When the homemade pumpkin pie makes an appearance at the holiday table, a bowl of whipped heavy cream is never far behind. Heavy cream provides a sweet topping for desserts and a thickening agent for soups and sauces, but its high fat content also adds extra calories to your meal. If your recipe calls for heavy cream, you can shave a few calories and fat grams from your dish by using a lighter substitute.
Nutrition of Heavy Cream
One tablespoon of heavy cream contains 52 calories and 5 grams of fat. Most of the fat in heavy cream comes from saturated fat, the unhealthy fat that contributes to high cholesterol. The 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that all adults limit their saturated fat intake to no more than 10 percent of their total daily calories, which equals less than 22 grams of saturated fat a day for an average 2,000-calorie diet. One tablespoon of heavy cream provides 4 grams of saturated fat, or 18 percent of this recommended daily limit.
Light cream provides 29 calories and 2 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon, less than half the fat and calories in one serving of heavy cream. For a leaner option, fat-free half and half contains only 9 calories per tablespoon and gives a boost of calcium to your dish. Made from skim milk, fat-free half and half provides 254 milligrams of calcium per cup, compared to 78 milligrams in 1 cup of heavy cream. The Institute of Medicine recommends that women consume 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day to promote healthy bones and prevent osteoporosis, a damaging age-related bone loss that increases the risk of bone fractures.
The reigning champion of high-calcium foods, milk is a convenient and healthy substitute for heavy cream. Whole milk and 2 percent milk are high in fat, so stick to 1 percent or skim milk options. One cup of skim milk provides 83 calories, less than the calories in 2 tablespoons of heavy cream. Milk also provides 300 milligrams of calcium and a dose of vitamin D, the nutrient needed to absorb calcium. If you substitute milk for heavy cream in a soup recipe, keep your soup hot but not boiling to avoid curdling. If you need the thick texture of heavy cream in your dish, substitute evaporated fat-free milk mixed with a tablespoon of flour.
Rich and creamy Greek yogurt makes an excellent substitute for heavy cream for uncooked dishes or recipes that add cream at the end of the cooking process. Greek yogurt has a thicker texture and more protein per cup than regular yogurt, because it does not contain the liquid milk whey. Eliminate the heavy cream in your pumpkin or squash soup recipe and add a scoop of plain Greek yogurt to your bowl when you're ready to eat. You can also skip the cream entirely by thickening soups and sauces with pureed vegetables. If you need a sweet topping for your healthy dessert, one tablespoon of fat-free whipped topping contains only 6 calories.
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Cream, Fluid, Heavy Whipping Cream
- Mayo Clinic: Healthy Diet: Do You Follow Dietary Guidelines?
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Cream, Fluid, Light (Coffee Cream or Table Cream)
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Cream, Half and Half, Fat Free
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Milk, Nonfat, Fluid, With Added Vitamin A and Vitamin D (Fat Free or Skim)
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Yogurt, Greek, Plain, Nonfat
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin A
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: ReddiWip Fat Free Whipped Topping
- West Virginia University: Adjusting Recipes for Healthier Living
Jennifer Dlugos is a Boston-based writer with more than 10 years of experience in the health-care and wellness industries. She is also an award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter who teaches screenwriting and film production classes throughout New England. Dlugos holds a master's degree in dietetics.