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Coffee Creamers: The Good, The Bad, The Gross

When I began coaching clients, one of the very first things that I learned was not to suggest that he or she stop drinking coffee.

Even the suggestion to cut back on the number of cups in a day deafened their ears to anything else I would have to say.

Coffee absolutely can be part of a healthy eating plan. It even has some positive qualities, including a slight to moderate laxative effect, physical and mental energy boosting and antioxidant properties.

When I talk about coffee being a part of a healthy diet, I strongly suggest people get some sort of food in their system before they drink their coffee, preferably protein. It doesn’t have to be much. A small handful of almonds or a piece of chicken leftover from dinner will do the trick.

The caffeine jolt that causes eyes to pop open and brains to start firing can cause havoc with stress hormones and blood sugar when consumed on an empty stomach.

With real energy from food to back up the caffeine, you may avoid having your energy tank mid-morning. So, drink your coffee, orenjoy your espresso, just not on an empty stomach.

While I may not push my client to give up morning java, I strongly encourage people to think about what they are adding to their coffee that could be sabotaging healthy eating goals.

In my philosophy, healthy eating means eating real food. I would rather see you eat real food in large amounts than try and subsist daily on 1200 calories of processed food, especially “diet” food.

Aside from sugar, a whole other topic, the substance my clients seem to cling to most desperately is the creamer that goes into their coffee, and it is rarely all-natural. Typically, it’s a product made with nearly-unidentifiable ingredients that mess with hormones and destroy gut bacteria.

Recently I roped my sister Michelle into doing a coffee creamer taste-test, to see if we could find a healthier version of the incredibly addicting vanilla or sweet cream flavored coffee creamers.

We purchased six different creamers and tasted them all in a French roast coffee. We used between a quarter and a third of a cup in 10 ounces of coffee: that seems to be around the average amount of creamer that people use. Michelle and I were the main tasters, though we did sneak a couple mugs to Michelle’s husband. He was none too happy about having his morning routine polluted with almond and coconut creamers!

The company that makes Coffee-mate® Creamer‎ appears to dominate the creamer market. For those wanting something less processed, they offer Natural Bliss creamer in regular, coconut and almond milk. We also tried So Delicious brand creamer made with coconut milk and good old fashioned half-and-half.  The last brand we tasted was a lesser-brand known as Open Nature Creamer at Vons or Red Top Dairy Creamer at Raley’s, in the vanilla flavor.

We did not use any soy creamers in our tasting because I would prefer people not consumer soy products in general, because of the hormonally-disruptive qualities possible with regular ingestion.

For those who are accustomed to vanilla or other flavored creamers, we unanimously agreed that the creamer made from milk, cream, sugar, and natural flavoring was the easiest transition. That meant we liked the brand that goes by Open Nature Creamer or Red Top Dairy Creamer.

The list of ingredients is short and recognizable: nonfat milk, sugar, heavy cream and natural flavor. The flavor comes closest to what most people are used to in creamers. However, even this seemingly healthy list of ingredients has a drawback.

Under their list of ingredients is “natural flavors” and, when you see the term “natural flavors,” you should run in the other direction. Just because something is “natural” doesn’t mean you should be consume it!

In this case, I’m guessing that the natural flavor is what gives the creamer its vanilla flavor. If they were using real vanilla or vanilla extract in their product, they would say so.

The problem with fake vanilla is that they make it from things we wouldn’t normally consume such coal tar, pine bark, paper waste and worse. Essentially, if you are consuming vanilla flavoring rather than vanilla extract you are adding substances to your diet that make your gut bacteria gasp for breath.

We tried the organic half-and-half and, while it was good, taste buds used to sweetness, will be sadly disappointed. We even added stevia for some healthy sweetness but the taste still paled in comparison to flavored creamers. If you’ve never used stevia as a sweetener, you may want to try it. Derived from the Stevia plant, it offers a natural low calorie lift to foods and drink.

Natural Bliss® Creamer‎ has the same ingredients as Red Top but, for some reason, I didn’t care for it. Michelle did, naming it her second-favorite. The Bliss made with coconut and almond milk imparted a strong taste that drew negative reviews from my brother-in-law.

Another downside to the coconut and almond creamers is a creamy texture that you wouldn’t otherwise get from coconut or almond milk but, again, it makes your gut incredibly unhappy.

So Delicious creamer was rejected by all as having a strange, unnatural taste. It also contains disodium phosphate, an  ingredient found in some processed foods that is worth avoiding.

Our results suggest that it’s possible to replace your chemical creamer with similar flavor and far fewer processed ingredients, as in Red Top and Open Nature. Yet, even these are fairly sweet, with five grams of sugar per tablespoon. That amount wouldn’t make much of an impact on your healthy eating goals except for the fact that most people use more than a tablespoon of creamer in each mug of coffee.

So now, instead of getting a teaspoon of sugar (five grams) in each mug of coffee, you’re using between 12 and 16 teaspoons. Or to put it another way, instead of getting 35 calories in a serving you are getting 175 calories – that’s a huge difference!

The other place that flavored creamers defeat the goal of a healthy lifestyle is they continue to train your taste buds to crave sweets. Even adding stevia doesn’t help end your sugar addiction, though it’s far better than some other options.

You can also find good recipes for homemade creamer online, They’re easy to make, and mimic the ingredients found in the preferred brands we tried. You will want to add real vanilla flavoring. If you search online for “homemade creamer recipe” you’ll come up with plenty of options.

If you already eat well and creamer is the one thing that continues to spoil an otherwise clean diet, consider the following:

  • How much creamer am I actually adding to my coffee? Measure it!
  • How much coffee-plus-creamer am I drinking in one day?
  • Switch to one of the options that have fewer fake food ingredients or make your own.
  • Reduce the amount of coffee creamer you use by one tablespoon each day until you settle on an amount that more closely reflects your healthy eating goals.
  • Reduce sugar as much as possible to retrain your brain’s sugar cravings.

You’ll be surprised how much impact this creamer-makeover challenge can have on your healthy eating goals.

Got a recipe for creamer you love, and it’s healthy?

Share it with us!

Virginia Eaton is a health and fitness coach helping people reorganize priorities.








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