If you’re thinking about beginning the Keto diet, you’re probably curious as to what foods you can and cannot eat. Dairy products are hit and miss when it comes to Keto so it makes sense that you might be wondering about cream cheese. After all, it’s the main ingredient in Keto “fat bombs” that have become an internet sensation. The good news is cream cheese is allowed on Keto! The following article will explain the relationship between cheese and Keto as well as providing you with some alternatives to cream cheese if you’re lactose intolerant or a vegan.
How does Keto work?
In order to understand the role that cheese can play in your Keto meal plan you first need to understand what Keto strives to achieve and how it does this.
Typical diets are made up of roughly ½ carbs with a moderate amount of protein and a little fat. This serves your body well because it allows it to produce lots of glucose from the carbs that you eat. Glucose is made in the liver and quickly shuttled off to the various areas of your body that require energy. However, as quickly as it comes, it goes and anything that isn’t used right away gets stored in your body as fat.
This fat is typically very difficult to access and burn away because your body prefers using glucose. The Keto diet seeks to change your body’s primary source of energy from glucose to ketones. Ketones are created from the fat that your body previously stored away and they’re a longer lasting, more stable form of energy. With ketones you don’t get the typical sugar highs and lows that you get when your glucose levels spike and plummet.
In order to achieve this state, known as ketosis, you need to limit the amount of carbs that you consume. For the majority of people this means eating less than 20g of net carbs for men and less than 25g of net carbs for women. The majority of your diet (roughly70%) is made up of healthy fats since this is how your body creates ketones. The remaining calories come from about 20-25% protein sources and 5-10% carb sources.
Net carbs are the carbs that your body can actually digest and turn into glucose. Fiber and sugar alcohols aren’t digestible, so they get subtracted from the number of total carbs. This means that you might see a product that has 10g of carbs, but 8g of fibre and 1g of sugar alcohols. This food would only have 1g of net carbs and would therefore be okay.
This means that you’re going to stick with a few main foods on Keto. Healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, avocados and oils are going to account for a large part of your calories. The rest will be made up of non-starchy vegetables, low-sugar fruit, meat, fish and dairy products. It’s best to stay away from packaged foods, sugar and carb-rich foods like bread and grains.
Cheese on Keto
Cheese is a great option for you when you’re on Keto. It naturally contains the perfect ration of carbs, protein and fat that you need. There are very few carbs, a moderate amount of protein and a lot of fat. That being said, some cheeses are better than others, so you still need to watch your carb count carefully.
Cheese is an excellent source of calcium. It also has some vital nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin B-12 and vitamin K. You can also find potassium, zinc and riboflavin in your cheese. Potassium especially, is an important nutrient on Keto because potassium is an electrolyte. It’s common to be deficient in electrolytes on Keto so any source helps.
When picking a cheese, look for one that’s full-fat. You need these fats while on Keto and if you opt for a low-fat option it may be pumped full of hidden sugars and preservatives to make up for the flavor that it’s lacking from fat. You should also try to find free-range, grass fed and organic options whenever possible. What the cows (or goats) eat while producing the milk that makes the cheese can filter into the cheese that you eat. So a cow that’s been fed organic grass and allowed to free range will produce healthy cheese for you. On the other hand, a cow that was force-fed antibiotics or fed grass with pesticides might produce a cheese that has remnants of pesticides or antibiotics in it. You are what you eat and this filters down the food chain.
For this reason, as well as for the preservatives used, you should avoid spray/canned cheese, American cheese, cheddar cheese, ricotta and cottage cheese. When it comes to the spray and canned cheese, the amount of preservatives and chemicals in the cheese are not healthy. The fillers that they use make this cheese as far removed from a real food as you can get. American and cheddar cheese are both colored cheese. Cheese is not naturally orange so any cheese that has had color added should be avoided. Ricotta and cottage cheese are fine in small quantities; however, they tend to be higher in carbs so if you can avoid them you should.
Although it’s a great food to add to your Keto meal plan, you should consume cheese in moderation because it still has some carbs, and cheese tends to be high in calories as well. Like any fat, because its satiety factor is so high, you need only a little in order to add some flavor and variety to your dishes. When it comes to cheese, parmesan, goat cheese, blue cheese and cream cheese are some of your best options.
Cream cheese on Keto
When it comes to cheese, cream cheese is one the best option for those on Keto. It’s practically all fat so it makes a great snack or an addition to your meals if you find it difficult to reach your 70-75% fat goal for the day. 1tbsp of cream cheese contains 51 calories, 0.8g of carbs, 1g of protein and 5g of fat. You can even get cream cheese that’s been cultured with probiotics because it’s made with active culture bacteria. This allows you to get the gut-healthy benefits of yogurt without the sugars and carbs.
Cream cheese has a lot of beneficial nutrients as well. It contains the vitamins A, B-12, C and D along with iron, magnesium, and calcium. Cream cheese is often found in a Keto food favorite known as a “fat bomb”. Keto fat bombs are made with a base of cream cheese along with some keto-friendly nuts and seeds. They’re exactly as they sound, a healthy dose of fat in a tasty package.
Just because cream cheese is Keto friendly doesn’t necessarily mean that you should eat it. If you’re finding yourself with stomach pains or cramps or if you have any gastrointestinal issues you might want to try avoiding all dairy products for a few weeks. Even if you’re not lactose intolerant you might have issues digesting dairy products. If you notice that any pain or discomfort goes away in those two weeks, then you might want to keep away from dairy.
Alternatives to cream cheese
If you’re lactose intolerant or vegan and you’re on Keto, then cream cheese isn’t going to work with your meal plan. If this is the case, then there are a few non-dairy options that you could consider for recipes that call for cream cheese.
There are a few homemade recipes for cream cheese that are made using nuts. Macadamia, cashews, almonds and Brazil nuts are some of the most popular ones. When you make your food from scratch you get the benefit of knowing exactly what ingredients are in the meals you make, and you avoid any sneaky carbs, sugars or preservatives. In addition, because the substitute is made with nuts you get a dose of healthy fats and you’re not missing out on the fats that you’d get with dairy cream cheese. It might be worth trying to make your own just for these benefits!
If you’re not confident in your cooking skills it is possible to find dairy-free cream cheese in the grocery store. These will often be made using a soy product although they might be made using nuts. If you’re looking for a soy-free version you can find one that’s made with a combination of pea protein isolate, various vegetable oils and tapioca starch.
It’s worth noting that whatever you chose as a substitute, it will vary in both texture and nutritional benefits from cream cheese. Although, some of the nut-based substitutes might end up providing you with additional nutrients.
Cream cheese is one of the best cheese options to eat while on Keto. It provides you with calcium, vitamins and other essential nutrients while containing the perfect ratio of carbs, fat and protein. As long as you don’t have an intolerance to dairy it’s the perfect snack to help you boost your daily fat content. If you do find yourself struggling with dairy or if you’re a vegan there are plenty of dairy free options available for you that offer you similar healthy fats.