The One Ingredient You Don't Want In Your Boxed Mac And Cheese

Who doesn't love boxed macaroni and cheese? This easy-to-make classic became popular during World War II when it became known for how cheap it could feed a family, Insider says. And its popularity hasn't waned. If you are like us, then you have likely tried to work your magic to make that comforting box of mac and cheese a tad more healthy. Maybe you halved the suggested amount of butter. Or perhaps you added broccoli and carrots to get enough vegetables in the mix. 

Whatever your trick is, we applaud you for your efforts. But unfortunately, unless you plan on not using the powdered cheese mixture that comes in the box, then you are exposing yourself to a group of chemicals that have shown to have some very negative side effects.

According to a study reported by Vice, boxed mac and cheese may contain a group of chemicals known as phthalates. These chemicals have been linked to birth defects and learning and behavior problems in children. Mike Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, tells Vice, "The phthalate concentrations in powder from mac and cheese mixes were more than four times higher than in block cheese and other natural cheeses like shredded cheese, string cheese, and cottage cheese," he says.

Most mac and cheese boxes contain phthalates

Phthalates were not just found in one particular brand of mac and cheese. A study shared by Vice claims that 10 different varieties of mac and cheese were tested (including some organic brands) and this group of chemicals was found in all of them.

And it's not just proven to be in mac and cheese. Phthalates are found in other grocery store products and are thought to be infecting food through its packaging from cellophane wrap, cardboard, and paper, EDF claims. Exposure to these groups of chemicals is of special concern to pregnant women and young children. Maureen Swanson, director of the Healthy Children Project at the Learning Disabilities Association of America, explains via Vice, "Mounting scientific evidence links phthalates to problems with brain development. Pregnant women's exposures to these chemicals in products and food may put their babies at higher risk for learning and developmental disabilities," she says. And perhaps most alarming, EDF claims the chemicals in the phthalate group are lacking published safety data by the FDA, so the extent of how harmful they are is still unknown.

We had assumed our efforts to healthify this classic dish would be enough to conceal whatever less-than-healthy ingredients were found in that bag of powdered cheese. But perhaps we'll rely on the homemade version next time we have a craving for mac and cheese.