Cream, creamer, whitener, and half-and-half – there are many options of things you can add to coffee to make it lighter, but should you be adding them? How does coffee creamer compare to the others? Should you drink it?
Coffee creamer is made of water, sugar, and vegetable oil – a low-quality oil. Avoid consuming creamer if you value your health, as it’s ingredients are linked with premature death. Table cream is a healthier option.
For further explanation, please read on.
Table of Contents
What is in Coffee Creamer?
Coffee creamer is a dairy-free alternative.
Ingredients will vary from brand to brand, but they generally are a combination of water, sugar, and vegetable oil. In other words: horrendous for your health.
It’s typically heavily processed and loaded with added sugar. Some have 5g of added sugar in a single serving (~1tbsp or less), and the American Heart Association only recommends consuming 24g for women and 36g for men.
If you missed my other post where I addressed the addictiveness of sugar, you can find it here.
Vegetable oils are among the lowest quality oils and are generally considered bad for your health, but they are widely used because they are cheap.
TL;DR: It’s a dairy-free, shelf-stable, cheap-to-make product that the industry would like you to choose because it’s better for them than real dairy.
Is it good for you?
I’ll address vegetable oils here since I go further into detail about fat below.
Vegetable oil is a misnamed product made from extracting oil from seeds through heavy processing. It is something that we should not eat in high amounts. It seems to increase our rate of heart attack, and are not great when made from hydrogenated oils in particular. It’s hard to tell which they use in these products, but they are still high in Omega-6.
Generally, they’re low-quality fat, and the industry can make them cheaply. Probably best to avoid.
It’s actually hard to get a very clear picture on this. The strategy of the industry seems to be this:
Is the evidence clearly against your product? Fund plenty of research that either says the opposite or is inconclusive. This will muddy the waters. Press scientists (who are notorious for being careful with their statements) and make them seem unsure and incompetent. Do everything you can to confuse the public, allowing you to continue selling your bad products.
Big tobacco did this before; big sugar/agra seems to be doing this now.
TL;DR: No, likely the opposite.
What are the alternatives?
The most popular options are heavy cream, half-and-half, and table cream. You may want to choose different options depending on whether you are following a ketogenic, low-fat, or whatever diet.
Your choice here depends on how you view fats.
I am not a doctor, but I have an interest in nutrition and an academic background that gives me sufficient tools to interpret some more science-heavy papers – take this with a grain of salt and do your own research. These are just the conclusions I’ve come to so far.
What is the difference between heavy cream, table cream, half-and-half?
Generally, cream is the milk fat that rises to the top and is skimmed off during the manufacturing process. The most common options are:
- Heavy Cream: Generally >30% milk fat, it typically is pure cream. Sometimes, however, manufacturers will add “gellan gum” to improve consistency. Check labels to be sure.
- Table Cream: ~18%, it is what is normally served if you get cream with your coffee, this is made of equal parts cream and whole milk.
- Half-and-half: A combination of cream and whole milk, they lower the fat content for those who are avoiding fat consumption. It generally is 10-12% fat, but if they offer low-fat alternatives, then it may just be skim milk and corn syrup. I would advise avoiding the low-fat version.
Brief History of Why Americans Fear Dietary Fat
From what I can tell, it appears that the anti-fat movement (aka the diet-heart hypothesis*) is a historical hangover from the days of Ancel Keys. He was an influential figure in the scientific community and had a strong bias against fat, believing it was killing everyone.
However, he appears to have been a fairly bad scientist because he let his personal biases change poison objectivity and pushed him to doctor his data. As a result of his influence, many careers were ended for pointing out that his evidence was not solid, or by publishing results in favor of fat.
He was later forced to see that some fat was beneficial thanks to the Mediterranean diet. He still refused to believe that fat was good for you – maybe it was just olive oil. Fun Fact: it’s not agreed upon whether the Ancient Greeks ate olive oil in great amounts, or if it was primarily used for beauty. They did eat a lot of actual olives, though.
As an example of how badly Keys approached this research: the people he looked at were 1) in the middle of lent, so a different diet from usual, 2) exclusively from the island of Crete, and 3) were immediately following World War 2 and were eating far less meat because of this. None of this was divulged (a big no-no).
Americans fear dietary fat because of Ancel Keys. The research seems to show that saturated fat is actually good for you. An excerpt from that paper:
“In a recent meta-analysis, higher SAFA [saturated fatty acid] intakes appeared associated with lower risks of both stroke types.”
“… when compensating nutrients were not taken into account, SAFA intake was not associated with CHD or stroke mortality, all-cause mortality, or myocardial infarction.”
What we thought we knew about fat appears to be untrue.
TL;DR: we are blaming modern problems (type 2 diabetes, obesity, etc.) on ancient foods, and for some reason giving more recent foods a pass (HFCS, refined sugar).
For a more comprehensive study of the historical and political impacts on diet over the past half-century, check out the book: The Big Fat Surprise by journalist, Nina Teicholz.
I’d argue a journalist with a science background would be better for this role because she would be more well-equipped to analyze the political and cultural context, rather than just the data. Both need to be taken into account for proper context.
*Important quote from that paper:
“Available evidence from randomized controlled trials shows that replacement of saturated fat in the diet with linoleic acid effectively lowers serum cholesterol but does not support the hypothesis that this translates to a lower risk of death from coronary heart disease or all causes.”
I’ve read that if you want to stay in ketosis, some suggest avoiding dairy altogether because it’s low on the glycemic index, but still has a high glycemic load. It also contains milk sugar, lactose.
I haven’t looked at the evidence, but leaders in the field seem to suggest consuming cream over 30%, so heavy/whipping cream would be your thing.
Frankly, I can’t in good conscience recommend this diet, as it seems to be harmful to your health.
If you really want to add something creamy into your coffee to make it a bit smoother, then skim milk or whole milk are better options.
If you are lactose intolerant or on a ketogenic diet, there are lactose-free options that would also be better than creamer.
Coffee Creamer is made up of water, sugar, and vegetable oils. The only one of these that you actually want to consume is water. The others are likely only going to lead to health problems.
Use cream or drink your coffee black if you’re concerned about your health.
For more reading on its health effects, you can check out this site.