Cream cheese and butter are two of America's favorite spreads, but how do the calories in butter stack up against cream cheese calories? Are they similar or is it more beneficial to swap out one for the other when you're watching your calorie intake?
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Butter has double the calories of regular cream cheese and almost three times as many calories as whipped cream cheese, which has more air in it. But even though cream cheese and butter are pretty calorie-dense, that doesn't mean they can't be part of a healthy diet.
Butter has twice as many calories as regular cream cheese. One tablespoon of butter adds 102 calories to a meal, while the same amount of cream cheese only contributes 51 calories.
Butter and Cream Cheese Calories
One tablespoon of regular, salted butter contains 102 calories. A tablespoon of cream cheese has exactly half of that — 51 calories. If you choose whipped cream cheese, which is less dense because it has air incorporated into it, those calories drop to 35 per tablespoon. Butter has significantly more calories than cream cheese because butter has a much higher concentration of fat, which provides 9 calories per gram.
The same tablespoon of butter has 11.5 grams of total fat, while cream cheese only has 5 grams of fat per tablespoon. Because of that, it might not just be the calories in butter or cream cheese that you're concerned with. You also need to consider the health of those fats.
Read more: 9 Delicious Recipes Made With Healthy Fats
Cream Cheese vs. Butter Fat
For many years, dairy fat, which is largely in the form of saturated fat, has been vilified as an unhealthy fat that you should avoid at all costs. There have been persistent recommendations to choose low-fat dairy options, like reduced-fat cream cheese or margarine, over full-fat versions, but researchers have prompted some experts to rescind these recommendations.
A June 2016 review that was published in PLOS One looked at research from 636,151 unique participants in different studies over the years and found only a neutral or very small association between butter and increased risk of heart disease, diabetes or death from any cause. Because of this, the researchers concluded that there's no real need to recommend that people avoid butter in their diets.
Another study that was published in the Journal of Nutrition in January 2016 looked at how consumption of different types of dairy products contributed to metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of health conditions that affect about one-third of adults in the United States, according to the Mayo Clinic. The conditions associated with metabolic syndrome include:
- High blood pressure
- High blood sugar
- Excess body fat around the waist (visceral fat)
- High cholesterol levels
- High triglyceride levels
The researchers from the study found that consuming full-fat dairy products, like regular cream cheese and butter, was inversely associated with developing metabolic syndrome. In other words, full-fat dairy products were not associated with a higher risk of developing the health conditions. It's too early to tell if full-fat dairy directly reduces your risk of metabolic syndrome, but — based on the current research — it at least doesn't seem to up your risk.
Of course, while full-fat dairy products can be part of a healthy diet, you don't want to go overboard and eat a bagel with cream cheese every morning. You can incorporate butter and cream cheese into your diet in a healthy way by focusing mainly on lean proteins and vegetables, with a small amount of added fat.
- Journal of Nutrition: "Total and Full-Fat, but Not Low-Fat, Dairy Product Intakes Are Inversely Associated With Metabolic Syndrome in Adults"
- PLOS One: "Is Butter Back? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Butter Consumption and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes, and Total Mortality"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Cheese, Cream"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Butter, Salted"
- Mayo Clinic: "Metabolic Syndrome"