The Best Coffee Creamers, Drinks, and Sweeteners

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EXPLOSION IN THE JAVA AISLE

The creamer aisle is hot. From caramel macchiato, crème brûlée, and white chocolate caramel latte to Almond Joy, Cinnabon, and Hershey’s, it’s no longer just a question of “Cream or sugar?”

And it’s not just creamer. Starbucks, Silk, International Delight, and others now sell ready-to-drink coffee in bottles, cartons, or cans. It’s a whole new Joe out there.

Here’s a quick cruise through the creamer and coffee aisles.

Information compiled by Emily Caras and Paige Einstein.

Nestlé Original Fat Free CoffeemateNestlé Original Fat Free Coffeemate. One teaspoon? It won’t be as creamy as the label. So Delicious Coconut Milk CreamerSo Delicious Coconut Milk Creamer. Only 10 calories…and low in saturated fat. starbucks-via-readybrew-coffeeStarbucks VIA Ready Brew has more sugar than coffee.

One Teenyspoon?

Every day, millions of Americans pick up a canister of Nestlé Original Fat Free Coffeemate and pour it into their coffee. Why hold back? It’s fat free and has a mere 10 calories per serving.

The catch: it’s only “fat free” (that means it has less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving, according to labeling rules) if you use one non-heaping teaspoon. But that won’t get you the oh-so creamy cup of coffee that’s on the label, even if your cup holds just 8 ounces of coffee (that’s a “short” at Starbucks).

If you pour, say, 6 teaspoons—2 tablespoons—into your 16 oz. mug, you’re up to 50 calories and 1.5 grams of fat, 1.4 of them saturated. That’s because Coffee-mate is mostly corn syrup and partially hydrogenated coconut or palm kernel or hydrogenated soybean oil. But you’d never know that, because if you multiply the “0 grams” of fat or sat fat on the label by 6, you get zero. (We only know the numbers because we sent a sample to a lab to have it analyzed.)

Instead of the label’s ridiculous one-teaspoon serving, our chart uses the still-modest one-tablespoon serving you’ll see on liquid creamers.

Warning: the worst powdered creamers, like unflavored N’Joy, still use partially hydrogenated soybean oil. The label says “0 grams” of fat, but we estimate that every tablespoon has about 1 gram of trans fat. That’s half the absolute max you should eat in a day. (In contrast, Coffee-mate uses oils that are so saturated that partially hydrogenating them adds very little trans.) Not much to N’Joy there.

Creamer vs. Creamer

Creamer, creamer, on the wall, who’s the healthiest of them all?

■ Real dairy. Try Land O’Lakes (or any other brand of) Fat-Free Half and Half. It’s mostly skim milk and cream, so it’s about equal to 2% milk. Whole Foods 365 Organic Original Coffee Creamer, a mix of skim milk and soybean oil, is also a good bet.

We gave no Best Bites to flavored creamers because all have more than 15 calories per tablespoon. (The calorie limit eliminates creamers with more than a trivial amount of added sugar.) But if you use them, Nestlé Coffee-mate Low Fat Natural Bliss is the best of the bunch. It’s got just 20 calories per tablespoon. Baileys Fat Free, with 25 calories, is a close second. Others range from 35 to 40 calories—double what you’d get in half and half. And 1 tablespoon may not be enough for a 16 oz. coffee (a “grande” at Starbucks).

■ Soy or coconut milk. Many people assume that soy creamers are heart-healthy. Not necessarily. Silk creamers, for example, have enough palm oil to deliver an estimated 0.5 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon (though the labels show the sat fat as “0 grams”). Organic Valley and Trader Joe’s soy creamers use healthier oils like canola.

So Delicious Coconut Milk Creamer is the new kid on the block. The tasty Original (unflavored) variety gets a Best Bite because each tablespoon has just 10 calories and 0.2 grams of sat fat. (Surprised? Tablespoon for tablespoon, a coconut milk creamer has roughly one-tenth the saturated fat of a coconut oil creamer.)

■ Sugar & oil creamers. That’s what International Delight and Nestlé Coffee-mate liquids should call themselves. International Delight uses palm oil, so it’s got 1 gram of saturated fat per tablespoon (as much as half and half). What’s more, the fat-free varieties contain added sugar and the sugar-free varieties contain (possibly harmful) acesulfame potassium.

Coffee-mate’s multi-serve liquids are even worse. They’re made with partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oil. The labels show “0 grams” of trans fat, but based on the samples we sent to a lab for analysis, each tablespoon of the French Vanilla actually contains 0.5 grams of trans (plus 0.3 grams of saturated fat). That’s not trivial, when 2 grams is the daily trans fat limit and many people use more than a tablespoon at a time.

Upscale Instant

Starbucks VIA Ready Brew “will change the way people drink coffee,” said Starbucks president and CEO Howard Schultz when the instant coffee was launched in 2009.

He got that right.

VIA transformed downscale instant coffee into gourmet, good as- brewed “microground” coffee. It also spawned a generation of instants with added sugar and/or powdered Coffee-mate-like creamers. (So much for gourmet.)

VIA’s flavored packets, for example, add 60 calories and 3 teaspoons of sugar to an 8 oz. cup. VIA Iced Coffee packets sweeten a 16 oz. glass with 100 calories and 5 1/2 teaspoons of added sugar. (The Nutrition Facts are for only half a packet. Oh, please!)

Keurig Café Escapes coffee K-Cups average 60 calories plus 2 grams of saturated fat from the creamer’s hydrogenated coconut oil. (How upscale.) Keurig uses (possibly harmful) sucralose along with its 1 1/2 teaspoons of added sugar.

Hills Bros.’ larger (three-tablespoon) serving is worse. It brings 120 calories—mostly from 3 1/2 grams of sat fat and 3 teaspoons of added sugar—to your cup.

 

blue sky coffee energy drink caffeineBlue Sky Café Energy has the caffeine of 2½ Starbucks espresso shots. starbucks-sucralose-syrup-coffee-sweetenerStarbucks sugar free syrups are sweetened with (possibly harmful) sucralose. starbucks-iced-coffeeStarbucks Iced Coffee contains coffee + (not much) milk.

Drinks or Drugs?

Most studies show no higher risk of heart problems in people who drink coffee. But last fall, the parents of a 14-year-old Maryland girl sued the makers of Monster Energy drink after she drank two 24 oz. cans with a total of 480 milligrams of caffeine and died of cardiac arrest.

That—and a jump in ER visits involving energy drinks since 2005— has raised red flags about high doses of caffeine. Yet labels don’t have to disclose how much you’re getting.

■ Starbucks Doubleshot Energy. The can lists levels of B vitamins, ginseng, guarana, inositol, maltodextrin, and taurine, but not caffeine. (A 15 oz. can has 145 milligrams, according to the Starbucks Web site.) Yet it’s only the caffeine—from the coffee and guarana—that makes you feel more energetic.

■ Blue Sky Café Energy. The label says “natural energy + coffee,” but the “energy” comes from added caffeine as well as the caffeine in the coffee and guarana.

The Vanilla Sky can says “100 mg caffeine per serving,” but that’s for about half a 15 oz. can. Most people will miss that subtlety. Shameful.

■ Java Monster Coffee + Energy. “Half the caffeine of regular coffee. Twice the Buzz!” says the label. The caffeine (150 mg in a 15 oz. can) may be half what’s in a (caffeine-heavy) 16 oz. grande coffee at Starbucks, but it’s more than a McDonald’s 16 oz. large coffee (133 mg) and only slightly less than a Dunkin’ Donuts 14 oz. medium (178 mg). “Max 1 can every 4 hours, with limit 3 cans per day,” says the tiny print. Was that the lawyers’ idea?

Skip the Syrups

Looking for a little Starbucks flavor at home?

Skip the sugary syrups by Starbucks, Torani, and others, and ignore the sugar-free Enfuse My Flavor Creation Coffee Flavoring and Torani flavors that are sweetened with acesulfame potassium.

Also avoid Starbucks Sugar Free Syrups or Splenda Flavors for Coffee flavor sticks.

Both are sweetened with (possibly harmful) sucralose.

Ready-to-Drink

Coffee has virtually no calories. But good luck finding a calorie free ready-to-drink brew.

■ Starbucks Iced Coffee. The Vanilla, Caramel, and Coffee + Milk flavors average 110 calories per (11 oz.) bottle, but it’s mostly from added sugar, since they don’t have much milk.

The Low Calorie Coffee + Milk has just 50 calories. Starbucks uses (possibly harmful) acesulfame potassium to cut most of the sugar. Pity.

■ Starbucks Frappuccinos. A small (9.5 oz.) bottle has 200 calories and 5 1/2 teaspoons of added sugar. Its 6 grams of protein come from reduced-fat milk, not quite the 8 grams you’d get in an 8 oz. cup of milk. The Frappuccino Lights cut the calories to 100 by replacing most of their sugar with acesulfame potassium.

■ International Delight Iced Coffee. Open the fridge and reach for that carton of…iced coffee? Each cup has 150 calories, most of them from a half cup’s worth of skim milk plus four teaspoons of added sugar.

international delight iced coffee unsafe sweetener International Delight Iced Coffee has milk, but also a possibly unsafe sweetener.

The Light versions cut the calories to 100 by replacing some sugar with acesulfame potassium. At least they’ve got milk instead of the powdered coffee creamer that’s added to instant coffee mixes.

■ Silk Iced Lattés. Each cup has 100 calories and 4 1/2 teaspoons of added sugar along with coffee and soy milk. But don’t expect much protein (2 grams) from the soy.

■ Illy Issimo. Coffee, milk, and 3 teaspoons of added sugar come to around 100 calories per (8.45 oz.) can. The Caffe` flavor drops to 50 calories by losing the milk and cutting the can size to 6.8 oz. Your best bet: Illy’s Caffe` No Sugar (“go yet purer!”) is just coffee. What a concept!

Cream of the Crop

Best Bites (✔✔) have no trans fat, no more than 0.2 grams of saturated fat, no more than 15 calories (which means no more than a trivial amount of added sugar), and are free of acesulfame potassium, aspartame, and sucralose. Honorable Mentions (✔) can have up to 0.5 grams of sat fat. Items are ranked from least to most trans fat (where listed), then sat fat, then calories, then added sugar. Our numbers may not match labels because we adjusted some unrealistically small serving sizes.

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3 Replies to “The Best Coffee Creamers, Drinks, and Sweeteners”

  1. This article concerns me in that you are recommending that people put canola oil products in there coffee, while canola oil is an inflammatory, omega-6 oil, which contributes to chronic disease. The best creamers for coffee is grass-fed cream, half & half or whole milk or unsweetened, non-dairy options like Almond milk and coconut milk, period. Anything esle is highly synthetic and processed. And to recommend sucralose too? This causes weight gain and messes with insulin. Honey, stevia or pure maple syrup are the “best” sweeteners if you must have sweet coffee. Come on CSPI, get on your game.

    1. @Helen,

      I’m not sure this article is vastly different than you say it should be. Here’s why:

      The chart begins with Dairy Liquid Creamers which have the most Best Bites of any category.

      Coffee drinkers who do not use dairy products need informative nutrition information about non-dairy products.

      This article states not to assume that Soy Milk is heart healthy.

      This article rates a Coconut Milk as a Best Bite rating but not when it has added sugar.

      The only coffee sweetener that has a Best Bite rating does not contain artificial sweeteners.

      This chart doesn’t rate Almond Milks – that would be good to add in the future.

  2. Good article. Most surprising to me was the hidden saturated fat and trans fat in these creamers. Shame shame! Any amount should be listed on the label! I also like flavor in my creamer and coffee, so I search for the fat-free or sugar-free liquid creamers. Guess I’ll be much picker too on which brand I buy.

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