Sour cream is made by fermenting cream from dairy milk with lactic acid bacteria. This rich, slightly tart condiment is often used as a topping for tacos and baked potatoes, or to thicken baked goods, sauces, and stews.
Yet, many people wonder whether it can be included in a healthy diet. This article explains whether sour cream is healthy, exploring its nutrients, benefits, and drawbacks.
Sour cream nutrition facts
Sour cream contains many essential nutrients, but serving sizes tend to be small. Thus, it doesn’t usually offer significant amounts of any nutrient.
A 2-tablespoon (30-gram) serving of regular sour cream provides:
- Calories: 59
- Total fat: 5.8 grams
- Saturated fat: 3 grams
- Carbs: 1.3 grams
- Protein: 0.7 grams
- Calcium: 3% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Phosphorus: 3% of the DV
- Potassium: 1% of the DV
- Magnesium: 1% of the DV
- Vitamin A: 4% of the DV
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): 4% of the DV
- Vitamin B12: 3% of the DV
- Choline: 1% of the DV
As you can see, regular sour cream is fairly high in fat and calories. Reduced fat sour cream has a similar nutrient profile but with fewer calories and about 38% less fat.
Meanwhile, fat-free sour cream is made with skim milk and additives like food starch and gums so that it maintains a creamy consistency. Its lack of fat reduces the calorie count by about 60% compared with regular, though it may have slightly more carbs depending on the brand.
Because sour cream is primarily a garnish, it isn’t typically eaten in the same volume as other dairy products like yogurt or milk.
Plus, since other dairy products are made with all milk components — not just the cream — they provide significantly more protein, carbs, vitamins, and minerals than regular sour cream.
Sour cream isn’t a significant source of nutrients in most diets, as it’s eaten in such small quantities. Regular sour cream is fairly high in fat and calories.
Potential health benefits of sour cream
Although you shouldn’t rely on sour cream as a primary source of nutrients, it may still support your health in several ways.
May promote absorption of fat-soluble vitamins
Certain vitamins require a source of fat to be absorbed most effectively in your digestive tract. Known collectively as fat-soluble vitamins, they include vitamins A, D, E, and K. Deficiencies in these vitamins are associated with diseases like diabetes, cancer, and immune disorders.
Fat-soluble vitamins are found in a variety of healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, but not all of them provide fat on their own. Thus, eating them with a source of fat may enhance your body’s absorption.
Regular sour cream is primarily composed of fat.
Some varieties contain probiotics
Probiotics are live microbes that provide various health benefits, such as improved digestion and immune function, when consumed.
Sour cream is traditionally made by fermenting dairy cream with lactic acid bacteria, which are one of the most common probiotics in food production. Thus, certain types of sour cream may offer probiotic benefits.
Yet, most commercial sour cream is pasteurized to lower the risk of food poisoning, meaning that any live bacteria are destroyed before they make it into the final product.
However, some brands, such as Nancy’s, add these microorganisms back into their sour cream after pasteurization so that you can still reap probiotic benefits. You can also try fermenting your own sour cream at home.
Low in carbs
Although nothing is inherently wrong with carbs, low carb diets are quite popular. Thus, many people may be pleased to know that regular sour cream is compliant with a variety of low carb diets, including keto and Atkins.
Sour cream may help your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins, and some types harbor probiotics to boost your digestion and immune health.
Potential downsides of sour cream
Bear in mind that sour cream has its fair share of drawbacks.
High in saturated fat
Saturated fat is the predominant fat in sour cream. In fact, about half of the calories in regular sour cream come from saturated fat.
Excess intake of saturated fat may cause some people to produce more LDL (bad) cholesterol. If these levels become too high, your risk of heart disease may increase over time.
Moreover, evidence suggests that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated ones from foods like nuts, seeds, olives, and fish may reduce your risk of heart disease.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting your intake of saturated fat to 5–6% of your daily calories, or about 11–13 grams for someone who follows a 2,000-calorie diet.
There’s plenty of room within these guidelines to eat sour cream, but it’s still a good idea to limit your intake and vary the sources and types of fat in your diet.
Not appropriate for all diets
Since sour cream is made from cow’s milk, it doesn’t work for all diets. You should avoid it if you have an allergy to cow’s milk or intolerance to lactose, the sugar found in milk.
Moreover, sour cream is inappropriate for anyone following a vegan or dairy-free diet.
Sour cream is high in saturated fat and should only be eaten in moderation. It’s not suitable for anyone following a dairy-free diet.
Can it affect your weight?
When eaten in moderation, sour cream is unlikely to have any major effects on your body weight and may even boost weight loss. Yet, excessive amounts may do the opposite.
Evidence indicates that routine dairy intake may promote weight loss. A 2016 review of 27 studies associated 2–4 daily servings of dairy as part of a calorie-restricted diet with greater total weight and fat loss than diets with little or no dairy.
Moreover, fats — such as those found in sour cream — help slow stomach emptying, which may make you feel full and more satisfied at mealtimes. In turn, this may lead you to eat fewer calories.
Keep in mind that overconsuming any food — sour cream or otherwise — may result in weight gain. If your sour cream habit is consistently causing you to ingest more calories than you burn each day, weight gain is entirely possible. Because sour cream is a calorie-dense food, it may be easy to eat too much.
When eaten in moderation, sour cream is unlikely to make you gain weight. While dairy intake is tied to weight loss, keep in mind that sour cream is high in calories.
Should you eat it?
At the end of the day, it’s up to you whether to include sour cream in your diet. Although it’s perfectly healthy, eating too much may be detrimental.
Moderate sour cream intake isn’t bad for you. In some cases, it may even help you eat more nutrient-dense foods like veggies and legumes. For instance, you might use sour cream as a base for a veggie dip or add a dollop to a plate of black bean and veggie nachos.
Conversely, if you find yourself eating sour cream often or in large servings, you may be exceeding your target calorie intake. If this is the case, it may not be the best choice for you.
Sour cream is generally healthy but best consumed in moderation. You should consider it an occasional garnish or topping.
The bottom line
Sour cream is a rich, tangy condiment made from fermented cream. It contains several important nutrients, but because it’s primarily a garnish, you don’t get many nutrients in a single serving.
This dairy product may boost your absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and some types even pack probiotics. Nonetheless, it’s high in saturated fat and calories.
You can include it as part of a balanced diet, but be sure to eat it in moderation alongside a variety of whole foods to support optimal health.
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