Healthy Substitutes for Coffee Creamers

Coffee creamers are known for being fatty and sweet. Many of these products are made from milk but contain added sugar and flavorings, while others are more processed and have no milk at all. Fortunately, some healthy coffee creamer alternatives are available. Coffee creamer substitutes may be made from lactose-free products, plant-based products and even low-carb foods.

There are several different options to substitute for coffee creamer. (Image: Getty Images/Adene Sanchez)

What Is Coffee Creamer?

Coffee creamers are processed products meant to resemble a blend of milk and cream. Some are made with milk or are milk and cream blended together, while others are nondairy creamers. Many coffee creamers are intermediaries: They have some component of milk, like casein, but no actual milk-based products in them otherwise.

Take Coffee Mate, for instance. This popular coffee creamer is primarily made of water, but also contains ingredients like corn syrup solids, vegetable oil, milk-based casein and flavorings. One tablespoon-sized serving (15 milliliters) contains 20 calories, 1 gram of fat and 2 grams of carbohydrates. Both of these carbohydrates come from added sugars.

Given that the nutritional values for coffee creamers are often similar to products like Coffee Mate, most coffee creamers can't be considered particularly healthy. Beyond these macronutrients, coffee creamers often have few vitamins and minerals, even when they're made from milk-based products or other natural ingredients. The vitamins and minerals they do have are often found in very small amounts (between 1 and 4 percent).

Coffee creamers are defined by their macronutrient content, specifically their fat content. This means that any fat-rich food can technically act as a coffee creamer. Milk-based products like whole milk and plant-based products like coconut milk or oat cream can be used as healthy alternatives to coffee creamer. Even eggs may be used as coffee creamer alternatives.

Characteristics of Healthy Coffee Creamers

Healthy coffee creamer alternatives are usually made from natural ingredients, regardless of whether they are vegetarian-friendly or vegan-friendly products. The healthiest products are those that don't contain added sugars, like corn syrup. Many foods have sugars, but according to a December 2014 article in the journal Nutrition Reviews, added sugars are the ones that can seriously impact your diet's quality in a negative way.

An April 2014 study in JAMA Internal Medicine discussed how larger amounts of added sugars were related to a variety of different health problems, including weight gain and obesity, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. An April 2015 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition supported these findings, showing how products that contain added sugars, particularly those that come from corn syrup, can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular disease-related mortality.

Since coffee creamers typically contain substantial fat content, you should also be aware of their quantities of saturated fats and trans fats. Both saturated fats, which tend to come from animal products, and trans fats, which can be found in both processed foods and animal products, are considered bad for your health.

Both of these types of fats should be limited in your diet. Although there is no daily recommended intake for trans fat, the American Heart Association recommends limiting your saturated fat consumption to 5 or 6 percent of your daily calories. For people following a 2,000 calorie diet, this is about 120 calories or 13 grams of saturated fat.

Milk-Based Coffee Creamer Alternatives

If you're after a standard coffee creamer made from milk products, you might want to consider products like milk, cream and half-and-half. Full-fat milk, sometimes also referred to as whole milk or full-cream milk, is one of the fattiest types of milk you can obtain from an animal source. This type of milk is often considered too fatty to drink.

While you may not want to drink several cups of this type of milk each day, using it as a creamer in limited amounts can be a perfectly healthy choice. According to the USDA, each tablespoon (15 grams) of whole milk has just 9 calories, half a gram of fat, half a gram of protein and 0.7 grams of carbohydrates. You can also try buttermilk, a fermented milk product, that has a similar macronutrient content to milk but has the benefit of containing healthy probiotic bacteria.

If you find that whole milk and buttermilk are too light for you compared to coffee creamers, you can also use milk-based cream as an alternative. Cream comes in two main types: light cream, which has a fat content that ranges between 18 and 30 percent, and heavy cream, which has a fat content that is usually around 36 percent or more.

Half-and-half products are also typically made from milk-based ingredients. With the exception of fat-free half-and-half, most half-and-half products are a combination of full-cream milk and some type of cream. Half-and-half products typically have a variable fat content that ranges between 10.5 and 18 percent. Regardless of the product you choose, keep in mind that these are all animal-based milk products, which means that they all contain some amount of saturated fat.

Healthy Nondairy Creamer Products

Most supermarkets carry a variety of plant-based milk alternatives, which can range from almond to soy or hemp. Plant-based creamers are often available from the same producers that make milk alternatives. These products can be some of the healthiest coffee creamer alternatives you can find.

Many plant-based products, like nuts, are rich in fat and make excellent coffee creamer alternatives. Other plant-based products from which you can make a type of milk or cream include grain-based products, like oats, and legume-based products, like soy. Plant-based creamers, like oat milk and cream, often have a fraction of the amount of saturated fat compared to animal-milk based products.

However, you shouldn't automatically think of all plant-based creamers as healthier products. For example, coconut milk and cream can be rich in saturated fat. Although the negative health effects of plant-based saturated fats are disputed, the American Heart Association recommends limiting your intake of foods with saturated fat, regardless of whether they come from plant or animal sources.

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