Zero-Sugar Coffee Creamer: Sorting Out Good And Bad Options

When you’re trying to lose weight or simply eat healthy, it makes sense to take your coffee black.

Skipping the cream and sugar isn’t going to make all the difference between being overweight and being slim, of course. But every little bit helps.

If you’re not fond of black coffee, there are calorie-free sugar substitutes. But what about milk and cream?

There are options. Milk has 82% fewer calories than cream, but they both contain sugar. Many nut milks contain substantially fewer calories than either one. There’s a wide variety of coffee creamers that lets you avoid milk or cream altogether.

But most people don’t realize what’s used to make most coffee creamers: sugar. And even sugar-free coffee creamer can contain all sorts of unhealthy ingredients.

Let’s pull back the curtains and show you what’s in coffee creamer. After that, we’ll talk about some good zero-sugar creamer choices.

How Most Coffee Creamers Are Made

There’s no secret as to why people use coffee creamer; they want a milk or cream alternative that provides the texture and consistency they like their coffee to have.

But how do you create a liquid with the consistency of milk or cream without using milk or cream? Get ready to be surprised.

Starbucks’ creamers, believe it or not, still contain non-fat milk, buttermilk and heavy cream. You might consider that “cheating,” but it’s one way to do it.

Most of the other big companies do it by using bountiful amounts of oil and sugar. (Incidentally, Starbucks uses vegetable oil in its creamers, too.)

Why Is There Oil in Coffee Creamer?

There’s a lot of fat in cream and a good amount in milk. The plant-derived oils used to make most creamers have chemical compositions similar to dairy products, so they provide the same “mouth feel” and body that coffee drinkers are accustomed to in their morning cup of coffee. Oil also lengthens the shelf life of non-dairy creamers.

If that sounds like an unhealthy substitution, it is. It was particularly bad until recently, because the oils commonly used to make creamers were hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils, better known (and reviled) as trans fats.

In the last few years, trans fats have been banned for use in many products and replaced by somewhat healthier “high-oleic oils.” You may still see them in some powdered creamers, though. And even though the high-oleic oil in liquid coffee creamer is better for you, that doesn’t mean it’s an ingredient you’d want to regularly drink.

Why Is There Sugar in Coffee Creamer?

The sugar in coffee creamer also helps with consistency and “mouthfeel,” but that’s not the major reason it’s so commonly found in creamer.

Most of today’s coffee creamers are much sweeter than the milk and cream they’ve “replaced,” because their primary selling point is flavor. Since the majority of those flavors are sweet ones, it’s obvious what that means: they contain either sugar or a sugar substitute.

For the country’s most popular brands, Nestle Coffee-Mate and International Delight, it’s usually added sugar. (Coffee-Mate often uses corn syrup, but that’s simply glucose sourced from corn instead of sugar cane.)

The growing demand for healthier alternatives has led most major creamer manufacturers to develop new product lines. They now sell coffee creamers that may be labeled zero-carb, low-carb, sugar-free, low-sugar, zero-sugar or low-calorie.

You have to shop carefully to be sure you’re not buying a creamer loaded with sugar, though – and a label that says “low-calorie” or “zero sugar” doesn’t necessarily mean that what’s inside the container is good for you. We’ll discuss that in more detail shortly.

What Else Is In Coffee Creamer?

To be blunt, there’s lots of other stuff that you might not want to be putting into your coffee.

Milk Derivatives

Yes, there may still be milk-derived ingredients in non-dairy creamer. Sodium caseinate and micellar casein are forms of milk protein, which are what’s left after the lactose (milk sugar) is removed. Products with those ingredients are legally considered non-dairy, not dairy-free.

Creamers containing casein are technically lactose-free so they shouldn’t be a problem for the lactose-intolerant. But they’re not dairy-free, so they could be an issue for those who are allergic to milk proteins. They’re also off-limits for vegans.

Emulsifiers, Thickener, Buffering Agents, Artificial Flavors

Ingredients like mono- and diglycerides, dipotassium phosphate, polysorbate 60 and carrageenan are used in creamers to keep them from coagulating, separating, or simply becoming shelf-unstable. Not all coffee creamers contain them, but most standard commercial brands do. Many also contain artificial flavorings.

These ingredients are all classified as safe by the government but they’re certainly not natural, and there have been some health controversies surrounding the thickener carrageenan.

None of this means that the Coffee-Mate or International Delight you buy at the supermarket is going to make you sick. It does mean, though, that even “zero-sugar” coffee creamer isn’t the healthiest thing you could put into your body on a regular basis.

Let’s talk more about those zero-sugar creamers.

Coffee Creamers and Sweeteners

If sugar is an important ingredient in most commercial coffee creamers – and it is – then it would have to be replaced with something else to create a zero-sugar product.

Needless to say, many zero-calorie sugar substitutes could be used, but the biggest manufacturers use either sucralose or ace-K. Each is classified as “Generally Recognized as Safe” by the government, but neither sweetener is ideal.

Sucralose

Sucralose is commonly used in processed foods. It’s one of the easiest sweeteners to work with when baking and cooking, and it doesn’t become unstable when frozen.

You may know this artificial sweetener better by the brand name it’s usually sold under, Splenda, but the two are actually a bit different. Splenda also contains small amounts of dextrose (a sugar) and maltodextrin (a processed carbohydrate), which each provide bulk. That means Splenda isn’t literally zero-sugar. Sucralose is.

However, there are several issues to consider when using sugar-free coffee creamers containing sucralose. Research has shown that the sweetener may cause changes in the gut microbiome which could produce inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract – and might trigger inflammatory problems throughout the body.

The second possible issue is common to all artificial sweeteners, including sucralose. There’s evidence that they have a tendency to boost appetite and increase sugar cravings, leading some people to seek out “real” sugar after consuming them. Studies show that people who rely on these sweeteners are more likely to gain weight than lose it.

Ace-K

The full name of this artificial sweetener is acesulfame potassium. It’s a common ingredient in products made for dieters and diabetics because it’s stable during cooking, it doesn’t cause an increase in blood sugar levels, and it contains zero calories.

But just like sucralose, Ace-K may cause dieters to go in search of sugar-laden sweet stuff because it can cause the same appetite boost and sugar cravings.

Here’s the bottom line: zero-sugar coffee creamers containing artificial sweeteners, like the ones sold by Coffee-Mate and International Delight, aren’t automatically “bad” choices – but they’re not the best choices, either.

Natural Non-Nutritive Sweeteners

When you put aside artificial sweeteners and another category of sugar substitutes called sugar alcohols (substances like erythritol and xylitol which do contain some calories and may cause stomach distress), you’re left with a better alternative: natural non-nutritive sweeteners.

Non-nutritive” means they are very low or zero-calorie substances. Natural, of course, means they’re not artificial. Combine the two, and you have the healthiest sugar substitutes currently available.

Two of these sweeteners are commonly used.

  • Monk Fruit Extract: Produced from a fruit grown in Southeast Asia, this sweetener is a zero-carbohydrate, zero-calorie substance that provides some health benefits and may support blood glucose control.
  • Stevia: This substance comes from a South American plant, is also zero-carb and zero-calorie, and provides its own set of health benefits.

A number of zero-sugar coffee creamers produced by companies other than the “big name” ones contain monk fruit, stevia, or both. That’s one reason why they’re often the healthiest creamers on the market.

It’s not the only reason, though.

Nutrition and Zero-Sugar Coffee Creamers

We’re primarily focused on sugar here, but a zero-sugar coffee creamer isn’t automatically a healthy coffee creamer, even if it’s sugar- and cholesterol-free. Carbs, calories and fat matter, too.

Let’s look at zero-sugar creamers from the “big two,” Coffee-Mate and International Delight. More specifically, let’s look at their nutrition facts labels. Many of the varieties contain 1-2 grams of fat, 15-20 calories, and less than a gram of carbs per serving. Those amounts are substantially lower than in their creamers containing sugar.

But that’s sort of misleading. They consider a “serving size” to be one tablespoon, which doesn’t “whiten” coffee the same way that a serving of milk or cream would. The amount of creamer you need to do that is three tablespoons – which makes a real serving’s nutritional content 2-6 grams of total fat, 45-60 calories, and as many as three grams of total carbohydrates.

That’s not great.

Here’s our word to the wise. Don’t just focus on buying a coffee creamer with zero sugar; consider all of the nutritional pros and cons.

Thankfully, there are lots of good alternatives to choose from.

Best Zero-Sugar Coffee Creamers

We have a great list to get to, but let’s first get the “big two” out of the way. They’re not the healthiest choices, but they may be all you can find at your local grocery store.

  • Coffee-Mate Creamers: There are ten zero-sugar varieties of this popular creamer, six liquids and four in powder form. The flavors are good, ranging from French vanilla and vanilla caramel to Italian crème and coconut crème. (It seems most companies sell sugar-free French vanilla coffee creamer.) Most are gluten-free and lactose-free but aren’t dairy-free, and they contain oil, sucralose, Ace-K, and many of the other additives we’ve discussed.

  • International Delight Creamers: This company, known for its exotic flavor choices, sells half-a-dozen zero-sugar creamers. You can choose from standards like sugar-free French vanilla and hazelnut, or opt for pumpkin spice, white chocolate mocha, caramel macchiato, or “Willy Wonka Whipple Scrumptious Fudgy Caramel.” But you’ll find oil, maltodextrin, sucralose and Ace-K, and other additives in them, and they’re not dairy-free, either.

Now, for the better alternatives.

1. Super Creamer

You’ll find that many of the best zero-sugar coffee creamers have been created to meet the needs of those on low-carb diets like keto and paleo. Super Creamer, produced by the company that introduced keto-friendly Super Coffee to the market, is the best of the bunch.

This sugar-free coffee creamer contains stevia, monk fruit extract and MCT oil to help keto dieters stay in ketosis, but there’s no oil or any other questionable ingredients like the ones found in mainstream competitive products.

Some flavors like sweet cream do contain (you guessed it) cream, so they’re not dairy-free. Others like coconut mocha, though, are both dairy-free and vegan-friendly. None contain saturated fat.

Super Creamer comes in a 25 fl oz carton which must be kept refrigerated.

2. nutpods

The company’s name doesn’t have capital letters, and the company’s products don’t contain any dairy whatsoever. They’re made from almond milk, oat milk, coconut milk and/or coconut cream, making all nutpods products vegan-friendly.

There are two lines of nutpods creamers. One is unsweetened with flavors like cinnamon swirl, coffee cake and toasted marshmallow, in addition to the usual French vanilla, hazelnut and caramel. The other line is sweetened with the sugar alcohol erythritol and comes in cookie butter, sweet crème, and (of course) French vanilla flavors.

Very low in calories, carbs and fat, nutpods creamers are a great zero-sugar “second choice” after Super Creamer.

3. Califia Farms

Califia Farms sells all types of terrific dairy-free products, like oat milk and almond milk, refrigerated cold brew coffee, and lattes. Their zero-sugar coffee creamers are just as good.

Like the nutpods creamers, Califia Farms’ creamers are all made with almond, oat or coconut milk bases, and the majority of them are unsweetened. However, some like caramel macchiato almond milk creamer, and mint chip oat milk coffee creamer, do contain cane sugar. Be careful and check the ingredient labels before buying.

4. Laird Superfood

Laird’s unsweetened zero-sugar coffee creamers are some of the few options that come in powdered form. They’re made from powdered coconut or oat milk. 

What qualifies these creamers as “superfoods?” There are several options that include ingredients high in antioxidants or other healthy ingredients, as well as MCTs. Among the most interesting are turmeric creamer, cacao creamer with seaweed-derived calcium, and creamer with functional mushrooms (Chaga, cordyceps, lion’s mane, and maitake).

All of these coffee creamers are vegan- and keto-friendly, dairy-free and non-GMO.

5. Peak Performance Collagen Creamer

“Proffee,” or protein coffee, has become a big thing in recent years. Coffee drinkers add protein powder (or shakes) to their coffee to get an extra boost in athletic performance, as well as other reputed benefits.

This creamer from Peak Performance is the best option when you want your proffee to remain sugar-free. It’s a non-dairy protein powder containing collagen from grass-fed cows, so it’s not vegan. However, it’s a sugar-free, coconut milk-based creamer containing 18 different amino acids, and its coconut flavor is tasty.

This isn’t the creamer you want if you’re looking for one that’s low in carbs, calories or fat; protein powders aren’t going to provide those benefits. But if your goal is to make a zero-sugar cup of coffee with lots of added protein, Peak Performance’s product is a good option.

What about Other Alternatives?

Unsweetened nut and plant milks don’t have to be turned into commercial coffee creamers, of course. You can purchase standalone almond, cashew, oat, coconut, hemp and even pea milk to add to your coffee.

They don’t taste like dairy milk or cream, of course, so their flavor might take a while to get used to. Many varieties are also sweetened with sugar, or contain added thickeners and other ingredients – so always look for the natural, unsweetened varieties.

Which are the best? Hemp and almond milk are the healthiest choices. Both contain no carbs; hemp milk only contains four calories and 0.3 grams of fat per tablespoon, while almond milk contains two calories and almost no fat. Hemp milk also provides as many nutrients as dairy milk, with a greater amount of important Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.

If taste is your primary consideration, coconut milk would be the zero-sugar alternative to use. However, it contains 3.5 grams of fat and 35 calories per tablespoon, so use it sparingly.

Written by Liz Moore

10 Min read

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