Cream Cheese: Is It REALLY Healthy? Good, bad, or fattening…

Last Updated on April 22, 2023 by Aaron

One food item that seems to spark a lot of curiosity is cream cheese. Is cream cheese healthy? How does it compare to other spreads like butter, other cheeses, and even peanut butter?

In this in-depth article, we will explore the nutritional profile of cream cheese, discuss its pros and cons, and compare it to popular alternatives. Let’s dive in!

Cream Cheese: A Nutritional Overview

Cream cheese is a soft, spreadable cheese made from cow’s milk and cream. It’s a popular ingredient in many dishes, from bagel spreads to cheesecakes. However, its popularity does not necessarily mean it’s a healthy option.

In the United States, cream cheese must contain at least 33% milkfat and not more than 55% moisture. The high-fat content is mainly what gives it that rich, velvety texture we all know and love.

Let’s look at the nutritional content of a standard 2-tablespoon serving size (1 ounce or 28 grams) of cream cheese from USDA (1):

  • Calories: 99 kcal
  • Fat: 9.8 grams (15% Daily Value)
  • Saturated Fat: 5.7 grams (30% Daily Value)
  • Cholesterol: 28.6 milligrams (10% Daily Value)
  • Sodium: 89 milligrams
  • Carbohydrates: 1.6 grams
  • Protein: 1.7 grams

As we can see, cream cheese is relatively high in calories, fat (particularly saturated fat), and cholesterol. This might raise some red flags for health-conscious individuals. However, it’s essential to remember that moderation is key, and including cream cheese in your diet occasionally may not be harmful.

Lactose1 gram
Calcium27.5 grams
Phosphorus30.3 mg
Potassium37.4 mg
Vitamin C0 mg
Vitamin A315 IU (6% Daily Value)

The pros:

  1. Good source of calcium: Cream cheese contains calcium, which is essential for strong bones and teeth.
  2. A wide range of crucial vitamins (A, B6, B12, and K): These vitamins help support a healthy immune system and energy metabolism.
  3. Help in weight loss: Cream cheese is packed with nutrients, and some evidence suggested that dairy might actually help in reducing body fat and increasing lean muscle (2), and boosting overall health. While high fat will make you feel fuller for longer, moderation is the key here.
  4. Low in lactose: individuals with IBS will be able to enjoy cream cheese in moderation, read more.
  5. Antioxidants and probiotic effect (6)

The cons:

  1. High in saturated fat: Cream cheese is high in saturated fat, which, when consumed in excess, can increase the risk of heart disease. You might want to consider switching to the ‘lite’ version or Neufchatel with ⅓ less fat.
  2. Low in protein: Compared to other cheese varieties, cream cheese is relatively low in protein, which is essential for muscle growth and repair. For example, the same serving of parmesan cheese contains about 6 times more protein at around 10 grams.

There are different types of cream cheese on the market, some of which are healthier options:

  1. Reduced-fat cream cheese: This version has fewer calories and less fat than regular cream cheese. It’s a good option if you want to cut back on fat and calories but still enjoy the taste of cream cheese.
  2. Fat-free cream cheese: This type of cream cheese has even fewer calories and no fat. However, it might have added sugars and artificial ingredients to make up for the lost flavor and texture, so be sure to check the label.
  3. Whipped cream cheese: This one is lighter and fluffier than regular cream cheese, with fewer calories and less fat per serving. However, it’s not as dense, so you might end up using more of it to get the same level of creaminess.
  4. Neufchâtel cheese: Often found near the cream cheese in grocery stores, Neufchâtel cheese has a similar taste and texture but contains less fat and calories. It’s a great alternative if you’re looking for something a little healthier. we discussed more in the cream cheese vs Neufchatel article.

So, while regular cream cheese might not be the healthiest option, there are alternatives out there that can fit better into a balanced diet. It’s all about making conscious choices and knowing what you’re putting into your body.

Alternatively, try plant-based cream cheese like Kite Hill or Miyoko’s, which features no cholesterol.

Now that we have a better understanding of cream cheese’s nutritional profile, let’s compare it to some popular alternatives: butter, other cheeses, and peanut butter.

Cream Cheese vs. Butter

Butter is a dairy product made by churning cream, and it’s a popular spread and cooking ingredient. Comparing the two, cream cheese contains fewer calories, less fat, and less saturated fat than butter. While both are not the healthiest choices, cream cheese is a slightly healthier option if you’re trying to cut back on calories and saturated fat, read the full comparison.

Cream Cheese vs. Peanut Butter

Peanut butter, made from ground peanuts, offers several nutritional benefits, including a higher protein content and healthier unsaturated “good fats” (3). While peanut butter has more calories than cream cheese, its nutritional profile makes it a healthier option overall. Choosing a natural peanut butter without added sugars or hydrogenated oils can further enhance its health benefits.

Research Findings: What do Studies Say?

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2016) found that consuming dairy products, including cream cheese, in moderation does not significantly increase the risk of heart disease (4). However, it’s essential to note that this research does not mean that cream cheese is a heart-healthy option, but rather that moderate consumption is unlikely to cause harm.

In contrast, a study published in the Journal of Nutrition (2019) demonstrated that replacing saturated fats, like those found in cream cheese, with polyunsaturated fats, like those in peanut butter, can help reduce the risk of heart disease (5). This further supports the idea that choosing healthier alternatives to cream cheese can benefit overall health.

In verdict

So, is cream cheese healthy? While cream cheese may not be the healthiest option, occasional consumption in moderation is unlikely to harm your health.

However, there are healthier alternatives, such as reduced-fat cheese and natural peanut butter, which can provide a similar taste and texture with added nutritional benefits. Mozzarella for example has about 18% lower calories and 51% lesser cholesterol.

Remember that a balanced and diverse diet, combined with regular exercise, is the key to maintaining good health.

Would you like to know which brands of cream cheese are healthier than our classic Philly? read this article.

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