Is Cream Cheese Healthy? Nutrition, Benefits, and Downsides
Cream cheese is a soft cheese with a smooth consistency.
It has a mild taste and is a popular spread for bread, crackers, and bagels.
This article explains everything you need to know about cream cheese, including its nutrition, health benefits, and downsides.
How it’s made
Cream cheese is typically made from cream but can also be made with a combination of cream and milk.
First, the cream is heat-treated by pasteurization to kill any potentially dangerous microorganisms. Then, lactic acid bacteria are introduced, making the cheese mildly acidic.
From there, fat droplets from the cream are broken into smaller and more uniform drops, creating a smooth product.
Additives like carob bean gum and carrageenan thicken the cheese. Finally, a clotting enzyme — derived from either a plant or animal source — is included to improve the firmness.
In the United States, cream cheese must contain at least 33% fat and have less than 55% moisture by weight. However, in some countries, higher fat content may be required.
Cream cheese is made from cream or a combination of cream and milk. It becomes slightly acidic from the addition of lactic acid bacteria.
Many types of cream cheese are available for purchase, including regular, double-cream, whipped, and flavored.
Therefore, its nutritional profile depends on the specific product and brand.
In general, 1 ounce (28 grams) of regular cream cheese provides:
- Calories: 99
- Protein: 2 grams
- Fat: 10 grams
- Carbs: 2 grams
- Fiber: 0 grams
- Vitamin A: 10% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2): 5% of the DV
Cream cheese is high in fat and contains a small amount of carbs and protein. It’s a good source of vitamin A and contributes some riboflavin (vitamin B2).
Whipped cream cheese contains less fat and fewer calories per serving.
Cream cheese is high in fat and a good source of vitamin A and riboflavin.
Aside from being a tasty spread, cream cheese has some health benefits.
Good source of vitamin A
Cream cheese contains a significant amount of vitamin A.
Just 1 ounce (28 grams) contains 87 mg of vitamin A, which is 10% of the DV. This vitamin is fat-soluble and particularly important for your vision.
It also supports your immune system and helps protect the integrity of many tissues, such as your skin, lungs, and intestines.
Cream cheese is a source of several antioxidants that defend your body against unstable molecules called free radicals. When levels of free radicals get too high in your body, it can lead to cellular damage.
Cream cheese contains small amounts of carotenoid antioxidants, including lutein and zeaxanthin, which are especially important for eye health.
May have probiotic effects
Cream cheese is made using a starter culture from lactic acid bacteria.
Some of these strains of bacteria are probiotics, which are friendly bacteria that offer health benefits.
For example, some Lactobacillus species support your immune system by reducing inflammatory response, while other species stimulate your immune system when exposed to infection.
In an 8-week study, mice that ate Lactococcus chungangensis cream cheese showed increased levels of beneficial short-chain fatty acids and an improved bacteria profile in their stools.
Short-chain fatty acids are the main energy source for colon cells. They also reduce inflammation in your body, which may benefit people with certain inflammatory disorders.
These results are promising, but human studies are needed.
Since heating kills probiotics, look for cream cheese with a “live and active cultures” label, which means that the product boasts living probiotics.
Low in lactose
Lactose is a type of sugar found in dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt.
Yet, some people are unable to digest this sugar. This condition is called lactose intolerance, which can cause symptoms like bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
People with this condition should limit or avoid dairy products.
However, research shows that most people with lactose intolerance can tolerate small amounts of up to 12 grams of lactose per meal.
As cream cheese contains less than 2 grams of lactose per ounce (28 grams), people with lactose intolerance may not have trouble with it.
Cream cheese is a great source of vitamin A, low in lactose, and a good source of antioxidants. It may also have probiotic effects.
Despite its health benefits, cream cheese may have some downsides.
Low in protein
Cream cheese contains a small amount of protein, with a typical 1-ounce (28-gram) portion providing less than 2 grams. This is significantly less than many other forms of soft cheese, including brie and goat cheese.
Protein is essential to maintaining muscle mass and strength. It also helps you feel full after meals.
Thus, you should eat plenty of other good sources of protein, such as meat, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, and other dairy foods.
Cream cheese has a relatively short shelf-life.
Factors like processing, packaging, and storage affect how long it stays fresh.
Although pasteurization kills dangerous microorganisms, its high water content still poses a risk of microbial contamination.
In general, cream cheese should be eaten within 2 weeks of opening and kept in the fridge.
To reduce microbial growth, spread it with a clean knife, and always reseal the packaging. Cream cheese should be finished by the expiration date and discarded if you notice an unusual smell or mold.
Cream cheese is low in protein and must be eaten within 2 weeks after opening.
A versatile ingredient
Cream cheese is extremely versatile.
Its creamy texture makes it a popular ingredient in both sweet and savory dishes. While mainly used as a spread on bagels, crackers, and toast, it’s also added to fillings for sandwiches or baked potatoes, as well as creamy sauces.
It can even be paired with smoked salmon as a scrumptious snack or starter.
What’s more, it’s popular for cheesecakes and other desserts like brownies and cookies.
Cream cheese is a popular spread that’s also used in baked goods, such as cheesecakes.
The bottom line
Cream cheese is a versatile dairy spread.
It’s a good source of vitamin A and doesn’t provide much lactose. However, it’s low in protein and high in fat and calories, so it’s best to use it in moderation.
Notably, versions like whipped cream cheese are lower in fat and calories.