When I ask patients what they put in their coffee, they almost always say “cream.” So I say, “Like from a cow?” And they usually say no.
What do they mean by “cream” then? They mean coffee whiteners. “Cremora Rich ‘n Creamy!”, “Coffee-mate Lite The Original,” “International Delights Coffee House Interpretations Vanilla Latte,” “Spoon ‘N’ Stir Non-Dairy Creamer,” and so on. They mean corn syrup solids and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Translation? Sugar and trans fat. Some of my patients even have a favorite flavor, now that the folks who make and market coffee whiteners have identified and exploited the consumer’s insatiable desire for variety.
Coffee whiteners are everywhere. They’re at the office, at meetings, at the workshop I attended last week, and at parties given by folks otherwise committed to fresh food, backyard gardens, and the like. Like some kind of stealth bomber, they slip in under everybody’s radar. Coffee whiteners are Trojan horses filled with diabetes, obesity, heart attacks, and strokes.
A visit to my neighborhood supermarket reveals a few interesting facts about coffee whiteners, also known as non-dairy creamers. In and of themselves, they are a study in advertising spin. First, although they contain no milk sugar (lactose), they are NOT non-dairy; virtually all of them contain a milk derivative called sodium caseinate. People who are allergic to milk protein cannot consume them. That is why the Orthodox Union classifies them as dairy for those consumers, Jewish and otherwise, who purchase kosher food. And that’s just the beginning.
Coffee whiteners, a very successful form of fabricated calories, are advertised as containing zero trans fats even though they actually contain almost 1/2 gram per serving. That’s because, according to the law, products containing up to 1/2 gram may be advertised as trans-fat free. But a teaspoon of powder isn’t very much. If you use more, whether in one cup of coffee, tea or cocoa (as recommended on the label), or several cups, you get more trans fat. And even small amounts of trans fat cause damage to blood vessels, increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes, and interfere with fat storage, cholesterol synthesis, and fertility. There is no amount of trans fat that is safe to consume.
Okay, so if you use more than the recommended serving size, you’ll get more trans fat. That’s obvious. What of it? Well, I’m having a hard time with the fact that the advertising on packages of coffee whitener actually encourages people to use more than a single teaspoon (powder) or tablespoon (liquid) serving size: “Pour in a teaspoon or more of Cremora.” “Savor the rich flavor and smooth creaminess of Cremora, cup after creamy cup.” “Scoop or pour…”
Remembering that the more manufactured the product, the more creative the names, let’s take a look at the coffee whitener flavors: Coffee-Mate makes liquid versions in French Vanilla (blue), Hazelnut (yellow), Peppermint Mocha (light blue), Vanilla Caramel (orange), and Italian Sweet Creme (purple), this last one part of their special “World Cafe” line. Linking each flavor to a particular color spectrum improves identification, selection, and loyalty. International Delight makes French Vanilla (blue), Hazelnut (orange), Hershey’s Chocolate Caramel (brown), Amaretto (pink), Irish Creme (green), White Chocolate Mocha (purple), Caramel Macchiato (light brown), and Vanilla Latte (turquoise), the last three from their “Coffee House Inspirations” (silver) line.
Coffee-Mate liquid French Vanilla comes in regular, sugar-free, and fat-free versions. I can’t figure out how it is that all of these list the same first three ingredients (water, corn syrup solids, and partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oil) in the same order. But they do.
International Delights also makes a product called Sweet Buttercream, advertised as Limited Edition, whatever that is. Sweet Buttercream features a thickly iced cupcake in hues of tan, gold and ivory. I figured since it had the word “buttercream,” there must be some butter, or maybe cream, in the ingredient list, but I just found the usual — corn syrup solids and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, i.e., sugar and trans fat.
So what should you do? Don’t use coffee whiteners. Put cream (from a cow!), half-and-half, or milk in your coffee. You will not gain one single pound. Substitute soy, rice, coconut, or almond milk if you are intolerant of dairy, and stick to the original without added sugar and flavorings. Or drink your coffee black. Don’t use “fat-free half-and-half.” I’m still trying to figure out what that even means.
Don’t buy anything with the words “partially-hydrogenated” in its ingredient list. “Partially-hydrogenated” means trans fats, and there is no place for trans fats in the diets of your loved ones, friends, or coworkers. We will not build healthy communities with coffee whitener.