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Healthy Coffee Creamer: The Best Milk and Cream Alternatives
This article has been written by experts and fact-checked by experts, including licensed nutritionists, dietitians or medical professionals. The information in the article is based on scientific studies and research.
It is designed to be honest, unbiased and objective, and opinions from both sides of an argument are presented wherever there is disagreement.
The scientific references in this article (marked by 1, 2, 3, etc.) are clickable links to peer-reviewed research material on the subject being discussed.
Statistics show that about 35% of coffee drinkers take their coffee black.
God bless them. Black coffee allows connoisseurs to fully savor the natural sweetness and bitterness of the brew, and highlights the natural flavors of each type of bean and roast.
It also ensures that the drinker will enjoy all of coffee’s health and wellness benefits.
Coffee doesn’t just boost your energy levels when you’re tired, and it doesn’t just help with weight loss. It has also been shown to lower the risk of developing a number of medical conditions and diseases.
And coffee additives like milk, cream, sugar and artificial substitutes contain fat, carbs, cholesterol and/or calories, which can counteract many of those benefits.
Here’s the problem, though:
What about the 65% of people who don’t like to drink their coffee black?
Thankfully, some natural sweeteners and healthy coffee creamers can “take the edge” off of black coffee, providing extra flavor without negating the robust nutrition and health benefits of America’s favorite beverage.
We could spend an entire article discussing sugar and sugar substitutes. But that would keep us from getting to the business at hand: a close look at what makes a coffee creamer healthy, and how to choose the best options.
Let’s start by understanding why a beverage that’s so delicious is so good for you as well.
The Natural Health Benefits of Coffee
That cup of morning coffee can certainly get you going right after you wake up or get to work. There are very good reasons, though, to make a fresh pot – or stop at a coffee shop – throughout the day.
Research has shown that it’s safe for healthy adults to consume as much as 400mg of caffeine per day; that’s about the amount contained in four cups of coffee – what experts call a “moderate” amount. Studies have also concluded that any negative effects associated with coffee drinking don’t begin to appear until consumption reaches six cups or more per day.
That’s how much you can drink. Should you?
That’s up to you, but here are just some of the health benefits that coffee can deliver:
- Diabetes Prevention: Multiple studies have shown that coffee provides a protective effect against the development of type 2 diabetes. That’s apparently due to the presence of chlorogenic acid, which helps to slow down the production of glucose and helps the body metabolize it. A buildup of glucose is one of the issues that can lead to diabetes. Some research indicates that caffeine may also help protect against diabetes, although it’s not conclusive.
- Heart Disease: The jury is still out on whether coffee helps protect against cardiovascular disease. But one study has found that it seems to, at least in one group of research participants. What’s much clearer is that coffee doesn’t increase the risk of heart disease (as your parents may have told you), and that it appears to reduce the risk of stroke.
Why might coffee reduce those risks? Because it’s rich in antioxidants, which can fight the damage done by free radicals to the heart and other parts of the body. That means it’s a powerful weapon against a lot more than just cardiovascular disease, too.
- Fat Burning: There’s no definitive proof that drinking a lot of coffee helps you lose weight. There are certainly indications that it can help, though. Caffeine has been shown to increase the body’s metabolic rate by as much as 10% in overweight people, and by much more in those with a so-called healthy weight. And needless to say, boosting the metabolism contributes to weight loss.
- Brain Function: Studies show that the caffeine in coffee increases the production of neurotransmitters that are important for brain activities like memory, alertness and overall cognition. Perhaps just as importantly, it seems to protect the brain against the cognitive decline associated with aging, greatly reducing the possibilities of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia.
And those are just the big four. There’s evidence that moderate coffee consumption can help prevent the development of liver disease, Parkinson’s disease, and even some forms of cancer. There are also nutrients in coffee; a single cup can provide 10% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin B2, plus lesser amounts of vitamin B5 and minerals like potassium and magnesium.
That leads us to ask a very important question.
Does Coffee With Milk or Creamer Provide the Same Benefits?
es, it does – but with two big asterisks.
Asterisk 1: The more milk, creamer (or anything else) you add to a cup of coffee, the less room there is for the coffee. Less coffee, of course, means fewer health and wellness benefits.
Asterisk 2: Milk or creamer doesn’t cancel out the benefits that coffee provides, but it can add some unhealthy properties to the mix. Just as one example, a cup of black coffee contains about two calories. Add a few teaspoons of a traditional creamer, and all of a sudden you’re consuming about 40-50 calories. At four cups a day, those calories can really add up fast – and you can certainly imagine how many calories you consume if you enjoy mochas or pumpkin spice lattes on a regular basis.
There’s one obvious conclusion. If you don’t like it black, using a healthy coffee creamer will maximize the benefits of your morning (or afternoon, or evening, or late-night) brew.
So let’s find some healthy coffee creamers.
What about Milk or Cream?
We know that the calcium in milk is “good for us.” It seems like our mothers, not to mention our health education teachers, told us that every single day. Cream? It contains more calories and fat, but it’s one of the gold standards in a keto diet – so it must be good for us as well. Right?
Yes and no.
When you add milk or cream to your coffee, you’re adding calories, fat and carbs.
- Two tablespoons of whole milk: 18 calories, 1.4 grams of carbs, 2 grams of fat.
- Two ounces of nonfat milk: 22 calories, 2 grams of carbs, 0.1 grams of fat.
- Two ounces of heavy cream: 120 calories, 0.8 grams of carbs, 12 grams of fat.
And that’s without the sugar you might add as well.
Sure, those numbers aren’t huge, but multiply them by four or five cups of coffee a day and they’re eye-opening. (Needless to say, dairy additives aren’t even an option for the lactose intolerant.)
It’s true that milk and cream can be good for you. They contain nutrients and protein that promote muscle growth and support bone strength, and they can provide other health benefits as well. But you can get those benefits in healthier ways, too, without adding lots of carbohydrates, calories and fat to your diet.
That’s important, particularly if you’re watching your weight.
But what about the fact that milk or cream can cool down your coffee and soften its acidity – or simply the fact that they’re delicious when added to a cup of coffee?
That’s where coffee creamers come in.
What Is Coffee Creamer?
Coffee creamers are often referred to as “non-dairy” or “dairy-free” coffee creamers, which makes one thing clear about these milk-and-cream substitutes: most of them don’t contain cream. No milk, either.
(Most do contain a form of milk protein, casein. But even though casein is considered “milk” by vegans and Orthodox Jews, it’s officially labeled non-dairy because it contains no lactose.)
Coffee creamers were developed in the mid-20th century. The first product was made from soybeans, but the first commercially successful creamers – Rich Products’ CoffeeRich, Carnation’s Coffee-Mate (later acquired by Nestlé), and Borden’s Cremora – replaced milk fat with vegetable oil and/or corn syrup, in order to replicate the creaminess of milk.
The major brands are still around today, along with another big player which came along a couple of decades later, International Delight. That company added a whole new element to coffee creamers: flavorings like French vanilla, Irish cream and cinnamon hazelnut. Other producers quickly followed suit. The dairy-free creamer market is a mature one, but it remains huge; sales of non-dairy creamers still total $3 billion dollars annually.
Fun fact: coffee creamers are big in Hollywood, because they’re cheap, they’re non-toxic – and igniting large quantities of creamer can create the huge fireballs that action films are known for.
Today, most of the dairy-free creamers you find at the grocery store (and on Amazon) still use a combination of corn syrup and oils, although some have switched from oils containing trans-fats to alternatives like soybean, palm or coconut oil. They also contain other ingredients worth flagging, like artificial flavors, thickening agents, preservatives – and added sugar. There are now fat-free and sugar-free versions of most major creamers, but that just means artificial sweeteners have been added to the mix instead.
You’ve probably guessed that those ingredients make the majority of commercial non-dairy creamers even more unhealthy than milk or cream. You’d be right. A small sampling:
- Flavored Coffee-Mate products contain about 70 calories, 3 grams of fat and 10 grams of sugar in two tablespoons. Original Coffee-Mate has 40 calories, 2 grams of fat and 2 grams of sugar, but uses less-healthy oils.
- International Delight flavored creamers average about 70 calories, 3 grams of fat and 12 grams of sugar for a two-tablespoon serving. Sugar-free versions cut the calories to 40, but boost fat to 4 grams and use a lot more artificial ingredients.
- Dunkin’ creamer (a relatively-new entry into the market) contains a whopping 80 calories, 3 grams of fat and 12 grams of sugar in every two tablespoons.
To put it simply, that ain’t great – and artificial ingredients make things even worse.
Thankfully, there are much healthier coffee creamer alternatives.
Healthy Coffee Creamers
The phrase “coffee creamer” may conjure up images of the white powder (no, not that white powder) found in most office break rooms, or the liquid stuff they serve with coffee at the local diner.
Healthy coffee creamer can be much, much more appealing - trust us. Here are some to consider.
Unsweetened Plant-Based Milks
Even fancy coffee shops have started offering plant milks as creamer options. Whether you’re at a restaurant or buying for home use, unsweetened oat milk, hemp milk, almond milk, cashew milk and coconut milk are just some of the healthier plant-based possibilities to choose from.
For example, oat milk contains just 14 calories, 0.4 grams of fat and 2 grams of carbs in a two-tablespoon serving. Hemp milk: 8 calories, 0.6 grams of fat, 0 carbs; almond milk: 4 calories, 0.3 grams of fat, 0 carbs. Coconut milk may taste better to some, but be careful; it contains 70 calories, 7 grams of fat and 2 carbs.
Some types of plant milk, like hemp milk, contain nearly the same amounts of nutrients that are found in cow’s milk, while providing large amounts of healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Want an off-the-beaten-track alternative? Pea milk is creamy like cow’s milk, and contains about the same amount of protein.
Be sure to check the labels when buying plant milk, though. The numbers we’ve listed are for the unsweetened milks without additives, but many producers add sugar, thickenings or flavorings – which mean added calories, added carbs and unhealthy ingredients. There are also commercial coffee creamers which are made from plant milks that you can consider, and we’ll take a look at those shortly.
Keto Coffee Creamers
Everyone’s at least heard about the keto diet, which causes weight loss by drastically reducing daily carbohydrate consumption. Some may also have heard about something called MCT oil. It’s often added to smoothies, tea, and (most famously) coffee, along with grass-fed butter or ghee, to help the body stay in fat-burning mode. MCT oil (short for medium-chain triglycerides) also provides the body with healthy fat that can be used for energy, and that the brain can use as fuel.
Simply adding MCT oil to coffee isn’t the perfect way to replace milk (not encouraged on keto) or cream (encouraged, but only in moderation). MCT oil isn’t water-soluble so you need to use a blender to properly incorporate it into coffee, and its consistency is quite different from milk.
However, there are a number of commercially-available keto coffee creamers that come a lot closer to mimicking milk or ordinary creamer – while providing enormous benefits that make your coffee a lot healthier.
The best of the bunch is Super Creamer from Super Coffee, It’s made from MCT oil, cream and milk protein isolate, with no added sugar or artificial ingredients. Three tablespoons contain just 25 calories, 1.5 grams of carbs, 2 grams of protein, and 2.5 grams of fat, it mixes very easily with coffee, it helps energy levels and cognition, it’s available in a number of natural flavors (including Hazelnut, Sweet Cream and Vanilla flavors), it’s lactose-free and gluten-free, and it tastes delicious.
NutPods almond and coconut creamer is another popular choice because it’s a zero-carb option. It just doesn’t taste quite as good. Some keto and paleo dieters use coconut cream (which is different from coconut milk) in their coffee, because it provides some of the benefits of MCT coconut oil. Two tablespoons of the cream, however, contain 136 calories.
Other Healthy Coffee Creamer Suggestions
One of the companies known for producing healthy dairy-free creamers is Califia Farms. Their products are plant-based, low-sugar (or sugar-free) and available in a wide range of flavors from vanilla and hazelnut, to pecan caramel and mushroom oat. They really are healthy and they all taste good.
If “calorie-free” rules your dietary choices you’re probably familiar with Walden Farms, because the brand offers a huge variety of zero-calorie salad dressings, sauces and syrups. They also sell six flavors of no-calorie coffee creamers which contain no fat, sugar, carbs or gluten, although they do contain undefined “cream flavoring,” salt and food coloring. That doesn’t necessarily make them unhealthy, but we wish they provided more specific information on the ingredients. These creamers don’t taste quite as good as the ones we’ve already mentioned, but zero-calorie, zero carb is obviously tempting.
And in the “best of the worst” category, Coffee-Mate has a line of popular creamers called “Natural Bliss.” They’re made with either milk and cream, or with plant milks; most have added sugar; and they all have much higher calorie, fat and carb content. But they are all-natural, which is a step up from most major commercially-sold coffee creamers.
Make Your Own Healthy Coffee Creamer
Your mother probably told you much more than “drink milk, it’s good for you.” There’s a good chance she also told you “if you want something done right, do it yourself.”
There are many nutritious and yummy recipes for health coffee creamers that you can whip up in just minutes. Here are just a few of the possible combinations:
- Coconut milk drizzled with honey and nutmeg, or mixed with vanilla extract and cinnamon
- Half-and-half mixed with stevia and nutmeg
- Grass-fed butter drizzled with maple syrup
- Almond milk, mixed with heavy cream, vanilla extract, peppermint essential oil and cocoa powder
There’s no question: milk and cream taste terrific in coffee. But once you’ve tried one of these fantastic alternatives, you may never go back to asking for “cream and sugar, please.”