Sour cream is a common part of modern diets and an ingredient for making food taste good. Yet, we’re often told to avoid it. That recommendation is mostly based on the fat content.
But, is sour cream healthy?
The simple answer is, yes. Despite claims to the contrary, sour cream is a good addition to a healthy diet.
It is a key source of beneficial fats and contains many nutrients as well. In fact, sour cream can even play a role in weight loss. It also simply makes food that much more interesting.
In this article, we take a look at what sour cream actually is, along with its nutritional profile and health benefits. We also talk about how you can use sour cream to create some amazing meals.
What is Sour Cream?
The name sour cream is actually a very good description. Sour cream is produced by adding specific types of bacteria to cream. These bacteria produce lactic acid (1). The end result is a thick product with a slight tartness.
The use of bacteria isn’t a bad thing. We do the same with many other fermented foods.
In the United States, sour cream needs to contain at least 18% butterfat to be called sour cream. But, the percentage will vary between brands.
Many commercial products add other ingredients, including salt, flavoring agents, gelatin and sodium citrate. Some companies produce lighter versions as well, often made with either half-and-half or non-fat milk.
Sour Cream Nutrition Facts
The table below shows the key nutrients for one cup of sour cream (2).
Nutrition Facts: 1 cup sour Cream (230 grams)
1325 IU (26% DV)
253 mg (25% DV)
265 mg (26% DV)
0.4 mg (23% DV)
0.6 mcg (11% DV)
As the table shows, the most significant nutrients present are calcium, phosphorus, vitamin A and riboflavin. Sour cream also contains some protein and vitamin B12.
However, the precise details will vary a little depending on the product you choose. Low fat sour cream will also have a significantly different profile.
Sour Cream Health Benefits
Sour cream has many advantages, including its great taste and nutritional profile. It can also promote health in various ways.
It is a Source of Healthy Fats
Many people feel that sour cream is unhealthy simply because of its fat. That’s why you see low fat versions, along with lists of sour cream substitutions.
But, fat isn’t inherently unhealthy. It is simply a source of energy. As the site Precision Nutrition explains, relatively unprocessed fats offer many different benefits. This includes supporting heart health, improving body composition and fighting depression.
The same is true for saturated fat. Sour cream is roughly 50% saturated fat (3), which concerns some people. But, there are many reasons to eat more saturated fat, as Dr. Mercola explains. Research shows dietary levels of saturated fat can be beneficial, rather than putting your health at risk.
Fats are also more satisfying than carbs. Meals that are high in fat tend to keep you full for longer periods of time. They also reduce cravings and the desire to snack.
Eating more fat may also lead to fat burning. This is a key reason why the keto diet is so popular. Other diet types, like paleo, tend to heavily rely on healthy fats as well.
- Keto diet research shows that high fat diets can be as effective as regular diets for weight loss. Some studies even suggest that high fat is more powerful.
- Observational research indicates that high dairy fat intake contributes to a lower risk of obesity and decreased heart disease risk (4,5,6). This also suggests that full fat sour cream is healthier than reduced fat versions.
Contains Many Nutrients
As the tables from earlier showed, sour cream contains various nutrients. The following examples are particularly relevant for health.
- Vitamin A. Vitamin A is significant for eye health and is an antioxidant (7,8). While vitamin A is common, animal sources (like sour cream) are considered superior, as the vitamin is pre-formed.
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2). Riboflavin is involved in energy production and in metabolism processes. It is an antioxidant as well, helping to promote health in that way (9,10,11).
- Phosphorous. Phosphorous is significant for bone and dental health. These effects involve an interaction with calcium, making both compounds critical (12,13).
- Vitamin B12. This vitamin mostly comes from animal sources and sour cream is one way to get it. Vitamin B12 deficiency has many side effects and people often don’t realize they’re deficient. Vitamin B12 also offers various benefits, as the site Self Hacked explains.
- Calcium. Like other dairy products, sour cream is a good source of calcium. This may help to promote bone and dental health (14,15). Calcium deficiency is also a significant problem (16), which is a key reason for consuming it regularly.
Sour cream can’t be your only source for these nutrients. A cup of sour cream only offers around 25% of your recommended daily intake for many of them. You’ll often be consuming much less than that per serving.
Even so, the components do add up. Whole foods like sour cream are the most powerful way to get the nutrients that you need.
Sour Cream Tastes Good
Okay, this one is obvious. Sour cream simply tastes great. This is one reason that people love sour cream so much.
The combination of flavor and texture is just present in the full fat versions. Most people find that low fat sour cream is watery and simply isn’t appealing.
Sour cream also makes meals taste better. Just adding sour cream is often enough to create a dish that is richer, creamier and more satisfying than it was before.
It is Versatile
Sour cream is incredibly easy to use. It is a common way to thicken recipes, making them taste better and be more substantial.
You’ll often see sour cream added on top of meals as well. This works particularly well for dishes that are very meaty or have an intense flavor.
Sour cream can also be a great base for sauces and dips. It already has the thickness that you need and a relatively mild flavor. This also allows you to make your own dips, rather than relying on processed alternatives.
It’s a Simple Method of Adding Fat
The high fat content of sour cream can be a good thing. It makes sour cream perfect for making meals more satisfying and providing a source of fat.
For example, salads can be great for health, giving you the chance to use ingredients like kale. But, salads tend to contain little or no fat. This can make nutrient absorption more difficult, as some nutrients are fat soluble.
The lack of fat also makes salads less satisfying. Using sour cream as part of a salad dressing is an easy solution to the problem. A similar idea applies to other types of meals as well.
Works for Many Different Diets
Sour cream is a good choice for many different people and situations, including anyone on a keto diet.
- Most types of full fat dairy work well on a keto diet, including ricotta cheese, butter, ghee and some types of yogurt. The same is true for sour cream.
- Most brands contain relatively few carbs, especially if your serving size is small.
- For example, the full fat sour cream from Organic Valley contains 2 grams of carbs per serving (the serving size is 2 tbsp.).
- You still need to be careful with large quantities of sour cream. Even so, you don’t need much to create an amazing-tasting meal.
Sour cream is also perfect for a weight loss diet. It can be a powerful way to make food more appealing and satisfying, without adding an excessive number of calories. It can also make your choices feel less restrictive. That aspect is critical for long-term weight loss success.
However, you will need to avoid sour cream if you’re vegan, lactose-intolerant or on a paleo diet.
Sour Cream Uses
Most of us associate sour cream with baked potatoes and butter. This is a particularly good way to use sour cream but there are many other options as well.
- Soups. Sour cream is often used to make soups creamier. It isn’t normally the main ingredient, but it does make the soups taste amazing. Two examples are Cold Zucchini Soup from The Spruce and Chicken Soup with Garlic and Sour Cream from My Gorgeous Recipes.
- Dips. Sour cream is perfect for dips. The Weary Chef offers an Easy Mexican Sour Cream Dip to try out, Good Cheap Eats has a simple Sour Cream and Dill Dip recipe.
- Salad Dressings. Sour cream salad dressings can be simple or more complex. The Homemade Ranch Salad Dressing from Barefeet in the Kitchen is one example, while the Creamy Avocado Dressing from Simply Delicious is another.
- Pasta. Countless pasta recipes use sour cream in their sauces, including Pasta with Buttered Sour Cream and Bacon from Framed Cooks and Lemon Garlic Sour Cream Pasta from The Cook Report.
- Baking and Dessert. Sour cream does something amazing to the texture of baking and desserts. The Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Crumb Cake from Sally’s Baking Addiction is one example, while the Sour Cream Marbled Brownies from Kitchen Simmer are another.
Some other recipes to try are the following:
- Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas – from Centsless Meals
- Sour Cream Banana Bread – from Reluctant Entertainer
- Low Carb Sour Cream Beef Bake – from This Gal Cooks
- Easy Sour Cream Baked Salmon – from Inspired Taste
- Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Doughnuts – from Handle the Heat
- No Fail, Sour Cream Pie Crust – from Simply Recipes
- Blueberry Sour Cream Pancakes – from Cooking Classy
You don’t need to rely on recipes that use sour cream either. You can often just add it in, even if the recipe doesn’t call for it. The Balance offers a list of approaches that you can take, like using sour cream in baking, soups and in salads.
Sour Cream vs Yogurt
Plain yogurt is a common substitute for sour cream. Yogurt and sour cream can be used in most of the same recipes, although adjustments are sometimes needed.
The best option is whole milk Greek yogurt. This is the closest to sour cream in texture and in flavor. An article at The Kitchn offers additional details about how to use yogurt instead of sour cream.
The substitution can make sense in some situations.
- Sour cream tends to be higher in fat and calories. This is why choosing yogurt instead is such a common weight loss technique. But, fat isn’t inherently bad for weight loss.
- Greek yogurt is typically higher in protein as well, which can make recipes more satisfying.
- There are flavor differences and yogurt is often tarter. That aspect may make yogurt unsuitable for some situations, especially if you’re using Greek yogurt.
Sour cream and yogurt are both healthy and have their own benefits. The best choice is likely to depend on what you’re making, along with the flavors that you prefer. There are also many other substitutions (The Spruce has a great list) that can be relevant in different situations.
But, don’t rely on yogurt just because it is lower in fat. Focusing on low-fat products rarely helps with weight loss. Doing so may even contribute to weight gain.
Choosing the Healthiest Sour Cream
Of course, the health value of sour cream will depend on the product you choose. Some general rules to consider are as follows:
- The fewer ingredients, the better. Sour cream tends to be processed. But, some brands will do this more than others. Look for shorter ingredients lists and products with fewer additives.
- Choose full fat. Many of the benefits of sour cream come from the fat content. Plus, low fat versions often have more additives and may have extra sugar. They don’t taste as good either.
- Consider organic. Organic products aren’t always healthier. But, they are often higher quality, with a greater focus on healthy ingredients. For example, Organic Valley Sour Cream uses few ingredients, along with milk from pasture-raised cows.
- Look for grass-fed products. Milk from grass-fed cows tends to have a better balance of fats. This should make the sour cream higher quality as well.
- Pay attention to brands. Some companies are more reliable than others. The best options will often produce many good products. So, once you find them, you’re all set.
The next step is just trial and error. People tend to enjoy different flavor profiles and textures. It may take you multiple tries to find a sour cream product that tastes exactly right to you.
Making Your Own
You can also make your own sour cream. The process is surprisingly easy and the video below steps you through it.
Sour cream is often considered unhealthy, but that’s simply not true. Instead, it offers many health benefits.
More than that, sour cream is a powerful whole food, one that can be used in many different recipes. It tastes great too and you can even make it yourself.
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