Cream Cheese and Diabetes

Cream cheese is a food that we all know and love but is it OK for people with Type 2 diabetes? The answer is a little more than just a “yes” or “no.” It’s a low carb food with a good amount of calories so when eaten by itself, cream cheese and diabetes can be part of a healthful diet. But the typical way it’s eaten is with bread and other starchy high carb foods, making it more likely to spike blood sugar levels.

We look at how cream cheese is made, it’s nutritional value, and how to balance cream cheese and diabetes in your daily life.

What Is Cream Cheese?

Cream cheese is soft, mild-tasting cheese made from milk and cream. Cream cheese includes other soft cheeses like Mascarpone cheeses, Rahmfrischkäse from Germany and Gournay from France.

Today, cream cheese is generally made by adding lactic acid bacteria to pasteurized cream and milk. The mixture separates with the fat turning into milk curds and the liquid called whey.

The curds are heated, whipped for texture and becomes cream cheese.

Cream cheese is meant to be eaten fresh. But most store-bought cream cheeses include stabilizers and preservatives so it can last longer.

Nutritional Value

Below is the nutritional data of a 100-gram serving of generic cream cheese.

  • 350 calories
  • 6.15g protein
  • 34.4g fat
  • 5.5g total carbohydrates (from lactose)

We see that most of the calories of cream cheese comes from fat, particularly saturated fat. It’s also pretty low in carbohydrates at 5.5 gram, which is from the dairy sugars (lactose).

Why Cream Cheese Can Be OK for Diabetes

Below are two (big) reasons why cream cheese can be a good options for people with diabetes.

Low Glycemic Index

The main reason cream cheese and diabetes can be OK is because the food has a low glycemic index. As we showed above, it’s relatively low in carbs and most of its calories come from fat.

chart explaining glycemic index
Image credit: healthjade.com

Dealing with carbs and diabetes can be hard because the sugars in carbs can cause blood glucose spikes, especially simply carbs. So people with diabetes have to mindful of how many carbs they eat and the type of carb (simple vs complex carbs) when trying to control blood glucose levels.

Because cream cheese has a low glycemic index, it can be a great snack option or even meal replace for people with diabetes. But that’s only if you’re not eating it with a lot of other carbs! (more on this below)

Calorie Dense and Filling

From the nutrition data above, a 100-gram serving of generic cream cheese is 350 calories with most of that coming from fat and only about 5g of carbs.

That’s a actually good amount of calories coming from a rather small portion. (For reference, 100 grams is only about 3.5 ounces or about 1 whole stick of butter.)

But compared to 100 grams of wheat bread, you get only 266 calories but has over 45g of carbs and has a much higher glycemic load.

So cream cheeses give a decent amount of energy without having to eat a big portion and with low carbs. That’s important because overeating (i.e. excess calories) can often lead to obesity, which is one of the comorbidities associated with type 2 diabetes.

Truth about Fat

Most of the calories from cream cheese comes from fat. And that tends to scare people.

That’s because decades of mainstream media and the government’s food pyramid has told as that “fat = bad.” But eating dietary fat doesn’t always equal body fat.

But the truth is body fat (or white adipose tissue) is built up from excess calories (energy) that’s stored in muscles in thighs, stomach and hips. And obesity is mostly caused by the imbalance of too much energy consumed vs. energy used.

microscope view of fat cells
Microscope view of fat cells

So it doesn’t matter if those excess calories are from dietary fat or carbs – if you don’t use the calories, it’s stored by body as fat.

Thus, it’s not exactly eating fat that leads to gaining weight – but more about if you’re eating too many calories.

When Cream Cheese Is Not OK for Diabetes

Below we go over reasons or uses of cream cheese that’s likely not a good ideas if you have diabetes.

Eating With High Carb Foods

People often eat cream cheese by spreading on bagels, breads or crackers. The problem is these are all carb-rich foods that you generally want to avoid when for people with diabetes.

Breads and grains are simple carbs that can easily lead to blood sugar spikes, making it harder to reach your blood sugar level goals.

Simple carbohydrates are broken down easily by the body and the glucose is quickly released into the blood.

cream cheese spread on bagel

And one of the common ways to eat cream cheese is with bagels, which are simple carbs and very high in calories. This makes an unhealthy combo and is more likely to spike your blood sugar and lead to weight gain from the excess calories.

Sweetened Cream Cheese

Flavored cream cheese is a popular but can be be filled with added sugars, which can also lead to blood sugar increases.

For example, the ingredients in Philadelphia Cream Cheese brand’s strawberry flavor includes sugar and strawberry puree. But just 2 tablespoons has 5 grams of carbs!

cream cheese with strawberry in bowl
Strawberry flavored cream cheese

While 5 grams of carbs doesn’t sound like much, that can add up quickly if you don’t pay attention to your portion.

So sticking with plain, unsweetened cream cheese can make it easier to keep you on track with blood glucose levels.

Large Portions

This one is obvious but you want to avoid eating too much cream cheese, even it’s just by itself. As we said above, a 100-gram serving of cream cheese has a good amount of calories so you don’t have to eat a lot to get the calories you need.

But if you don’t watch your portions, you can easily overeat cream cheese. This results in having excess calories, which is stored by the body as fat and over time contributes to obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Cream cheese is calorie dense so be remember to keep you portions reasonable.

Cream Cheese Ideas for People With Diabetes

Below are cream cheese snack ideas that are low in carbs and simple to make.

Homemade cream cheese

Believe it or not but making cream cheese at home is not too complicated. There’s a few different variations but the basics ingredients are:

fresh cream cheese in bowl and butter knife
Fresh cream cheese
  • 4 cups of whole milk
  • A few tablespoons of lemon juice (apple cider vinegar or white vinegar also work)
  • Salt to taste

Instructions

  1. Heat the milk on medium heat and stir until it simmers.
  2. Add the lemon juice slowly while stirring.
  3. Keep cooking and stirring until the it starts to curdle. When you have curdles at the top and liquid at the bottom, remove from heat.
  4. Strain the mixture over a cheesecloth and let it cool for about 20 minutes.
  5. Use a blender or food processer to process the curds until you get a smooth and creamy texture.
  6. Add salt to taste and the cream cheese is ready. It’s best to eat your cream cheese fresh but should last a couple weeks when stored in the fridge.

Benefits of Homemade Cream Cheese

Aside from freshness, the main benefit of making your own cream cheese is knowing exactly the ingredients used.

You don’t have to worry about preservatives, artificial flavors and other substances that are often found in store-bought cream cheese. Instead, you can use natural and fresh ingredients to create healthy food.

And for people with diabetes, making cream cheese at home lets you control the sugar content to help prevent blood sugar level spikes.

Cream cheese and nuts

This is a great pairing because the nuts give a crunchy texture and salty flavor, which goes well with the smooth and rich cream cheese.

Instructions

  1. Fill 1 cup of salted nuts that are low in carbs like walnuts, pecans, or macadamia nuts.
  2. Chop the nuts by hand into 1/2 inch thick pieces. (Note: you can use a blender but careful not to chop them too fine because you’ll lose the crunchy texture.)
  3. Mix the nuts into 8 0z. of cream cheese and you’re done!

This mixture already taste great by itself but you can also eat it with celery or carrot sticks.

But keep in mind, this can pack a lot of calories because of the high fat content of the nuts and cream cheese. So be sure to watch your portion and/or maybe eat this before exercising.

Avocado and Cream Cheese Dip w/ Vegetables

Avocado and cream cheese makes a super rich and smooth dip but also has a low glycemic load.

cream cheese mixed with avocado in bowl

Instructions

  • Place 8 oz of cream cheese into a large bowl and soften with fork.
  • Take 1 large avocado and scoop out small pieces into the cream cheese.
  • Mix the cream cheese and avocado with a fork until you get the desired texture. (We prefer seeing small chunks of avocado.)
  • Add salt to taste.

From here, you can eat the avocado and cream cheese with celery sticks, carrot sticks, cucumbers, broccoli, or cauliflower.

But if you want more flavor we recommend adding your favorite hot sauce, garlic powder, or chili powder.

Cream cheese pancakes

Yes, you can make pancakes with cream cheese ! These are actually the “keto” or “grain-free” version of pancakes because the ingredients are simply eggs, cream cheese and a little bit of baking powder.

cream cheese pancakes with powdered sugar

Instructions

  1. Place 4 oz. of cream cheese and 4 eggs in a blender.
  2. Blend into a smooth consistency.
  3. Add 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon or vanilla extract, and mix.
  4. Pour the batter into a greased and hot pan into 3-inch pancakes.
  5. Cook on medium-low for about 2 minutes each side until golden brown.
  6. Serve with a (very) light dash of powdered sugar.

These pancakes are a little thinner and less fluffy than standard pancakes. But they’re satisfying and are low in carbs (if you don’t go crazy with the sugar).

FAQ

Can cream cheese raise blood sugar levels?

Yes, the natural milk sugars in cream cheese can raise blood sugar but it’s not likely to cause significant blood glucose spikes. Most plain, unsweetened cream cheese has about 5 grams of carbs per 100 serving, which is not very high.

Can diabetics eat bagels and cream cheese?

Because of the high carbohydrate content of bagels, eating cream cheese on bagels is not recommended for people with diabetes. The nutrition data of a multigrain bagel is 240 calories with most of coming from its 47g of carbs. Bagels is also a refined grain product and the carbs break down quickly, which is likely to cause blood sugar spikes.

Summary

Cream cheese is definitely OK for people with diabetes but there’s some caveats. You should leave bread and processed grains away because those can lead to blood sugar spikes. And you should keep your portions reasonable because the high fat content of cream cheese means it packs a lot of calories.

Still, cream cheeses makes a great low carb snack or even a meal replacement. You can make cream cheese healthy at home with just a few simple ingredients. And the cream cheese ideas we shared above shows how easy it is to add more variety and flavor to your cream cheese.

Diet is a big part of diabetes self care and knowing which foods is healthy diet can be hard at times. You can make it easier by choosing foods that are low in carbs like cream cheeses. But remember that diet is only one part of proper self care and should be balanced with active living so you can control type 2 diabetes, naturally.

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