Coffee Whiteners Aren’t Food

When I ask patients what they put in their coffee, they almost always say cream. So I say, “…like cream from a cow?” And sometimes the answer is yes. But sometimes the answer is no.

What do they mean by cream then? They usually mean coffee whiteners. Like Cremora Rich ‘n Creamy!, Coffee-mate Lite The  Original, International Delights Coffee House Interpretations Vanilla Latte, or Spoon ‘N’ Stir Non-Dairy Creamer. It that’s what they’re using, then they’re actually using corn syrup solids and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Some of my patients even have a favorite fake flavor, like Irish creme or French vanilla. 

Coffee whiteners are everywhere. They’re at work, meetings, workshops, and even parties given by people who are otherwise committed to fresh food, backyard gardens, and composting. Like some kind of stealth bomber, coffee whiteners have slipped in under the radar. Coffee whiteners are Trojan horses filled with diabetes, obesity, heart attacks, and strokes.

A visit to a local supermarket reveals a few interesting facts about coffee whiteners, also known as non-dairy creamers. These products are a study in advertising spin. The packages specify the size of a single serving (a teaspoon of powder, a tablespoon of liquid), but the advertising actually encourages people to use more than a serving: 

“Savor the rich flavor and smooth creaminess of Cremora, cup after creamy cup.” 

“Pour in a teaspoon or more of Cremora.” 

“Scoop or pour…”

Remember that the more manufactured a product, the more creative its name. Coffee-Mate has many liquid versions, like French Vanilla (blue), Hazelnut (yellow), Peppermint Mocha (light blue), Vanilla Caramel (orange), and Italian Sweet Creme (purple), the last one part of a special “World Cafe” line. Linking each flavor to a particular color 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 are from their silver “Coffee House Inspirations” line. 

Coffee-Mate liquid French Vanilla comes in regular, sugar-free, and fat-free versions, all of which list the same first three ingredients in the same order. And though they contain no milk sugar (lactose), coffee whiteners are not non-dairy; most contain a milk derivative called sodium caseinate. People who are allergic to milk protein cannot consume them. All of this seems very strange to me.

International Delights also makes a product called Sweet Buttercream, advertised as Limited Edition, whatever that is. Sweet Buttercream features a photo of a thickly iced cupcake in hues of tan, gold and ivory. I figured since it used the word buttercream, there would be some butter or maybe cream in the ingredient list, but I still found just the usual — corn syrup solids and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.

So what to do? Don’t use coffee whiteners. You can use cream (from a cow!), half-and-half, or milk in your coffee. If you don’t like those options, you can try soy, rice, coconut, or almond milk. You can also drink your coffee black. 

One last thought: Don’t use “fat-free half-and-half.” I’m still trying to figure out what that even means. 

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