There's nothing like a hot cup off coffee or rich cold brew to get you out of bed on a dreary, early morning (or, let's be real, most mornings). If coffee is your thing and you don't take it black, you probably add creamer to enhance the flavor and cut the acidity. But, is this little indulgence sabotaging your healthy diet? We spoke with a physician and registered dietitians for their medical advice.
Meet the Expert
- Nikola Djordjevic, MD, is a board certified family physician and medical advisor to Health Careers.
- Kristen Carli, RD is a registered dietitian and nutritionist and owner of Camelback Nutrition & Wellness.
- Lisa Richards is a registered dietitian and author of The Candida Diet.
- Diana Gariglio-Clelland is a registered dietitian at Balance One Supplements.
Is Coffee Creamer Bad for You?
Unsurprisingly, the nutritionists and doctor we spoke with aren't thrilled about using coffee creamer as a daily dietary staple. However, Nikola Djordjevic, MD, urges us to think more holistically about overall eating habits. "Bottom line, everything can be a health hazard if we take it too much," he says. "That’s why the best thing we can do to our health is to be moderate in everything we do." In other words, if you stick to the serving size of one tablespoon per day of coffee creamer, and your overall diet isn't full of trans fat and sugar, then moderate consumption of creamer won't likely derail your healthy eating efforts.
Of course, if you're using more than one serving per day, you could be consuming a lot more fat and sugar than you might think. Dietitian and nutritionist Kristen Carli, RD says, "Ask yourself: How much creamer do you put in per cup? How many cups do you drink each morning? Depending on the type of creamer and how much you put in your coffee each morning, you can very easily hit your limit on added sugars per day." The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than half of your daily caloric allowance, aka 6 teaspoons for women and 9 teaspoons for men.
The best thing we can do to our health is to be moderate in everything we do
A Break Down of Coffee Creamer Ingredients
So what exactly is in coffee creamer? "A vast majority of coffee creamers contain water, sugar, and hydrogenated oil we know as a trans fat," says Djordjevic. "We consume trans fats when we eat animal products; however, if we take too much of trans fats, we’re putting ourselves at risk of raising LDL (or 'bad' cholesterol)." The AHA recommended intake of trans fat is about two grams per day, which is about the amount of trans fat contained in one serving of coffee creamer. Yikes!
In addition to trans fats, flavored coffee creamers are often high in added sugar, with around five grams of sugar per tablespoon. This can really add up if you don't stick to the serving size. "Ideally, it is best to avoid any added sugar, but one to two grams should be your limit," advises author of The Candida Diet, Lisa Richards, RD.
When it comes to a liquid or powdered variety, there probably isn't much of a difference nutrition-wise. "Powdered creamers are a bit less offensive than they used to be with the banning of trans fat from partially hydrogenated oils," says Diana Gariglio-Clelland, RD at Balance One Supplements. "However, they still often contain added sugars and saturated fats in the form of palm kernel oil."
Healthier Alternatives to Coffee Creamer
Don't lose all hope on adding a creamy element to your coffee, though. "There are plenty of coffee creamers that are fat-free, but using traditional milk, whether dairy or plant based, is likely the healthiest route to go,” says Richards.
Gariglio-Clelland agrees. "A few healthy coffee creamers I would recommend include SO Delicious Coconut Creamer as a dairy alternative and Natural Bliss All Natural Sweet Cream as a healthy dairy creamer. The benefit of these two creamers is that they don't contain added sugar." Fair warning: Gariglio-Clelland is wary of anything marketed as a "superfood creamer." She explains, "The best true superfoods are whole foods, not processed foods with labels," she says.
Finally, if these alt-creamers aren't cutting it in the flavor category, Richards suggests adding monk fruit to sweeten your coffee. "It's naturally sweet because it's high in antioxidants, which means you're not only avoiding inflammatory ingredients by not using processed creamers or sugar, but you are giving your body anti-inflammatory nutrients," she says.