How to pick the best creamer for your coffee

Here’s how to find a creamer that won’t turn a 10-calorie cup of black coffee—or even a 30-calorie coffee with half and half—into a milkshake.

Don’t pour it on

Most coffee creamers list Nutrition Facts for just one tablespoon. That may have been okay for your grandmother’s dainty 6-ounce cup. Today, many coffee mugs hold 12 oz. Travel mugs get even bigger.

Since many folks view one tablespoon of creamer…or even two…as just a jumping off point, we suggest sticking to creamers with no more than 20 calories, ½ gram of saturated fat, and 2 grams of sugar (or less) per tablespoon. Even better? Look for creamers with zero added sugars.

Know what you’re getting

“Creamer” doesn’t always mean “cream” (or even dairy). Your options:

■ Dairy. Most mix milk, cream, sugar, and natural flavors. Fat-free and lowfat half and half are the only dairy creamers that meet our nutrition criteria (except for plain milk). They’re largely milk with little or no sugar, plus thickeners and emulsifiers. Want to keep it simple? Dairy milks are a great choice. Even a tablespoon of whole milk has less saturated fat and sugar than most creamers.

■ Plant milk. Most dairy-frees replace the cow’s milk with almond, coconut, or soy milk. Many are winners in our book (see the plant-milk section below).

■ Sugar & oil. Most International Delight and Coffee-mate “creamers” have no milk or cream. (Exceptions: Coffee-mate Natural Bliss and Artisan Café are dairy.) They blend water, sugar, and oil with thickeners, emulsifiers, and natural and artificial flavors. International Delight’s palm oil supplies ½ gram of saturated fat per tablespoon. Coffee-mate’s powdered creamers reach roughly 1½ to 2½ grams of sat fat. Blame their hydrogenated (trans-free but saturated) oils.

Skip most flavored creamers

They’re one-third sugar. With 4 or 5 grams (1 teaspoon) of added sugars, they reach 30 to 40 calories per tablespoon. Coffeemate Artisan Café Creamer—it’s largely cream and sugar—hits 50 calories. At least the company’s Natural Bliss Made with Real Honey Creamer drops down to 3 grams of sugars and 25 calories. Just don’t expect much “real honey.” (“Made with” is code for “made with very little.”)

We don’t recommend sugar-free flavored creamers from Coffee-mate and International Delight, since both add sucralose and acesulfame potassium, which get our “Avoid” rating. (For more info about those sweeteners, see chemicalcuisine.org.)

Try plant-milk creamers

Hazelnut…and only 1/2 tsp. of sugar. Nice.

“Treat your coffee kindly,” says Califia. Indeed. Every “original” (read: lightly sweetened) plant-milk creamer in our supermarket survey—and even a few flavored ones—earned our praise. Some highlights:

■ Califia Better Half. A blend of almond milk and coconut cream keeps Better Half oh-so-creamy yet low in sat fat. While most varieties have no added sugar, the Vanilla and Hazelnut get a touch of sweetness from monk fruit juice concentrate.

■ Califia Almondmilk Creamer. Want something a bit sweeter? Califia’s Pecan Caramel, Vanilla, and Hazelnut (pictured above) add a mere half-teaspoon of sugar per tablespoon—and taste divine.

■ So Delicious Original Coconutmilk Creamer. Looking for a non-dairy doppelgänger for dairy creamer? This was the closest we found. It’s creamy, lightly sweet, and doesn’t taste like coconut.

Just 10 calories’ worth of coconut and sugar.

■ Soy creamers. Trader Joe’s Soy Creamer has 0 grams of sat fat per tablespoon, thanks to soymilk and canola oil. Silk Original Soy Creamer (with palm oil) has just ½ gram.

Don’t be fooled by “fat free”

Coffee-mate Fat Free The Original powder has just 10 calories and no fat, says its Nutrition Facts label. But its second ingredient is hydrogenated oil. What gives? The label’s numbers are for a paltry one-teaspoon serving. And labeling rules let companies list less than ½ gram of fat per serving as 0 grams. Of course, a one-tablespoon serving has about 25 calories and 0.9 grams of fat (almost all of it saturated). We know because we sent a sample to a lab for analysis.


The information in this post first appeared in the March 2019 issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter.

Nutrition Action doesn’t accept any paid advertising or corporate or government donations. Any products recommended by Nutrition Action have been vetted by our staff of nutritionists and are not advertisements by the manufacturers.

 

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