Non dairy creamers were invented in the 1950′s when Carnation came out with Coffee-Mate – a creamer that was made mostly from vegetable oils. Initially it was just used by people who wanted a creamer that could be stored for long periods, but it quickly became popular with people who were avoiding milk but wanted to consume something that tasted similar to milk.
For people who are lactose intolerant, people who are vegans or those who avoid dairy products for religious reasons, non dairy creamers can seem like a good milk substitute.
What Goes Into Non Dairy Creamers
Firstly, while non dairy creamers do not contain lactose, they do contain casein, which is a milk protein. People with milk allergies are often allergic to casein as well as lactose, but are unaware of it, as their condition has been simply labelled as lactose intolerance. Check with your doctor whether your milk allergy requires you to avoid casein as well, and then check the label of the creamer before you buy – even if the brand says non dairy, casein is sometimes listed separately.
Manufacturers also add a lot of additives to the creamer to imitate the taste of milk, not all of which are good for you. The main substitute for lactose (which is a sugar) is corn syrup. Plain corn syrup contains maltose, which is safe for most people apart from those who suffer corn allergies. However, in the 1970′s scientists started modifying corn syrup with an enzyme that converted it into high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
Most modern creamers contain HFCS rather than plain corn syrup. High fructose corn syrup has been implicated in causing obesity and diabetes as it has a higher percentage of fructose than table sugar, and hence a higher number of calories per gram. In some cases adding the creamer to coffee contributes more calories than adding milk.
Some non dairy creamers also contain trans fats, which have been added to mimic the rich fatty taste of milk. Trans fats are another product of the laboratory rather than nature. They are vegetable oils which have been hydrogenated so that liquid fats have been turned into solids. In 2002 the National Academy of Sciences advised the US government that trans fats provide no nutritional benefit to humans and they have been shown to increase the levels of LDL cholesterol (which is referred to as “bad cholesterol” in the press), which increases the risks of heart disease.
Food colorings are also added to these creamers in order to simulate the way milk whitens coffee (hence the reason some creamers are referred to as coffee whiteners). Check the labels if you have a coloring additive allergy.
Finally, sodium aluminosilicate is added to powdered creamers to prevent it from clumping and caking. Sodium aluminosilicate is flammable (and the television show Mythbusters took great pleasure in packing powdered creamer into a cannon and firing it, causing a fireball). Who needs gunpowder when you’ve got creamer?
In small quantities creamers probably don’t pose a health risk, but if you use them a lot and your health is already impaired, they can add to the load your body is suffering. In that situation, it might be wiser to learn to drink coffee black rather than resort to non dairy creamers.