Coffee-Mate, Trans Fats, & What You Really Should Know About Coffee Creamers
Oh, the delicious taste of coffee creamer. Have you ever wondered how it tastes like that or better yet, how companies make it? For many people, coffee creamer is the last thing they will give up when deciding to eat more whole foods. We get it! We love our coffee and got sucked into thinking that you should be putting super, fun-flavored coffee creamers in your coffee too!
But when Heather and I learned more about coffee creamers and started flipping labels to see what was in them, we eventually decided that we wanted to switch to other options.
The point of this blog is simply to let you know what is commonly in conventional coffee creamers, especially Coffee Mate, so you can make your own choices - or maybe find out if it could be contributing to some of the health issues you might be experiencing.
At SHE Changes Everything, we truly believe every person has the right to choose what they decide to continue to consume with zero guilt, as long as you actually understand WHAT you are choosing.
We want to give you your power back to make your own choices.
With that said, I believe most women do not know what they are choosing when regularly consuming conventional coffee creamers. So, let’s break down some of the top reasons why you might want to reconsider adding one of the most popular creamers, ‘Coffee Mate,” to your coffee. I actually believe it should be called “Cancer Mate.” Yes, CANCER MATE.
A bold claim, so I’ll share the science to back it up.
Here is the short answer if you don’t have a lot of time:
Traditional creamer isn’t actually cream at all, but a lab-created, non-dairy liquid that contains refined sugar, partially hydrogenated oils, carrageenan, and man-made chemical preservatives that have been associated with cancer, heart disease, sexual dysfunction, digestive issues, weakened immune system, atherosclerosis, diabetes, obesity, and other issues.
On top of that, these creamers are empty of any minerals, vitamins or antioxidants, adding zero value to your dietary intake besides calories.
Simply put, you can skip them, make your own using whole food ingredients, or choose versions with less problematic ingredients that don’t cause harm to your health by flipping the label and deciding what you’ll bring into your life.
Now let’s break down the longer answer and point out some problem areas:
Coffee mate contains not one, but several ingredients tied to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and more. I will break those down next, but first I want to talk about a fact that many people are not taught to focus on or understand with these food chemicals being added to our food that are GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe). Most studies look simply at how much you can tolerate at ONE time. Aka, eating something ONCE. None of these “safe” results are actually based on daily consumption for YEARS on end. That’s what made me start questioning these ingredients when I looked into them: no one is looking at what happens when these chemicals build up in the body. This is not OK!
Which means you need to take your own health into your own hands.
The FDA is NOT doing it for you.
I have found that many people think that “Coffee creamer can’t be that bad” or tell themselves, “I’m not using that much” as their philosophy for why these keep getting added to their morning coffee. (Remember, even a small amount of something daily adds up. Consider how often you use something throughout the week to determine your true body burden).
Problematic Ingredient 1: Carrageenan
According to the Cornucopia Institute, an organization which has been a major driver of removing carrageenan from creamers, milk, and milk-like products, Studies from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s link food-grade carrageenan to higher rates of digestive disease, including colon cancer. Carrageenan has a unique chemical structure that “triggers an innate immune response in the body, which recognizes it as a dangerous invader. This immune response leads to inflammation. For individuals who consume carrageenan on a regular or daily basis, the inflammation will be prolonged and constant, which is a serious health concern since prolonged inflammation is a precursor to more serious disease.”
Problematic Ingredient 2: Artificial and Natural Flavors
Remember how I said most of my patients think the FDA is testing and regulating the ingredients in your food? It is… and it isn’t.
The FDA does create some regulation, but it is slow to act and very limited in the scope of what it can actually test and review. Companies can hide chemicals in the ingredient: Artificial Flavors and/or Natural Flavors. You as the consumer have no idea what this catch-all includes. But history has shown it isn’t good. Despite multiple U.S. and international agencies — including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Toxicology Program — saying that these chemicals were linked to cancer in humans or animals, the FDA did not take action the remove seven specific chemicals (used to create floral, mint, cinnamon, citrus, mango flavors, and more) until it was finally forced to with a lawsuit.
Seriously. Only after a class action by an entire coalition of health, consumer and environmental advocacy organizations including Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, Center for Environmental Health, Center for Food Safety, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Working Group, Natural Resources Defense Council, and WE ACT for Environmental Justice — with Natural Resources Defense Council and Center for Food Safety serving as co-counsel for their respective organizations, was the FDA forced to take action.
But companies have two years to remove the chemicals, so what you’re seeing on the shelves very likely still has these chemicals hidden in it.
And this is only 7 chemicals that have finally undergone testing. There are hundreds of others that could eventually be proven to have the same effect that are hiding under this label.
It doesn’t make sense to support companies that hide ingredients (especially since there are high odds it is ingredients linked to cancer) behind catch-all labels, which you will see on so many creamers.
Problematic Ingredient 3: Less than 2% of Micellar Casein (a Milk Derivative)**
This is a reflection of how fake this food really is. There’s no cream. None. In fact, this is a vegetarian product. Only milk proteins that have been created in a lab and then added (which prevents it from being vegan). This creamer, doesn’t have true cream or milk at all. So if its not real dairy, what must the body actually think of this being dropped into and having to figure out what to do with it?
Problematic Ingredient 4: Monoglycerides and diglycerides
Monoglycerides and diglycerides are emulsifiers: they prevent water and oil from separating. You’ll actually find them in many processed foods for this reason and because they make food last longer before spoiling. Think about how long the shelf life is for your favorite creamer.
The concern is that monoglycerides actually contain small amounts of trans fats, which the FDA finally banned because high amounts of trans fats (commonly seen on labels as partially hydrogenated oil and vegetable shortening) are generally agreed by the medical community to cause heart disease, diabetes, and strokes. Way back in 1981, a group of Welsh researchers linked trans fats specifically from partially hydrogenated oils heart disease. And the research continued to pile up. (1,2,3,4) But a U.S. ban did not take place until 2018, and they won’t be banned globally until 2023 by the World Health Organization.
The ban on trans fats only applies to lipids, like triglycerides, but not to emulsifiers like mono- and diglycerides. So although mono- and diglycerides can expose your body to trans fats, they don’t fall under these labeling requirements. Food labeled as possessing "0% trans fat" could still contain trans-fatty acids from mono- and diglycerides.
Trans fats from these emulsifiers is a small quantity, which might not be a cause for concern, but again, its accumulation that matters. Trans fats do occur naturally in many types of meat and dairy and, to a lesser extent, in plant- or nut-based oils, so if you’re consistently getting small amounts from those and then adding creamer to a few cups of coffee a day, that starts to add up.
Once we learned that, it seemed like a great idea to skip it whenever we could and not increase our risk of heart disease.
Also, until the ban on trans fats happened, Coffee-Mate Original had hydrogenated vegetable oil in it – a trans fat. And the company was perfectly fine selling it to you until finally forced to take it out. There’s actually a class action suit against the company for falsely advertising it’s product at “0g Tans Fat,” when it actually DID contain trans fats. The case has not been settled and motion to dismiss has been denied. Coffee-Mate is owned by Nestle, which also knowingly sells chocolate gathered by forced or child labor, so we’re not surprised the company would find another way to cut corners and put profit over people and the planet. Avoiding Nestle is one way you can fight slavery with your every day purchases.
Problematic Ingredient 5: Aspartame
Depending on what flavor you’re picking or if you’re reaching for something sugar-free, it will have aspartame in it, which has been associated with cancer. Experts on both sides of the argument will say that studies showing the opposing viewpoint are flawed, but there are many experts who will say more research is needed to eliminate the possibility that it really does cause cancer. Even beyond cancer, a newer, large study (407,000 individuals) showed aspartame leads to an increased risk of heart disease and increased body mass index.6 And there’s the fact that Monsanto owns it. Just saying.
Don’t Get Overwhelmed
If you drink Coffee Mate or a similar coffee creamer with less than nutritious ingredients, don’t panic! It can seem overwhelming to switch what for many of us is a decades-long habits, but you simply have to be willing to 1) check labels and decide what you will or won’t allow in your home and 2) consider just choosing whole food sources to add (organic cream, almond milk, full-fat coconut milk, etc). There is no added “extras” with questionable origins in these and you can flavor with using spices or natural sweeteners.
Our favorite flavoring option when we are in the mood for flavor is to use a good milk or nut milk and add several drops of stevia or extract. For example, you can add a small amount of peppermint extract to your coffee for a winter drink that still gives you all the holiday feels. We have one peppermint mocha recipe here. You’ll never miss the creamer!