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Nutrition Q&A: Which Is Healthier? Coffee-mate Fat Free Vanilla or Coffee-mate® Sugar Free Vanilla Creamer?

Q: Which is a better choice to use in my coffee?  Coffee-mate® Fat Free Vanilla or Coffee-mate® Sugar Free Vanilla?
A: We wouldn’t call either a “good” choice.  Per tablespoon, the fat-free version of Coffee-mate® contains 25 calories, 1 gram of fat, and 0 grams of saturated fat.  While the sugar-free version has 15 calories, 1 gram of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, and the artificial sweeteners sucralose (Splenda) and acesulfame potassium.

When choosing these creamers over milk and natural sweetener, you’re opting to use a much more processed, artificial product in your coffee.  But the number one downside to the fat-free and sugar-free Coffee-mate® products is the second ingredient that they both share — “partially hydrogenated oils” — which is code for “trans fats.” At first glance, you’d think that the product doesn’t contain any trans fats (under trans fat on the nutrition facts panel you’ll see “0 grams”).  But, here’s the trick:  If the amount of trans fats in a product is less than 0.5 grams per serving, it’s not required to be listed on the nutrition facts label.

Companies can get around this by using a smaller serving size, like the 1 tablespoon serving that is used for Coffee-mate®, which allows for the product to be labeled without trans fats. If each tablespoon of Coffee-mate® contains .49 grams of trans fat, and you use 2-3 tablespoons in your coffee, you could be consuming almost 1.5 grams of trans fat per cup.  The American Heart Association recommends no more than 1.5 grams of trans fats per day, with an ideal goal of avoiding them all together — and we agree.

Better option:
In exploring the Coffee-mate® product offerings, we discovered that they now have a newer product line, called Natural Bliss, that contains nothing artificial – just nonfat milk, cream, sugar, and carrageenan (a natural thickener).  

An even better option:
Start to transition off a generally sweeter coffee/beverage preference by using just 1 teaspoon of Coffee-mate®.  Then add 2 tablespoons of 2% milk (or try vanilla soy/almond milk if you like the vanilla flavor), and 1 teaspoon of sugar to bring the flavor and consistency to your liking.  If you’re someone who has developed a preference for the super-sweet, tapering your added sugar intake in coffee will be beneficial to you in other areas of your diet as well.

Best option:
A quarter-cup 1% milk plus 1 teaspoon sugar. You’re getting calcium from the milk, without the fat or saturated fat you get with cream, and you get a little sweetness without too many calories (1 teaspoon of sugar has 16 calories.)