Heavy cream is a thick, delicious dairy product that seems to make everything taste better.
Despite its taste, heavy cream has traditionally had a bad reputation due to its high-fat content.
However, is this something to worry about?
In this article, we will take a look at heavy cream’s full nutrition profile and potential health effects.
What Is Heavy Cream?
Firstly, heavy cream is a minimally processed dairy product that comes from milk.
The production process of cream is very simple and involves skimming the high-butterfat top layer from regular milk. Fresh milk that is yet to undergo homogenization naturally has this denser, creamier top layer.
Secondly, there are some key differences between the available creams we can buy. The names of each variety may differ by country too.
To try and make it a bit simpler to understand, the table below shows the available types of cream in the United States and the United Kingdom (1, 2, 3);
|Type of Cream||Butterfat Content (%)|
|Clotted Cream (UK)||55%|
|Double Cream (UK)||48%|
|Heavy Cream (US)||36 – 40%|
|Whipping Cream (UK)||35%|
|Whipping Cream (US)||32 – 36%|
|Light Cream (UK/US)||18 – 30%|
|Half and Half (US)||10.5 – 18%|
As the table shows, heavy cream has a butterfat content of at least 36%, but it may range up to 40%. This minimum butterfat content that manufacturers strive for is to be certain that the cream will whip (4).
Heavy cream is the rough equivalent of whipping cream in the United Kingdom.
What is the Difference Between Heavy Cream and (US) Whipping Cream?
In the United States, heavy cream and whipping cream are very similar, but there are some slight differences;
- Heavy cream typically contains at least 36% butterfat, but the minimum for whipping cream is only 30% (4).
- Due to the difference in fat content, heavy cream has a firmer and denser texture after whipping.
- In contrast, whipping cream makes a slightly lighter, fluffier and softer cream when whipped.
These are the only real differences, and both creams are good options depending on the required characteristics.
The following table shows the full nutritional values for heavy cream per 100 ml (3.38 fl oz). The data source is the USDA’s FoodData Central database (5):
|Saturated Fat||23.1 g|
|Monounsaturated Fat||9.1 g|
|Polyunsaturated Fat||1.6 g|
As shown above, heavy cream provides a large amount of (primarily saturated) fat. It contains only small amounts of carbohydrates and protein.
- Vitamin A (retinol): 45% DV
- Riboflavin (B2): 15% DV
- Pantothenic acid (B5): 10% DV
- Vitamin D: 8% DV
- Vitamin B12: 7% DV
- Vitamin E: 6% DV
- Vitamin K: 3% DV
- Choline: 3% DV
- Vitamin B6: 2% DV
- Thiamin (B1): 2% DV
- Folate: 1% DV
- Niacin (B3): 0.4% DV
Heavy cream is an excellent source of vitamin A (retinol) in its most bioavailable form.
- Calcium: 5% DV
- Phosphorus: 5% DV
- Selenium: 5% DV
- Potassium: 2% DV
- Magnesium: 2% DV
- Zinc: 2% DV
- Sodium: 1% DV
- Copper: 1% DV
- Iron: 1% DV
- Manganese: 0.5% DV
Health Benefits of Heavy Cream
Over the past few decades, many of us came to fear dietary fat due to the low-fat guidelines and health promotion of low-fat dairy.
However, this belief that all fat is “bad” for us was very much misplaced. In truth, natural sources of fat, in reasonable amounts, are nothing to fear and even have benefits for our health.
Here is a look at some of heavy cream’s health benefits.
1. Heavy Cream Contains a Healthy Source of Fat
Dietary fat is important for many processes in our body, so we should acknowledge that it offers health benefits.
First of all, fat provides substantial amounts of energy and supports a healthy metabolism.
Secondly, dietary fat intake helps our body absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
We absorb these essential vitamins in the intestines, providing that sufficient fat is present.
In particular, plant sources of vitamin A and K have very low bio-availability without an adequate amount of dietary fat (5, 6).
2. Heavy Cream is a Good High-Fat, Low-Carb Option For Diabetics
To be clear; there is nothing inherently bad about (whole food) sources of carbohydrate.
Yes, as a society we eat too many carbs, especially refined carbohydrate and sugar, but fruit and vegetables shouldn’t be demonized.
That said, large numbers of people are suffering from type 2 diabetes and prediabetes in the modern world.
Shockingly, estimates place the number of US adults with prediabetes at 84 million – more than 1 out of every 3 (7).
Low-carb, high-fat diets are a clinically proven dietary intervention for obesity and diabetes.
With its high-fat content, heavy cream perfectly fits this profile (8, 9).
3. Heavy Cream Provides Calcium
Heavy cream contains calcium, a mineral that plays an important role in skeletal health.
In addition, calcium is essential for the muscular and central nervous system and, among many other functions, it helps to stimulate muscle contraction (10).
On the negative side, it is hard to get sufficient calcium from heavy cream.
While both cream and milk contain calcium, the calorie content of each is vastly different.
Due to the high energy-density of heavy cream, there is a limit to how much we can consume.
4. Heavy Cream is Lower in Lactose
Heavy cream only contains lower amounts of the milk sugar lactose compared to milk.
This may not matter for strongly lactose intolerant individuals, but it could be a benefit for those who have a degree of lactose sensitivity.
Surprisingly, more than 65% of the world’s population has difficulty digesting lactose after their infant years (11).
Lactose intolerance rates can be as high as 90% in East Asia or as low as 5% in North Europe.
However, for those that do suffer with a mild sensitivity to lactose, they may be able to handle heavy cream better than milk.
For instance, milk contains 5% lactose, so a cup of milk would provide nearly 15 grams of the milk sugar.
On the other hand, heavy cream is 3% lactose by weight and people generally only consume small amounts of it.
Concerns About Heavy Cream
The main concern about heavy cream revolves around the energy to nutrient density ratio and possible over-consumption.
Heavy Cream is Extremely High in Calories and Fat
Firstly, to avoid confusion, there is nothing wrong with food containing high amounts of calories or fat.
In fact, high-fat foods can be incredibly healthy.
However, the issue with heavy cream (and other isolated fats like butter and coconut oil) is that they are energy-dense but not very nutrient-dense.
Some heavy cream in your morning coffee? Or perhaps a bowl of berries topped with a bit of cream?
Both are delicious and no problem at all.
But how about if you are consuming cups of it every day?
This will mean one of two things;
- You are replacing nutrient-dense whole foods with cream and getting fewer nutrients from your diet than you should be.
- Or you are using large amounts of cream in addition to normal meals, which, in such amounts, will encourage weight gain.
Heavy cream is a perfectly healthy dairy food, but it lacks nutritional value compared to whole food sources of fat such as eggs, meat or fish.
In other words; enjoy it, but watch the portion sizes!
Sometimes people may have sensitivities to dairy products, or they may not be able to source heavy cream at a time they need it.
In either of these cases, there are many great substitute options for heavy cream. There is a guide to nine of them here.
How To Make Heavy Cream – At Home!
Perhaps you need some heavy cream but don’t have any on hand?
Or maybe it is difficult/expensive to source in your local area?
Don’t worry, because it is surprisingly easy to make it at home.
Although it won’t be exactly the same, it is an excellent substitute for heavy cream that is equivalent in taste/fat content.
All you need is a bit of time and two ingredients;
- Butter: 75 grams (
- Milk: 180 ml (
How To Prepare
- First of all, measure out the required amount of milk into a bowl.
- Next, melt the butter in a pan. Butter can burn quite easily, so it is important to use a low temperature and keep stirring until it is fully liquefied. Place the liquid butter in a bowl and allow to cool.
- Once the butter has cooled, add it to the milk and stir vigorously until fully combined with a smooth consistency. If you prefer less effort, you can use an
You will now have some homemade heavy cream that you can use right away or chill for later use.
Heavy Cream Recipes
A lot of people enjoy heavy cream, but don’t really know what to make with it.
For this reason, here are five delicious recipe ideas.
1. Mushroom Soup
A hot, thick and creamy mushroom soup tastes amazing – especially on a cold day.
On the positive side, it is straightforward to make too.
Ingredients (serves 4)
- 1 cup heavy cream (240 ml)
- 1 cup chicken broth (240 ml)
- 1 pound mushrooms – shiitake or cremini are good (454 g)
- 1.5 oz grated mature cheese – parmesan or romano (40 g)
- 1 large onion
- 4 cloves mashed garlic
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 tsp salt
- Black pepper (to taste)
To make this recipe, start by lightly frying the mushrooms, onion and garlic cloves in butter.
Once the vegetables start to soften, add the heavy cream, chicken broth, salt and pepper.
Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer on low heat for 1 hour.
Give it a try – it is quite tasty!
2. Strawberries and Cream
Strawberries and heavy cream are one of the best food pairings you can make; they just work, which is why everyone loves them.
For a tasty bowl, the following ingredients work well;
- Strawberries: 100 grams (
- Heavy Cream: 60 ml (
Measure out the strawberries into a bowl, and then add a few drops of vanilla extract to the cream and stir.
Next, simply pour the cream over the strawberries and enjoy.
3. Ricotta Cheese
For those who are feeling adventurous (and enjoy eating cheese) it is entirely possible to make ricotta at home.
Since the cheese is fresh, it doesn’t require any fermentation and only needs a handful of ingredients (plus a strainer and cheesecloth);
- Whole Milk: 600 ml
- Heavy Cream:
- Lemon/Lime Juice: 2 tbsp (freshly squeezed)
- White Wine Vinegar: 1 tbsp
Ricotta cheese is far easier to make at home than one would expect; it is quite an easy process. Before you start, line a strainer with a cheesecloth and place the strainer over a bowl.
To start making the ricotta, first add the whole milk, heavy cream and salt to a pan.
Heat at a medium temperature until the mixture starts to foam and bubble (but don’t let it boil). At this point, reduce the heat and add the lemon juice and white wine vinegar.
After this, simmer while continuously stirring. You will notice that the mixture starts to thicken and it will eventually curdle. When this happens, you will be able to see the whey (milky liquid) and the curd (thick lumps) separate from each other.
Take the pan off the heat, and pour the mixture into the cheesecloth-covered strainer. Leave it to drain for around half an hour – or longer if you want thicker ricotta.
After draining, you will be left with the thick cheese solids and you can use them in any ricotta recipe. If you don’t want to use all in one go, then it should keep in the refrigerator for a few days too.
4. Heavy Cream Coffee
There may be a trend for drinking coffee with butter these days, but — to me at least — heavy cream tastes so much better.
Just make a regular coffee and add however many tablespoons of cream you want.
You can add the cream in its fresh chilled state, but it is better if you heat it up first – a steaming hot coffee is always ideal.
If you want something truly indulgent (as a rare treat) then you can also heat a (small) cup of heavy cream and add it to 1 or 2 espresso shots.
The latter option tastes unbelievable, but it is extremely high in fat/calories, so it should only be a rare treat.
5. Spicy Cream of Tomato Soup
For a creamy tomato soup with a bit of bite, try this recipe out.
Ingredients (Serves 4)
- 1 cup heavy cream (240 ml)
- 2 tbsp butter
- 10 fresh basil leaves
- 4 finely chopped medium tomatoes
- 3 cups chicken broth (720 ml)
- 4 cloves mashed garlic
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper powder
- 1 tsp salt
- Black pepper (to taste)
To make this soup, saute the onions in butter until they begin to soften.
Next, add the chicken broth, garlic, cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper and bring to a boil.
When the soup starts to boil, reduce the heat and pour the heavy cream into the pan.
Stir well until the soup has a fine creamy consistency and then gently simmer for about 20 minutes.
At this point, add the basil leaves to the soup and then continue simmering for about ten more minutes.
After 10 minutes, the soup should be ready to serve.
Heavy cream is a delicious high-fat dairy food, and when you use it in the kitchen, it leads to great things.
However, cream isn’t the most nutritious food in the world.
If you enjoy it, don’t worry about using it in sensible amounts – whether that is with your coffee, berries, or in the occasional recipe.
For more dairy ideas, see this guide to clotted cream – a delicious dairy food with a high butterfat content.
Related Dairy Articles
Cheese: Good or Bad? An Evidence-Based Guide
4 thoughts on “Heavy Cream 101: Nutrition Facts and Health Effects”
Excellent article. I love heavy cream coffee. Can’t wait to try the espresso!
Thanks, Matthew! Me too. The heavy cream & espresso is pretty tasty – enjoy!
On the Tomato Soup recipe, do you saute tomatoes with the onions or add them with the chicken broth?
Sorry for the lack of clarity there! It would be better to add them after sauteing the onions.