredient list. It may contain less than 2%, but medium chain triglyceride is a fancy term for fatty acids, and apparently people with malnutrition are treated with medium chain triglycerides because they don’t require any extra energy in order to be absorbed into the body. Yikes.
Sodium tripolyphosphate primarily functions as a preservative and is classified as Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS), meaning it hasn’t caused any health crises in the past. So I guess that’s reassuring.
Monosodium glutamate, or MSGs, is a non-essential amino acid, and is usually used as a flavor enhancer. It is found naturally in tomatoes, mushrooms, and potatoes, so again, reassuring, but the USFDA also gave MSG the GRAS rating, so it’s safe to eat, just maybe not by the spoonful. According to this Smithsonian article, people are pretty clueless about MSGs.
Overall, Easy Mac doesn’t appear to be as terrible as I thought it would be. If anything, I would be concerned about the vague ingredients such as “natural flavor” and “artificial flavor” that were dyed using yellow 5 and 6. You really can’t justify the health benefits of food coloring, although according to this Healthline article colorful foods are healthy for you.
Added food color might trick us into believing that Easy Mac is natural, but food dye can have some unfortunate repercussions such as causing ADHD. For more on the side effects of added food color, check out this WebMD article. With repercussions such as these, it’s hard to justify eating Easy Mac at all.
I must admit though, being a poor and lazy college student can make Easy Mac look pretty appealing. Easy Mac is definitely not going to kill you, but hopefully this article has helped you take a stance on what kind of nonsense you want to willingly put in your body. May all your snacks be cheesy, but whether you like your cheese natural or artificial is completely up to you.