Mac and cheese is a staple on most people's tables. Many of us recall eating it from a box when we were short on cash or pressed for time. And chances are, our kids and younger siblings have probably become very familiar with the instant meal at their young age too. When a box costs only a dollar, who can blame stressed-out parents for turning to the orange carb-filled goo once in a while.
Instant mac and cheese may taste good but the truth is that many of us have no idea what's actually in it. Sure, the macaroni might resemble pasta, but did you ever notice it stays chewy and plastic-like no matter how long it's cooked for?
Hawk-eyed consumers have also pointed out that the powdery cheese mixes never seem to go bad, no matter how long they're stored after their best-before date.
To shed some light on the chemicals in our food, an environmental advocacy group paid for a study to be conducted by an independent laboratory. The lab conducted tests on 30 cheese products which included a number of mac and cheese mixes.
The results have caused ripples in the instant food industry with angry parents and health conscious people demanding answers from the companies they thought they could trust.
Researchers found that all but one of the mac and cheese mixes they tested contained phthalates. Phthalates are chemicals that are used to soften plastics.
They are used in several products like food packages, wall and floor flooring and detergents. They were also a prominent component in children's toys until their use was banned over a decade ago.
The reason? Phthalates have been found to block testosterone and other male hormones. It has also been linked to birth defects, particularly in baby boys. Other studies have proven a relationship between phthalate exposure and low IQ, attention deficit disorders and poor social skills.
Your mac and cheese isn't actually being cooked with phthalates. Rather, the chemical is used in the plastic packaging, to keep it dry. But after a while, it seeps into the cheese powder and is consumed when you cook the food.
Doctors advise that you try to make mac and cheese from scratch as much as possible. Although we know that consumers want to eat healthy, let's face it. Sometimes, for different reasons, you just can't.
So if you really want to reach for that box, try not to serve it to small children or pregnant women. If you're looking for a tasty mac and cheese meal for all ages, try one of the recipes from our celebrity food taste test here.
Are you thinking of ditching instant mac and cheese after reading this?