What Is Sour Cream and Is It Healthy?

  • Medical Reviewer: Mahammad Juber, MD
Medically Reviewed on 10/4/2022

What is sour cream?

Sour cream is pasteurized cream fermented with lactic acid bacteria. Sour cream contains many vitamins and minerals, but you should limit your consumption because it is high in fat and calories.
Sour cream is pasteurized cream fermented with lactic acid bacteria. Sour cream contains many vitamins and minerals, but you should limit your consumption because it is high in fat and calories.

Sour cream is a popular ingredient in dips and sauces. It adds a tangy richness to sweet and savory recipes. There are pros and cons to eating sour cream, but overall, it can be part of a healthy diet

Sour cream is pasteurized cream fermented with lactic acid bacteria. The cream contains butterfat separated from milk, so it has a high fat content. Cream usually is liquid, but the added bacteria produce lactic acid, which "sours" the cream, makes the proteins glob together, and thickens the cream. It also adds a tangy flavor. 

In the United States, dairy companies also make low-fat and nonfat versions of sour cream. Manufacturers remove most of the fat from these products, so they add gums and starches to help thicken it. These additives also help keep the whey from separating. 

Sour cream is different from yogurt or crème fraîche. Yogurt is made by fermenting milk rather than cream. Traditional crème fraîche is fermented unpasteurized cream with a higher fat content.

Types of sour cream

You can find a few types of sour cream based on the fat content. These include:

  • Full fat: 18 percent fat
  • Reduced fat: 13.5 percent fat
  • Light: 9 percent fat
  • Low fat: 6 percent fat
  • Nonfat or fat-free: less than 1 percent fat

Low-fat sour cream has about the same fat as light cream, so you can substitute sour cream for light cream in baking. 

You can also use sour cream as an ingredient in salad dressings, dips, vegetable salads, and as a condiment for nachos, baked potatoes, and more. You can add it to sauces, but it can curdle with heat and may need a stabilizer. It does well in baked goods, though, so you can add it to cheesecakes and pastries. Keep sour cream in the fridge and use it within three weeks of the sell-by date. 

Is sour cream healthy?

Milk, yogurt, and cheese can be an easy way to get the vitamins and protein you need in your diet. While sour cream can be part of a healthy diet, you might want to eat it in moderation. 

Sour cream nutrition facts

Sour cream contains many vitamins and minerals, but not in substantial amounts. One tablespoon, or 12 grams, of full-fat sour cream contains:

  • Calories: 24 
  • Protein: 0.3 grams
  • Fats: 2 grams
    • Saturated fats: 1.2 grams
  • Calcium: 12 milligrams or 1 percent of the daily value
  • Potassium: 15 milligrams or 0.3 percent of the daily value
  • Phosphorus: 9 milligrams or 0.7 percent of the daily value
  • Magnesium: 1 milligram or 0.2 percent of the daily value

A daily value of 5 percent is a little, and 20 percent is a lot. This means one tablespoon of sour cream is high in calories and fats but low in vitamins and minerals. You typically don’t eat very much sour cream, but large servings could exceed your ideal calorie intake. 

Some types have probiotics

Probiotics are friendly bacteria found in supplements or fermented foods like yogurt that promote healthy digestion. In the United States, sour cream is re-pasteurized after bacteria is added. This last step kills bacteria that could cause foodborne illness but also inactivates these beneficial bacteria cultures. Usually, regular sour cream won’t help your gut the same way yogurt can.

But some brands add bacteria cultures back in after the last round of pasteurization. If you can find these products, they might help promote a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut. 

Not necessary for bone health

Milk, cottage cheese, yogurt, and cheese contain substantial amounts of calcium, magnesium, and added vitamin D. Eating these foods regularly can be a way to get the vitamins you need for strong, healthy bones. 

Sour cream has some of these vitamins, but it doesn’t provide the same amounts as milk. A better source of these vitamins might be low-fat milk, yogurt, or leafy green vegetables and nuts. 

High fat increases heart disease risk

Fat in food is vital for your health. It gives you energy, helps keep you warm, and helps your cells work properly, but too much bad fat can lead to health problems. A diet high in saturated fats can raise cholesterol levels and increase your risk of heart disease. These fats are solid at room temperature and are found in meat, dairy products, and certain vegetable oils. 

There’s a lot of debate about dairy products and saturated fats, but experts still recommend that you eat less than 7 percent of your daily calories in saturated fats. They also advise you to replace saturated fats with healthier fats, like olive, sunflower, or safflower oil. 

Sour cream is high in saturated fats, so limiting your intake and focusing on healthy options is best. If you only have 1 or 2 tablespoons of full-fat sour cream as an occasional garnish, it’s probably not a big concern, though. Alternatively, you could switch to light, low-fat, or fat-free versions.  

Sour cream can help you eat more vegetables

Vegetables and legumes are rich in fiber, vitamins, and nutrients and are an essential part of your diet. If you struggle to eat the recommended amount, sour cream might be one way to help you eat more. For example, you can make a sour cream veggie dip or add a spoonful to your beans and nachos.  

Lactose can cause an upset stomach

The fermentation process helps lower the amount of lactose in dairy products, but sour cream can still have some. Eating sour cream could cause digestive problems if you're sensitive to lactose. You could eat a lactose-free version or add lactose enzyme drops, though. If you’re allergic to milk, you’ll want to avoid sour cream. 

Should you eat sour cream?

Overall, dairy products are an easy way for some people to get vitamins and nutrients. Sour cream doesn’t provide the same nutritional value and is high in fat and calories. Still, it’s a tasty garnish and healthy food. There’s probably room in your diet for a tablespoon or two of sour cream, especially if you limit your overall intake of saturated fats. 


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Medically Reviewed on 10/4/2022

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