Is Sour Cream Good for You?

When was the last time you had sour cream? Creamy and tasty, this treat is off limits for many dieters. It makes an excellent addition to baked potatoes, homemade ice cream, soup, salad dressings and even smoothies. This may come up as a surprise, but there's a lot of calcium and protein and very few carbs in sour cream, so go ahead and enjoy it without the guilt.

Rich in vitamin A, calcium and other nutrients, sour cream may improve eye, bone and brain health. (Image: YelenaYemchuk/iStock/GettyImages)

Sour Cream Nutrition Facts

Sauces, dips and cakes wouldn't taste the same without sour cream. This savory ingredient can turn any meal into a feast. But did you know that it's good for your health too? Rich in vitamin A, vitamin E, calcium, phosphorus and selenium, sour cream has its place in a balanced diet.

This food is made by fermenting cream with lactic acid bacteria, such as B. bifidus and L. lactus. Yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and other fermented foods contain live cultures too. Although these microorganisms are destroyed during processing, some brands of sour cream preserve their probiotic qualities. Sour cream's calories and nutritional value depend on the brand and fat content. In general, one cup provides:

  • 444 calories
  • 8.1 grams of carbs
  • 4.8 grams of protein
  • 45.4 grams of fat
  • 25 percent of the RDA of calcium
  • 26 percent of the RDA of phosphorus
  • 9 percent of the RDA of selenium
  • 9 percent of the RDA of potassium
  • 6 percent of the RDA of magnesium
  • 23 percent of the RDA of riboflavin
  • 26 percent of the RDA of vitamin A
  • 11 percent of the RDA of vitamin B12

Light varieties have as little as 24 grams of fat and 313 calories per cup. Their carb content, though, tends to be higher. You can also opt for fat-free sour cream, which has only 170 calories per cup. The downside is that you'll get 36 grams of carbs.

Is Sour Cream Fattening?

When consumed in moderation, sour cream is unlikely to cause weight gain. In fact, if you're on a low-carb or ketogenic diet, it might help you lose the extra pounds. According to a 2015 meta-analysis published in Obesity Reviews, high-fat, low-carb diets, such as the ketogenic diet, may suppress appetite and reduce the desire to eat.

A recent study, which appeared in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2018, suggests that ketogenic diets may reduce total fat mass and visceral fat without affecting lean mass when combined with strength training. This approach, though, doesn't help with muscle growth. Researchers point out that maintaining an adequate protein and carb intake in conjunction with a caloric surplus is more effective for building lean mass.

Furthermore, both low-carb and low-fat diets have been shown to promote weight loss. The key is to actually stick to your diet and change your eating habits. Sour cream won't make you put on weight as long as it fits your calorie needs. Plus, you can always opt for fat-free or light versions, which are less nutrient-dense.

Sour Cream Benefits for Health

Sour cream is a good source of calcium, phosphorus, vitamin B12 and other essential nutrients that support overall health. Vitamin B12, which occurs only in animal foods (and fortified plant-based foods), contributes to DNA synthesis and helps your body produce red blood cells. It also plays a crucial role in brain function.

A 2017 review published in the journal Maturitas indicates a strong link between depression and low levels of B-complex vitamins, including B1, B2, B6 and B12. These nutrients may improve depression outcomes and protect against psychotic disorders. Sour cream provides decent amounts of B vitamins and may contribute to brain health.

Rich in calcium and phosphorus, this dairy food promotes strong bones and teeth. As MedlinePlus notes, phosphorus is the second most abundant mineral in the human body. It supports bone formation, energy production and protein synthesis. Calcium has a protective effect on the bones too and may help prevent osteoporosis and fractures.

Prevent Vitamin B12 Deficiency

One of the most important health benefits of sour cream lies in its high vitamin B12 levels. It's estimated that 21 to 85 percent of vegetarians are deficient in this nutrient. In some countries, up to 61 percent of people don't get enough vitamin B12 in their diet.

Your body needs this water-soluble vitamin to metabolize protein, enzymes and other nutrients. Low vitamin B12 levels may contribute to anemia, neurological problems, diabetes and gastric cancer. Poor appetite, fatigue, constipation, depression and nervous system damage are all common symptoms.

This nutrient occurs naturally in meat, fish, dairy and eggs. Therefore, vegans and vegetarians are more likely to develop deficiencies. If you're a vegetarian or you simply prefer to avoid cheese and fatty meats, sour cream can be a healthy choice. Another option is to include fortified grains, orange juice and soy foods in your diet, but these products are often heavily processed or high in refined carbs.

Keep Your Eyes Healthy

Vitamins A and E, two key nutrients in sour cream, promote eye health. According to the journal Nutrition, a diet rich in vitamin A and beta-carotene may protect against cataracts. Vitamin A deficiency has been linked to night blindness, dry skin and eye problems.

The American Optometric Association points out that vitamin E may slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration and boost cellular health. Furthermore, it can delay cataract formation and improve immune function.

Sour cream alone is unlikely to prevent cataracts and age-related eye diseases. However, it's a good source of vitamins A, C, E and other nutrients that protect your eyes from oxidative damage. If you're concerned about its high fat content, choose light versions.

Does Sour Cream Increase Cholesterol?

This popular food has 26.5 grams of saturated fat per cup. That's about 132 percent of the maximum daily recommended intake. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating no more than 13 grams of saturated fat per day on a 2,000-calorie diet. When consumed in large amounts, this nutrient may raise blood cholesterol levels and lead to heart disease.

According to a 2017 study published in the Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism, saturated fat does not increase the risk of stroke and coronary heart disease (CHD). However, replacing it with polyunsaturated fats can significantly lower CHD risk. A meta-analysis featured in the European Journal of Epidemiology in 2017 has found that fermented dairy foods have little or no effect on cardiovascular function and all-cause mortality. In fact, they may help protect against heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

Most studies are conflicting, so it's hard to tell whether or not saturated fat affects your heart. To stay on the safe side, watch your portions and use sour cream in moderation. Better yet, switch to Greek yogurt, which is just as delicious but higher in protein and lower in fat. Alternate between the two to keep your diet varied and prevent nutrient deficiencies.

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