Sometimes Fat Free Is not the Better Option

Any sour cream fans here?

Whether dolloped with chives onto a baked potato, cooling a hot soup, or sweetened with freshly picked berries, there’s nothing quite like sour cream.

Traditional sour cream is a dairy product rich in fats (12-17%). It is made by fermenting cream with certain types of lactic acid bacteria. The fermentation process thickens the cream and sours it a bit, hence the name.

Unfortunately, the fat content is high, and the calorie count too. And that’s where the low fat and no-fat solutions come in. The question is, at what price?

What you need to know:

We took a look at three sour cream variations from Tillamook, considered one of the better quality sour creams out there.

A serving size is 2 tablespoons, with 60 calories for the full fat product, 40 for the low-fat, and 20 for the non-fat version. As you would expect.

But then we inspected the ingredient lists:

Regular’s Ingredients [3 of them]:
Cultured pasteurized grade A cream and milk, enzymes.

Low-Fat’s Ingredients [12]:
Cultured Milk, Cream, Nonfat Dry Milk, Whey, Modified Corn Starch, Sodium Phosphate, Guar Gum, Carrageenan, Calcium Sulfate, Locust Bean Gum, Gelatin, Vitamin A Palmitate.

Fat Free’s Ingredients [12]:
Cultured Lowfat Milk, Modified Corn Starch,Whey Protein Concentrate, Propylene Glycol Monoester, Artificial Color, Gelatin, Sodium Phosphate, Agar Gum, Xanthan Gum, Sodium Citrate, Locust Bean Gum, Vitamin A Palmitate.

Basically the low and non-fat options had a big challenge once removing the fat – how to keep the “sour cream” product looking and tasting like a real sour cream? Food scientists started mixing various additives together until they reached the closest possible resemblance.

And what did they add?

1. Propylene Glycol Monoester is an emulsifier that helps aerate creams (and dough for baking).

2. Corn starch, Gelatin, Agar Gum, Locust Bean, and Xantham Gum help with the viscosity of the product that is lost once the the fat gone.

3. Artificial color.   It’s not clear why a white product needs coloring. Perhaps it is a combination of colors meant to keep the mix above silky white. Not good.

Although there are 40 calories saved here, think about the bigger picture. With proper portion control and less junk food, the 40 calorie differential doesn’t make sense. Especially since the synthesized alternatives don’t taste as good as the original full fat sour cream.

Another issue to think about is the psychology of low-fat selections. I’m having a “good” non-fat product NOW, which means I have earned the right to eat something “bad” LATER.

What to do at the supermarket:

When considering low-fat and non-fat options of your favorite foods, it makes sense to look at the calorie savings and weigh that against the changes in the product formulation. In some cases, it simply doesn’t make sense.

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  • Ptucker2008

    I have always been a bit suspicious of “fat free” sour “cream”. Didn’t make sense. How could something that is cream be fat free. I get it on some level. But trying to keep things as naturally as possible, I have thought the real thing is better than something fake. In small doses, of course.

  • Celestialpetunia

    We’ve been subscribing to the “real food” diet for awhile because it just makes sense – until God places a low-fat cow on earth, we drink whole fat milk.  But seeing these ingredient labels side-by-side…uh, wow?  That’s some scary stuff!  Food should be grown and raised, and I don’t mean in a petrie dish or a chemist’s lab.

  • Ruthsrealfood

    Great post, but I would remove the “sometimes” from the title. 

  • Chuck Feerick

    40 calories is basically nothing.  Any those 40 calories will have a much less negative effect than 10 more ingredients…

  • Chuck Feerick

    and JERF- Just Eat Real Food

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  • Alliegoblue

    Agree with the real food comments. Would add that a great substitution is plain greek yogurt…

  • Andrea

    I would argue that low-fat is pretty much NEVER better than full-fat. Processed food (and let’s face it, that’s exactly what low-fat foods are…unless we’re talking naturally occurring low-fat foods, i.e. many fruits and veggies) is never the answer.

  • goletagirl

    Buy unhomogenized milk and make it lower fat yourself (with no icky additions). Drink the lower fat milk and use the cream for desserts, etc.!

  • Jim

    Sounds pretty harmless to me. Why make a big deal out of these trivial and non-toxic ingredients?

    • Ace Down

      To patronize the tinfoil hat crowd, Jim. That’s why we make a big deal out of complete foolishness. Oh, by the way; step on a crack, break your mother’s back. Don’t be that motherbeater, Jim. Watch your step mister.

  • Lmar58

    Good article showing why choosing fat-free is not better. However, calories are only one consideration. Saturated fat should be considered, and often there are alternative food options. In this example yogurt is a suggestion.

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  • Healthylivingrd

    Thank you for another great post!  I always use whole fat products that are pastured grass feed.  The quality, taste, and nutrition is better.

    Clancy Cash Harrison MS, RD, LDN

  • JM

    I like to use plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.  You get pretty much the same taste with more nutrition.

  • Cartoonguy_99

    “how to keep the “sour cream” product looking and tasting like a real sour cream?”

    And even with all that extra science, they failed miserably.  I bought fat free sour cream once, ONCE. 

  • Lily Wedlock

    It’s just typical of the people to quickly choose products labeled “fat-free” when in fact it’s more dangerous than the ordinary ones. If you look at the alternative ingredients for those fats, it actually is something that’s more dangerous and toxic for the body that it appalls me to think many people are getting lured by these products.

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