Long before you were an excited kid bouncing into the kitchen to devour macaroni and cheese for dinner, people have loved this popular classic dish. The earliest recorded recipe of mac and cheese goes all the way back to 1769! Before that, similar cheese and pasta casseroles were recorded in the 14th-century English cookbook The Forme of Cury and the 14th-century Italian cookbook Liber de Coquina.  Various dishes combining melty cheese and comforting pasta remain a hit across many cultures and regions today.
As a keto dieter, if you love mac and cheese, you might ask yourself if it’s keto-friendly. Can you have mac and cheese on keto?
The Nutrition Breakdown of Mac and Cheese
Lots of versions of macaroni and cheese exist, using different toppings, add-ins, and flavorings. However, the two basic ingredients are macaroni pasta and a cheese sauce.
A traditional mac and cheese dish uses narrow tubes of macaroni pasta made with wheat flour and water and sometimes with eggs. The cheese is most often cheddar, American, or parmesan, but people get creative with other cheeses, too, such as goat cheese, brie, gouda, gruyere, and even cream cheese.
The nutritional breakdown of mac and cheese varies depending on the exact ingredients, but this dish usually provides nutrients like phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, and potassium. Thanks to the hefty serving of cheesy goodness, mac and cheese dishes are high in calcium. For example, one Easy Mac regular-size microwaveable package (215 grams) of prepared mac and cheese has 204 mg of calcium. 
Is Mac and Cheese Keto?
The short answer is no; traditional and commercially available mac and cheese is too high in carbs for keto.
Mac and cheese consists of two main ingredients: cheese, often in a milk-based sauce, and pasta.
Cheese contains lactose—the sugar found in dairy, but plenty of dairy products are low enough in lactose and high enough in fat to be keto-friendly. Be wary of processed cheeses that might contain hidden carbs like added food starch and maltodextrin, which has a higher glycemic index than table sugar.
Also keep in mind that mac and cheese made from scratch usually starts with a basic white sauce (bechamel) base, which contains milk and a small amount of flour, two ingredients that aren’t typically keto-friendly.
The most suitable cheeses for a ketogenic diet are unprocessed, full-fat, and whole-milk cheeses. Check out our detailed article for a deep dive into consuming cheese on keto.
Refined grain-based flours used to make traditional pasta are especially high in starch, which breaks down to sugar in your body. For example, one Easy Mac regular-size microwaveable package (215 grams) of prepared mac and cheese has 42 grams of net carbs, which is way too high for a keto dieter to consume in just one sitting. That would be close to or in many cases far above the total daily carb count for most keto dieters.
A 236-gram serving of mac and cheese from Panera Bread has 39 grams of net carbs and only 1 gram of fiber.  Panera Bread mac and cheese also contains added modified food starch, cornstarch, and other not-so-keto ingredients.
A 142-gram serving of mac and cheese from Whole Foods Market has 24 grams of net carbs. 
The best keto-friendly foods are lower in starch and higher in fiber. Fiber doesn’t spike your blood sugar; it feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut (microbiome). Grain-based pasta is high in starch, which is more like chains of sugar molecules connected together that your body must break down into individual sugar molecules.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line here is that traditional mac and cheese made with processed cheese and refined grain-based flour just won’t work for those keeping it low-carb.
Not all hope is lost if you want to stay keto, have your mac and cheese, and eat it too. There are plenty of keto alternatives and delicious recipes to choose from. You can use low-carb macaroni noodles instead of traditional flour ones to obtain a similar texture and taste as traditional mac and cheese in this satiating keto mac and cheese recipe from Ketogenic.com.
There are other options, too. Many keto dieters enjoy making their own pasta with almond flourorcoconut flour, or by spiralizing veggies.
Steph Green is a content writer specializing in and passionate about healthcare, wellness, and nutrition. Steph has worked with marketing agencies, written medical books for doctors like ‘Untangling the Web of Dysfunction,’ and her poetry book ‘Words that Might Mean Something.’ In 2016, after four years of struggling with her own health problems and painful autoimmune disease, Steph developed a life-changing and extensive knowledge of keto, nutrition, and natural medicine. She continues on her healing journey and enjoys helping others along the way.
Smithsonian Magazine. Marvelous Macaroni and Cheese. Retrieved Sept 20th 2023. Marvelous Macaroni and Cheese | Arts & Culture| Smithsonian Magazine
Gode E Cookery Forme of Cury. Makerouns. Retrieved Sept 20th 2023. Makerouns (godecookery.com)
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