Are rich, creamy dairy products a good option when attempting a low carb diet? In some cases, yes. It is evident that when following a low carbohydrate or ketogenic diet, different types of dairy will have varying impacts. Individuals may have different reactions to dairy products.
This guide is here to provide information on what the positives and negatives are of consuming dairy, and to help you to decide on the most suitable low carb selections.
Foods and drinks created using the milk of mammals are referred to as dairy products. In the United States and Europe, cow’s milk is significantly more popular than other varieties of dairy. Despite this, in certain societies, goat and sheep milk are enjoyed a great deal.
Milk is a relatively nutritious food that contains protein, fat, and carbohydrates:
Milk contains two primary forms of protein: casein and whey. Approximately 80% of the protein in milk is composed of casein with the rest being composed of whey.
Fat: Milk contains mostly saturated fats. The majority of dairy fats consist of 70% saturated fat, 25% monounsaturated fat, and a combination 2.5% of both polyunsaturated and trans fats.
The kind of carbohydrate that is detected in milk is lactose, which is also known as milk sugar. The digestive system breaks down the substance into the simple sugars galactose and glucose. Glucose then enters your bloodstream, raising blood sugar levels.
Milk can be used to make a variety of dairy products such as cream, cheese, butter, and yogurt, and the amounts of carbohydrates in these items vary greatly.
Carb counts of different dairy products
What is the difference between dairy products that have high carb content and those with low carb content? It all boils down to how the milk products are prepared and how much lactose survives the process. Generally, fermented dairy products contain fewer carbohydrates than non-fermented dairy items.
Here is a compilation of the amount of net carbs in every 100-gram (3.5-ounce) portion of several diary items, with the exception of exceptions.
Lowest carb: (0-3 grams per 100 g/3.5 ounces)
- Butter and ghee: Butter is made from milk fat and contains only trace amounts of lactose (sugar) and whey (protein). Ghee, also known as clarified butter, has had all lactose and whey removed. Butter has only 0.1 gram of carb and 0.1 gram of protein per 100 grams. So, like ghee, it’s essentially carb-free.
- Soft-ripened cheese: Velvety brie, Camembert, and similar soft-ripened cheeses are among the lowest in carbs of all cheeses, with only 0.5 gram of carb per 100 grams.
- Hard (aged) cheese: Rich in flavor, hard cheeses like cheddar, Swiss, and provolone contain very little lactose. They’re extremely keto-friendly; most provide about 1 gram of carb per 100 grams, although some may contain up to 3 grams.
- Semisoft cheese: Midway between hard and soft cheese in texture, semisoft cheeses like mozzarella, Monterey Jack, and havarti are versatile and widely available in the US. They have slightly more carbs than most hard cheeses: about 2-3 grams per 100 grams. Veined blue cheeses like Gorgonzola and Stilton also belong to this category.
- Plain Greek yogurt: If you’re a yogurt lover, plain Greek yogurt is by far your best choice for low carb or keto eating. It has fewer carbs and is thicker than other yogurts because more of the liquid whey (which contains the milk sugar lactose) has been strained during processing. Although carb counts vary slightly among different brands, Greek yogurt has about 3 grams of carb per 100 grams (a little less than ½ cup) and 5 grams per 170-gram (¾ cup) container.
- Heavy cream: Heavy cream is made by skimming the fat off the top of milk. Although it is much lower in carbs than milk, it’s not a zero carb food. Heavy cream contains about 3 grams of carbs per 100 grams (about 0.5 gram per tablespoon).
Middle carb: (4-7 grams per 100 g/3.5 ounces)
- Feta and Parmesan cheese: Even though they’re slightly higher in carbs than some other cheeses, feta and Parmesan can still be a good fit for a keto or low carb diet. Both contain about 4 grams of carb per 100 grams (about ? to 1 cup), or slightly more than 1 gram of carb per ounce (30 grams).
- Light cream: Similar to heavy cream, but with a lower fat content, light cream provides 4 grams of carbs per 100 grams, or 0.5 gram per Tablespoon.
- Sour cream: Adding lactic acid bacteria to light cream results in pleasantly tart-flavored sour cream. It also thickens the end product without changing the carb content: 4 grams per 100 grams.
- Cottage cheese: Cottage cheese is made by adding acidic bacteria to milk, causing the casein to curdle and create curds that separate from the whey. These curds give cottage cheese its lumpy appearance. It contains about 4 grams of carb per 100 grams (approximately 1/2 cup).
- Half-and-half: Appropriately named, this popular creamer choice contains 50% milk and 50% cream. It provides about 5 grams of carb per 100 grams, or 0.6 gram per Tablespoon.
- Whole-milk plain yogurt: Like Greek yogurt, whole-milk plain yogurt is made with bacteria that ferment most of the lactose in milk into lactic acid. Because it isn’t strained, it retains a few more carbs than Greek yogurt does: about 5 grams per 100 grams, or 9 grams per 170-gram (¾ cup) container. Exact carb counts vary from brand to brand.
- Kefir: Similar to yogurt in taste, kefir is a thick beverage made by fermenting milk with a combination of bacteria and yeast. The carb content varies between 4 and 7 grams per 100 grams, depending how it is made.
- Ricotta cheese: Smooth, slightly sweet ricotta was traditionally made using the liquid whey left over from producing hard cheese. Today, it’s made from fresh whole milk and vinegar. Whole-milk ricotta contains about 4 to 7 grams of carbs per 100 grams (approximately ½ cup), although this can vary among different brands. Low fat types are typically higher in carbs.
- Cream cheese: Although its name might lead you to think it’s extremely low in carbs, cream cheese actually provides about 5-7 grams of carbs per 100 grams. It’s made by adding lactic acid bacteria to a combination of milk and cream and then heating the mixture, producing a rich, creamy texture. It can be a good choice on a keto diet when consumed in modest amounts.
Highest carb (12-25+ grams carbs per cup)
- Milk: Although the amounts of fat differ, carb counts are the same for all types of milk: whole milk, low fat, and nonfat (skim) milk: about 12 grams per cup (250 ml).
- Buttermilk: Despite its name, buttermilk is actually quite low in fat — and high in carbs. In fact, it contains the same 12 grams of carb per cup as other types of milk.
- Sweetened or fruit-flavored yogurt: Unsurprisingly, sweetened yogurts are very high in carbs: 20+ grams per 170-gram (¾ cup) container.
- Light yogurt: What about “light” or “lite” yogurt? Although they’re marketed to health-conscious consumers, many light yogurts contain added sugar. Be sure to read labels. Some brands of “light” yogurt contain 18 or more grams of carb per 170-gram (¾ cup) container.
Dairy on the keto diet
Yes, with caveats. It’s a bit intricate, akin to, as it were, everything in present-day life. Certain dairy items can be highly beneficial for the keto diet, as they are abundant in protein, fat, potassium, and calcium.
In the keto diet, compared to other dairy foods, you must be more disciplined since many dairy products contain high levels of sugar, which also means they are heavy in carbohydrates. Let’s assess the advantages and disadvantages of consuming dairy products on a keto diet.
Pros of eating dairy on the keto diet
- The fat content is solid. Regardless of whether you’re doing keto or not, dairy contains fat, which takes longer to digest and helps us stay full for longer, Beckerman explains.
- It can help you snack less. Because most dairy products are able to adequately supply the body with valuable protein, fat, and calories, you may be less likely to go scavenging for food in between meals, Beckerman says.
- You’ll get calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D. Dairy supplies all three of these nutrients, which are needed not only for maintaining healthy bones, but also are integral to balancing mood and regulating hormones, Beckman explains.
Cons of eating dairy on the keto diet
- The sugar content. Dairy products actually have sugar in them, explains Scott Keatley, RD, of Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy. The sugar Keatley’s talking about comes in the form of lactose; that lactose then breaks down into glucose, which is the sugar your body uses to push you out of ketosis, explains Keatley. “So, you can’t go hog wild on dairy.”
- Bloating or diarrhea. Some people have a hard time tolerating the lactose in dairy products due to lactose intolerance or lactose sensitivity, Beckerman notes. This can lead to some not-so-pleasant gastrointestinal side effects.
- It’s easy to overdo it. If you want to eat daily to help you stay full longer, you can’t just chow down on, say, soft serve. You’ll want to focus on eating lower-lactose foods like Greek yogurt, hard cheeses, and cottage cheese, Beckerman says, rather than jumping straight into milk or ice cream (to avoid potential GI issues, too!).
The best dairy foods for keto dieters
According to Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, of Nutrition Twins, butter is an optimal way to obtain fat when following the keto diet. She mentions that one tablespoon of the food has no carbs and 11 grams of fat.
If you are determined to use butter as part of your keto diet, nutritionist Pegah Jalali of Middleberg Nutrition states that it is advantageous to purchase grass-fed butter since it has higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for both your physical and mental well-being.
2. Hard and soft cheeses
Cheese gets the green light on the keto diet. If you are concerned about the amount of lactose you are consuming, Keatley recommends the use of firmer cheese such as Parmesan, which usually has a lower carb count than softer cheese, as clarified by Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, from the Nutrition Twins.
Semi-hard cheeses—like Swiss are keto-friendly too, Lakatos adds. Follow Jenna Jameson’s lead and sprinkle some semi-soft cheese over eggs for a morning meal (or anytime).
Although hard and semi-hard cheeses may contain fewer carbohydrates than soft cheeses, it does not mean that all types of soft cheese should not be eaten.
According to the USDA, one ounce of Brie cheese contains less than one gram of carbohydrates. Lakatos claims that mascarpone and creme fraiche are both excellent alternatives, as they provide a great deal of taste and luxurious texture without having significant amounts of carbohydrates.
3. Whipping cream
As Jalali states, milk isn’t the best choice if you’re following a ketogenic diet. A cup of whole milk contains 12 grams of carbohydrates, with low-fat or skim milk containing even higher levels. I definitely can’t talk about ice cream, since it has far too much sugar.
Cream, either whipped or in the form of whipping cream, can be easily included in a ketogenic diet.
But be mindful of how much you’re consuming. Beckerman cautions against too much consumption of whipping or heavy cream from a nutritional standpoint.
This food may taste great and fit well into the ketogenic diet, however, it is not the healthiest choice due to its high amount of calories, saturated fat, and lack of protein. The RD recommends sticking to 1 tablespoon per day.
If you’re only looking for whipped cream to snack on (rather than using it to make your coffee), you need to limit yourself to 2 tablespoons a day according to Beckerman due to its lack of nutritional value. She emphasizes that it has few nutritive value and can increase the desire for sugary foods.
If a dollop of whipped cream is desired, it is recommended to make it as store-bought versions usually contain added sugar. In this case, one cup of the whipped topping contains only 4 grams of carbohydrates and 43 grams of fat. All you require is heavy whipping cream, a hand mixer, and a bowl to complete this task, and then use the mixer to fluff up the cream. Sprinkle a bit of pure vanilla extract for a bit of flavor.
4. Cream cheese
Cream cheese is okay to consume on the keto diet, so long as you don’t put too much of it on a bagel.
The USDA reports that only one gram of carbs are in an ounce of butter, so it can be safely spread on celery sticks or cut strawberries, indicates Jalali. Additionally, if you want to get creative, you can add it to sauces to give them a more thick, fatty texture.
5. Cottage cheese, sour cream, and Greek yogurt
All three dairy items are grouped together since they each possess similar carbohydrate concentration—about 11 grams per cup, as noted by the United States Department of Agriculture.
Lakatos suggests that one can still have their carbs as long as the portion size is limited; for example, opt for half a cup with keto-friendly berries instead of the full cup.
Many people who are on the keto diet have a trick they rely on: Take one part of Wallaby Organic European Cultured sour cream and one part heavy cream and mix them together, forming “keto yogurt”. This suggestion comes from Jalali. This blend will have a lower carb content and a higher fat content than regular yogurt.
Eating dairy on a keto or low carb diet
Individuals can have vastly different reactions to dairy-based food items.
It’s generally not a problem for individuals to utilize cheese, butter, Greek yogurt, and other low carb dairy products when adhering to a keto diet. You can savor and enjoy a broad range of dairy items that follow the ketogenic diet.
It is unusual for adults to have a milk allergy, so if you do, you absolutely should not consume dairy items.
If you cannot process lactose, it is possible to ingest small servings of cheese, butter, or other dairy products that contain minimal amounts of lactose. If you find any degree of sensitivity to lactose, it might be a good idea to avoid dairy products altogether.
It may be beneficial to experiment with a dairy free diet if you observe that dairy is triggering your desire for other foods, you have difficulty restraining your intake, or it is causing skin problems or other health issues. It could take up to a month to start to see any changes.