Is There a Creamer in Your Cup? Rethink Your Morning Brew

April 19, 2017 Ruby Schuler, RD


If the jolt of a dark cuppa joe isn’t for you, you’re probably a coffee creamer fan. For some, those sweet, velvety additives are key to the morning coffee ritual. And who can resist fun flavors like pumpkin spice, buttered caramel and peppermint mocha delight?

While flavorful, many coffee creamers contain ingredients that, upon closer look, might make you rethink what’s in your cup. While there’s obviously no dairy in non-dairy products, there is plenty of oil, sugar (or artificial sweetener), thickeners and other chemicals that could make that morning cup a bit less delightful.

“The bottom line is to read the labels of these creamers and all the foods you purchase,” says Ruby Schuler, RD, a registered dietitian at Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa. “Look for terms like ‘partially hydrogenated oils’ and words that sound more like a chemistry lab. Additionally, remember that ingredients are listed in descending order of predominance. The first two or three ingredients are the ones that matter most."

Let’s break down what’s crammed into most creamers:

Starting with the oils, most are partially hydrogenated, or trans fats. Trans fats are laboratory manufactured, designed to add texture to food and pro-long shelf life. While they may make food taste good, trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. Consuming trans fats also increases your risk of developing heart disease and stroke and may also put you at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, as well decrease your immune function.

As for the sweeteners, some creamers contain high amounts of sugar while others attempt to reduce calories by adding chemicals like sucralose. Once sucralose is ingested, the body does not recognize it as food, which is why it has no calories. However, sucralose is believed to cause many side effects, including skin rashes, swelling, headaches, bladder issues and stomach pain. If consumed in very high doses, it may increase blood sugar levels, which again could put you at risk for type 2 diabetes.

Now about those thickeners. That rich, velvety taste comes from emulsifiers like carrageenan, which is also associated with inflammation and digestive problems. Other typically added ingredients won’t make you ill, but might make you wonder whether or not you want to eat them. Fillers such as cellulose gel and cellulose gum are made from wood pulp or cotton. The emulsifier Polysorbate 60 is also in your cosmetics to keep water and oil from separating.

Finally, let’s talk about artificial flavors and preservatives. Some flavors in those creamers may be from natural ingredients, but chances are that inviting smell comes from the lab. Also, unlike cream, many processed coffee creamers have much longer shelf lives thanks to mold inhibitors like sodium stearoyl lactylate and dipotassium phosphate.

Also, while the typical coffee drinker uses only a splash of creamer each morning, consider the fact that most Americans rely on at least one serving of coffee per day. Over time, daily use of these products can add up. You may want to consider going back to cream, half and half or low and non-fat milk (your best bet).

Or, if you really need that alternative creamy taste, try a homemade variety of non-dairy creamer, using a 14 ounce can of coconut milk, and one teaspoon of vanilla, plus one teaspoon of sweetener such as sugar or maple syrup. You can also experiment with cinnamon, cocoa powder or caramel sauce to achieve that fancy flavor appeal. Blend the ingredients well to ensure the coconut milk doesn’t separate.

Now, go ahead and enjoy your new cuppa healthier brew.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.



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