Healthy Substitute for Heavy Cream

Heavy cream contains less nutrients and more fat compared to milk beverages. The nature of cream means this product must be fatty — which can be bad for your health when used in excess. Plant-based creamers are often healthy substitutes for heavy cream, as they have less saturated fat.

Coconut is a great healthy substitute for heavy cream. (Image: Anastasia_Stoma/iStock/GettyImages)

Heavy Cream Nutrition Facts

Heavy cream is used in a variety of ways. From soups to sauces to desserts, cream is an essential ingredient in many dishes. As a dairy product, heavy cream is also nutritious. According to the USDA, a 3.5 ounce serving (100 grams) of heavy cream has:

  • 5 percent of the DV for calcium
  • 5 percent of the DV for phosphorus
  • 5 percent of the DV for selenium
  • 46 percent of the DV for vitamin A
  • 14 percent of the DV for riboflavin (vitamin B2)
  • 7 percent of the DV for vitamin B12
  • 10 percent of the DV for vitamin B5
  • 8 percent of the DV for vitamin D
  • 6 percent of the DV for vitamin E

Each 100 gram serving of heavy cream also has 340 calories, 2.8 grams of protein and 2.7 grams of carbohydrates. Heavy cream also has 36.1 grams of fat. Most of this fat (23 grams) is saturated; the remainder comes from healthy, unsaturated fats. The large number of calories and the amount of saturated fat are the most unhealthy aspects of heavy cream.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, most people consuming a standard 2,000 calorie diet shouldn't consume more than 20 grams of saturated fat each day. However, the American Heart Association recommends an amount that's even smaller: just 13 grams per day. By these standards, you shouldn't consume more than 56 grams of heavy cream on a daily basis — and that's assuming you're not ingesting saturated fat from any other foods or beverages.

Dairy-Based Heavy Cream Alternatives

It's possible to use other dairy products as heavy cream alternatives, depending on the recipe. For example, you can use full cream milk or half-and-half in soups to create creamy pasta dishes or sauces. However, you'd struggle to use either of these alternatives to create certain foods, like whipped cream.

Although whole milk is known for being rich in fat compared to other milk beverages, it has just 3.3 grams of fat per 100 grams, according to the USDA. Whole milk has more micronutrients and protein than heavy cream. It also has just 61 calories compared to the same amount of cream, at 340 calories.

Half-and-half is a dairy creamer that is literally a mixture that's half whole milk and half cream. Many people use half-and-half as a healthy substitute for heavy cream. It has many of the same nutrients as both milk and cream, but just 10.4 grams of fat (7 grams are saturated). It also has about half of the calories — 123 calories per 100 grams.

Although half-and-half comes in low-fat and non-fat alternatives, these products often aren't as healthy. Although non-fat half-and-half may seem like a low-calorie substitute for heavy cream, it is also unhealthy, as it is made with corn syrup. According to a June 2015 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, products with corn syrup can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Plant-Based Heavy Cream Alternatives

Many healthy substitutes for heavy cream come from plant-based sources. You can use products like soy, oats and nuts as healthy cream alternatives. For example, in 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of Alpro soy cream, you'd find:

  • 122 calories
  • 4.5 grams of carbohydrates, 0.4 grams which come from fiber
  • 2 grams of protein
  • 10.2 grams of fat, 1.2 grams which are saturated

It's also possible to blend your own soy cream from silken tofu. Thicker creams are easily produced from firmer varieties of tofu or even nuts. While nut creams are difficult to find as pre-made products, they too can be easily made at home with a blender and water.

If you don't like the thought of soy, you can also use oat cream as a healthy cream alternative. In 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of Oatly oat cream, you can find:

  • 146 calories
  • 5.8 grams of carbohydrates, 0.9 grams which come from fiber
  • 0.9 grams of protein
  • 13 grams of fat, 2.9 grams which are saturated

Both of these products have about a third of the fat that heavy cream contains. Additionally, most of the fat in oat and soy cream comes from healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.

The main downside to these plant-based creamers is that most lack the nutrition of dairy products. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the one exception to this are products made with fortified soy milk.

If you're trying to consume a nutrient-rich, healthy cream, you might be best off making your own using fortified soy milk and tofu or nuts. Although this might entail more effort, it would allow you to create thicker creams that can be used in a wider variety of dishes.

Healthy Substitute for Heavy Cream

If you want to use a pre-made, heavy cream alternative, there's only one product that you can reliably obtain from the supermarket: canned coconut milk. It's important that you select canned coconut milk products rather than those sold in refrigerated cartons. Cartons of coconut milk are typically watered down and unsuitable for use as cream.

Canned coconut milk products are often very different from one another. Before purchasing, always look at the nutrition facts because canned coconut milk can have as little as 25 percent coconut or as much as 65 percent coconut.

The percentage of coconut in your coconut milk will determine how watery it is and how much fat is present. A product with 25 percent coconut can have around 6.4 grams of fat per 100 grams, while a product with 65 percent coconut would have about 15 grams of fat per 100 grams.

Most of this fat will be saturated; for example, out of 15 grams of total fat, 12 grams are saturated fat. That said, 12 grams is still less than the American Heart Association-recommended maximum amount of saturated fat.

While the American Heart Association does not recommend consuming large amounts of coconut due to its potentially unhealthy saturated fat content, canned coconut is still a healthier choice compared to heavy cream since it's much lower in fat. It typically also has less carbs and sugars compared to heavy cream.

Unlike half-and-half, whole milk and other plant-based creamers, full-fat coconut milk products can be used as replacements for heavy whipping cream in almost all dishes.

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