Coffee creamers: Nondairy but not nonfat

Claire Martin is a coffee drinker who used to douse her coffee with nondairy creamer.

"I just kind of eyeball it. You know, shake in a good amount of creamer to make it nice and creamy," Martin said.

And that's the problem. Dietitian Alyse Levine says the marketing for many nondairy creamers is misleading.

"They read 'low in fat,' 'fat free,' the calories look pretty decent, however the serving sizes are tiny compared to what people are actually using. They're pouring in a couple tablespoons at minimum and I don't know anyone drinking just one cup. There's the morning cup, the mid morning, afternoon, late afternoon, so many people are drinking multiple cups a day," Levine said.

And that can deliver a one-two punch in terms of calories and unhealthy fats.

The original one teaspoon serving size was intended for the original 6 oz. cup of coffee. Most people now drink as much as four times that amount of coffee. That means up to four times as much creamer and many don't measure at all.

Due to Food and Drug Administration regulations, the so-called "Rounding Down" law from the Labeling Act, allows a company to market their creamer as "fat free" or "trans fat free" if the serving contains a half-gram of fat or less.

For example, The Center for Science in the Public Interest found that the label of Original Coffee Mate shows 10 calories and 1/2 gram of saturated fat per serving. The serving size is 1 teaspoon.

But when researchers checked with the manufacturer, Nestle admitted there were nearly 15 calories and almost a full gram of saturated fat per teaspoon serving. The differences are legal, but misleading.

So if you have 1 tablespoon - you're getting 45 calories versus 10 and 3 grams of saturated fat, not zero.

With the Coffee Mate, that means a higher dose of saturated fat. But if there's trans fat, it's worse

"There's actually no established upper limit of safety for trans fat, which means you really don't want to get any in your diet," said Levine.

Yet many unsuspecting nondairy creamer consumers have no idea that this additive may be not only hurting their diet, but also hurting their health.

To make sure your creamer isn't packing an unexpected punch, go right for the ingredient list. If you see partially hydrogenated oil in the list, the product contains trans fat.

If the ingredient list contains coconut or palm kernel oils, that indicates a higher amount of saturated fat. But both fats are bad for your heart.

The solution? Switch to low-fat dairy or even fat-free Half and Half, at just 20 calories for 2 tablespoons. If you want to go dairy-free, try soy creamer, rice or oat milk. You'll get the same creamy color without the surprise attack of fat and calories.

Click here for more information on fat content in non-dairy creamers.


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