Whether it's a spoonful in your coffee or a side of Alfredo, cream is often used as a base for many different dishes. However, despite its versatility, cream is calorie-dense and lacks significant nutrients. One tablespoon of heavy cream packs about 50 calories and 5 grams of fat. Whether you're trying to cut calories or simply don't have cream on hand, there are many different alternatives that can take the place of this heavy cooking staple.
If you're simply in a pinch and are lacking cream in your pantry, there are many quick and easy substitutions that will work to give you a similar flavor and texture. Switching to ¼ cup reduced fat-milk can cut calories down to 30 per serving and furthermore reduces fat to less than 1 gram. For recipes that require thickening, mix 2 tablespoons of cornstarch with one cup of milk and allow the mixture to thicken before adding to recipes.
Substituting fat-free half-and-half in your morning coffee can also provide a healthier alternative to cream, containing only 20 calories and no fat in 2 tablespoons. In addition to coffee, half-and-half can also be incorporated into sauces and soups to achieve the desired creamy texture without the extra calories.
Tofu offers versatility as a non-dairy alternative to cream. Depending on the type that you purchase, tofu can be used to achieve many different consistencies in your dish. Soft tofu will yield a lighter cream, whereas extra-firm tofu will produce a thicker option. Pureed tofu can be used in a 1:1 ratio in place of heavy cream as a much healthier and lower fat option.
Coconut milk is a flavorful substitute for cream that will appease vegans and is an excellent options for those with lactose intolerance. Much like tofu, coconut milk is available in different consistencies. It also provides some essential nutrients that cream lacks, such as vitamin C and iron. Due to its naturally sweet flavor, coconut milk works best as a substitute in Thai dishes such as curries, ice cream and other desserts.
Greek yogurt, which is low in fat and high in protein, provides another great substitute for heavy cream. Simply add a little water or milk to achieve a similar consistency to regular cream. While the reduced-fat content in Greek yogurt creates a much healthier alternative, when used in baked goods, it tends to create a finished product that is more dense and moist. For the best results, substitute a full-fat Greek yogurt in place of a low-fat or fat-free variety. You can also try mixing Greek yogurt with whole or 2% milk to contribute more richness and flavor. In addition, because yogurt does not hold up to heat in quite the same way as cream, it is important to use a lower heat when making sauces or soups. Too much heat too fast can curdle the yogurt, creating a less-than-ideal final product.
Eggs provide a lower-fat and easy last-resort substitute. For each ¼ cup serving of cream, add one whole egg or two egg whites. Before adding them to your recipe, beat the eggs until they are creamy and fold in. Using eggs as a substitute lends similar thickening properties as cream, but works best when baking desserts and sauces.
Overall, whether it's a lighter indulgence or a quick fix that you are looking for, there are a variety of products and combinations that can take the place of cream. By using items that may already be on-hand in your kitchen, you can create anything from a creamy sauce to a frozen dessert, all the while saving yourself some extra calories.
Sarah Dreifke is a freelance writer based in DeKalb, IL with a passion for nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease. She holds a Bachelor of Science in both Dietetics and Life Sciences Communication from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Currently, she is working towards a combined Master's Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics as well as a dietetic internship at Northern Illinois University.