When non-dairy creamers were introduced either in the late 1950s or early 1960s, people didn’t know that one of the ingredients isn’t good for you at all. The use of non-dairy creamers peaked in the 1980s, but there are people who have always used one form of milk or another instead of buying into the non-dairy creamer routine.
The bad ingredient I’m talking about is partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (or fat).
I was born in 1960 and I grew up watching the older folks drink coffee with a dairy creamer of one kind or another. I don’t even remember a non-dairy creamer being used before we lived in Hawaii in the mid-1970s.
Evaporated milk from a can is what I remember the most. It’s not really cream. It’s just milk with a lot of the water removed and thus it still has to be refrigerated after opening. Sugar is added as a sweetener when evaporated milk is used. Condensed milk, also called “sweetened condensed milk”, already has sugar added to it. It’s basically evaporated milk plus sugar and it has to be refrigerated after opening as well.
Some people think that regular whole milk is thick enough to serve the purpose. I know that UHT milk works well because that’s what I use on rare occasions. Since I learned of the trans-fat issue surrounding partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, however, I’ve been drinking coffee black with a little added sugar more than any other way.
One of the first makers of non-dairy coffee creamers was the Nestle Corporation, with Coffee-Mate in 1961. A whole bunch of other companies jumped on the bandwagon and I can’t even begin to name names.
I suppose people who are lactose-intolerant are left with a choice of either black coffee or coffee with a non-dairy creamer. Fortunately, Nestle came out with non-dairy creamers that are lower in fat and some that supposedly contain absolutely no partially hydrogenated vegetable oil at all.
The trick is to read the label. Some brands of non-dairy creamer will say “no trans-fat” when in reality they have just little enough to legally say none. The Nestle Corporation has no reason to skew this information since they’re marketing health-conscious products as much as possible, but a profit motive is way more powerful than complete honesty so take it for what it’s worth.
Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils and Trans-Fats
I’m no chemist and I only know what I’ve learned through various sources. The process of hydrogenating vegetable oil produces trans-fats. Trans-fats have been linked to heart disease as well as the increased size of people’s midsections (the big, fat belly syndrome).
Non-dairy creamers are used in tea as well as coffee, so the benefits of drinking tea are outweighed by the trans-fat that non-dairy creamers introduce. You need to do your research and read the labels when you decide to buy a non-dairy creamer product. It’s your health you should be worried about, not about whether it tastes better with a dairy creamer or not.
[Originally published in March, 2009]