Half and Half vs. Non-dairy Creamer- What’s the best for coffee?

We got a great question from Facebook about which is better to use in coffee, half and half or non-dairy creamer. I think this is a great topic to discuss because by itself, coffee is pretty healthy (see benefits explained here) and very low in calories (only 2 calories per cup). But what we add to it can get us in dietary trouble. For many people, what passes for coffee is really just a fancy milkshake with lots of added sugar and fat.

Lets compare the ingredients and nutrition facts to see what is the best coffee “mate.” (See what I did there!)

Coffee with cream, but what kind?

Coffee with cream, but what kind?

First up, it’s the battle of the non-dairy creamers. I wanted to look both powdered and liquid since everyone reading may have different preferences. And there is one sneaky ingredient difference you should be aware of between the two.

Nutrition Facts Label for Liquid  vs. Powdered Coffee Creamer (Information retrieved from Supertracker)

Nutrition Facts Label for Liquid vs. Powdered Coffee Creamer
(Information retrieved from Supertracker)

Generic Non-Dairy Creamer (liquid)

Ingredients: Water, Corn Syrup, Soybean & Cottonseed Oil, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sodium Caseinate (A Milk Derivative), Dipotassium Phosphate, Mon-& Diglycerides, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate. Not A Source Of Lactose

Pros- low calorie, low fat, no trans fat, low sodium, no artificial colors or flavors

Cons- 2 different added sugars, highly processed

Generic Non-Dairy Creamer (powder)

Ingredients: Corn Syrup Solids, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Sodium Caseinate (A Milk Derivative), Dipotassium Phosphate, Mono- And Diglycerides, Silicon Dioxide, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Soy Lecithin, Artificial Flavor, Artificial Color. Allergy Warning: Contains Milk And Soy.

Pros- Low calorie, low-fat, low sodium

Cons- TRANS FAT from partially hydrogenated oil, highly processed

In the battle of the non-dairy creamers, the liquid version is the clear winner. Trans fats are the worst kind of fat because they increase the risk of heart disease the most. We should avoid all trans fat as much as possible. Notice how we had to look to the ingredient list, and not the nutrition facts, to find the trans fat? That’s because if a product has less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, it doesn’t have to be listed in the nutrition facts label (and apparently Supertracker doesn’t list trans fat, but you will find it on nutrition facts labels in the store).

 

Next up, we have the dairy options. The original question was about half and half, but I also added another choice to the mix to keep things interesting.

Nutrition Facts Label for Half and Half vs. 1% Milk (Information retrieved from Supertracker)

Nutrition Facts Label for Half and Half vs. 1% Milk
(Information retrieved from Supertracker)

Half and Half

Ingredients: Pasteurized Grade A Milk, Cream.

Pros- minimally processed, provides some Vitamin A and calcium, low sodium

Cons- higher in calories, fat and saturated fat than powdered creamer (similar to liquid), not fortified with Vitamin D

1% milk

Ingredients: Low Fat Milk, Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin D3.

Pros- minimally processed, provides some Vitamins A, D and calcium, low sodium, lower in fat, saturated fat and calories

Cons- not as creamy flavor

Both half and half and 1% milk are better choices than the non-dairy creamers. They are less processed and have more vitamins and minerals. But between these two dairy options, 1% milk is a better choice because it has less saturated fat and cholesterol than half and half. This should be familiar since FNP, MyPlate and the Dietary Guidelines all like to remind us to choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products.

If you prefer the other options, try gradually switching to 1% milk. You will get used to the difference in flavor and in no time will enjoy your healthier coffee just as much as your current choice. (Just remember to look at the amount of sweetener in your coffee, too. But that is a whole other post for another day!)

Share how you take your coffee in the comments and if this post made you rethink your drink.

44 thoughts on “Half and Half vs. Non-dairy Creamer- What’s the best for coffee?

  1. Pingback: Smart Nutrition as You Age | Eat Smart, Move More

  2. Jess

    half and half is definitely the best tasting in my opinion. but if i’m out of half and half, i just put regular milk. 1% milk just doesn’t make it creamier for me :-)

    Reply
    1. anb1044 Post author

      Yeah, half and half will give you a creamier taste because it has more fat. But it is all about what you get used to. If you want to switch to heart-healthier low fat dairy, do it gradually and your taste buds will eventually adapt.

      Reply
      1. Jess

        i am thinking of switching to low fat dairy for sure. kudos for your research into this informative post :) keep up the good work :)

        Reply
  3. Todd Haggard

    Since when is saturated fat bad for you? I cannot wait for the medical community to exorerate saturated fat and cholesterol and start pointing the finger at sugar as the culprit behind degenerative diseases. Look it up, it was a game changer for me.

    Reply
    1. anb1044 Post author

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Todd. As a USDA program, we teach the Dietary Guidelines, which recommend limiting saturated fat and cholesterol. But you are right that the evidence seems to be shifting as far as the role of saturated fat in heart disease. And the evidence about the damage diets high in sugar can cause is mounting- see our post about Added Sugar here: . I’m interested to see what the new Dietary Guidelines will say about it.

      Reply
  4. Kimberly

    I’ve been struggling with losing the 100+ pounds that I gained with my last pregnancy & after seeing that the majority of the non dairy creamers contain partially hydrogenated fat, I switched to adding non fat milk. It took awhile to get used to my coffee not being g as creamy, but I’m finally used to it.
    Now I’m working on going to decaffeinated because my doctor doesn’t think the caffeine mixes well with my being AD/HD, so wish me luck

    Reply
    1. Austin Brooks Post author

      Thanks for sharing your story, Kimberly. I wish you luck in your weight loss journey. If you haven’t seen this post already, I recommend you check it out: http://blogs.ext.vt.edu/eatsmart-movemore/?p=375

      As far as the decaf goes, I recommend you do it the same way as switching to non-fat milk- gradually. You can try mixing half caffeinated and half decaf and gradually increase the decaf. Or they also make half-caf blends of caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee. When switching to non-fat milk, it was only your tastebuds that needed to adjust. When cutting out caffeine, you might get some withdraw issues- headache, irritability, etc. That is why I highly recommend slowing switching to decaf, otherwise you might not feel too well for a week or so.

      Reply
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  6. Voice of Reason

    I think regular half and half is a good option on low cab diets where fat is your friend and carbs are the enemy. But on a diet such as Weight Watchers that emphasizes moderation rather than elimination of certain foods and food groups and requires a greater calorie expenditure for fattier foods, I think fat free half and half is a better option.

    Reply
  7. Joan

    We support the gradual,transition from all Halfn half by switching to unsweetened plain Soymilk . I honestly can not tell the difference ! I knew,I just needed to change my body composition by making some changes to what gets in!

    Reply
  8. Dennis

    My father uses Walmart’s Great Value brand powered Non-dairy coffee creamer. On it’s label it specifically states …0g Trans Fat Per Serving. Are they using the 0.5g loophole, or is this product actually Trans Fat free?

    Reply
    1. Austin Brooks Post author

      Thanks for your question, Dennis. I looked up that brand of creamer’s ingredient list and this is what it said: “Corn Syrup Solids, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Sodium Caseinate (A Milk Derivative), Dipotassium Phosphate, Mono- And Diglycerides, Silicon Dioxide, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Soy Lecithin, Artificial Flavor, Artificial Color. Allergy Warning: Contains Milk And Soy.” As you can see, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil is the second ingredient and anytime you see “partially hydrogenated,” it means there are trans fats, no matter what the Nutrition Facts Label says. This is because of the law that lets you use 0 grams on the Nutrition Facts Label if there is less than 0.5 grams per serving. If you look at the Nutrition Facts Label for that creamer, you’ll see that the serving size is just 2 grams (1 teaspoon), which is less than the weight of a dime. Using that small of a serving size helps keep the amount of trans fat below the level required to be listed on the Nutrition Facts Label. Like I said in the post, 1% or skim milk is best choice for coffee.

      Reply
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    1. Austin Brooks Post author

      Yes, both 1% milk or plain (unsweetened) soy milk are better options for coffee because they have less calories and saturated or trans fat than the usual non-dairy creamer or half and half. Glad you found this information to be useful. Let me know if you have any other questions! I’m happy to help.

      Reply
  10. Maureen

    What about (Carnation) dry milk and sugar? I am using it as a replacement to Coffeemate which I also used with sugar. I quit coffee ( and more importantly Coffeemate) for 2 months and my face thinned out in a way that it hadn’t in 20 years. I’m thin already but clearly my loads of heaping Coffeemate per cup – and having 3 cups or so a day – were a display of the trans fat I was unwittingly consuming.

    Reply
    1. Austin Brooks Post author

      Non-fat dry milk also is great option for your coffee, Maureen. Thanks for mentioning it as another alternative. The sugar is a bit of an issue, as Americans consume far too much sugar already. Like was suggested previously, slowly decreasing the amount of sugar gives your tastebuds time to adjust to less sugar in your coffee. Isn’t it amazing how such a seemingly small change can have a visible impact! Congrats on cutting out the sneaky trans fat found in non-dairy creamers.

      Reply
  11. Kathy

    I like to use dry powder Coffeemate Fat Free) at the office, because I can keep it for a long time. I know this is bad for me for many reasons, and I need to switch to a healthier option. I just read the post about non-fat dry milk which may be a good alternative for me. Is the sugar you refer to in your reply IN the dry milk, or are you refering to sugar added by the drinker? I do not add sugar to mine and do not want to increase my sugar intake if I can avoid it.

    Reply
    1. Austin Brooks Post author

      Yes, non-fat dry milk would be a great alternative to keep at the office. You can store it at room temperature for months, and it’s a better choice than non-dairy creamer because it doesn’t have trans or saturated fat. The previous commenter is adding sugar, along with the dry milk, to her coffee. If you don’t normally drink sugar in your coffee, using dry milk in place of non-dairy creamer won’t add any extra sugar. However, non-dairy creamer does contain sugar, so the dry milk will not be as sweet tasting! You can add in a bit of sugar at first, and gradually decrease the amount to give your tastebuds time to adjust. Be sure to let us know how the dry milk in your coffee tastes compared to the non-dairy creamer.

      Reply
  12. Carolyn Mat

    Thanks for all the comments, and I finally see a solution to my difficulty with switching to something healthier than coffee-mate under all the various labels. I don’t like the cold liquids solely because they cool my coffee too much. So, the non-fat dry milk sounds like a plan for me. Also, I am a bit of a sweet-lover. So I have recently tried to remove all ‘fake’ sugars from my diet and, for now, use only ‘real’ sugar. In getting rid of the fake stuff in all its forms, I about emptied my frig! I am making a switch to Agave for coffee and my homemade cereal mix. I figure ‘real’ sugar is better than fake and then I hope to start using THAT in more moderation?!#??$

    Reply
    1. Austin Brooks Post author

      I’m glad you found this post helpful in making a healthier change to your coffee creamer, Carolyn. Isn’t it surprising to see how many of our foods contain added sweeteners (both real sugars and artificial ones)?

      Reply
    2. Edison Benton ,Jr

      According to the Glycemic Research Institute, “agave syrup is very high in fructose…agave can contain as much as 80% fructose—high fructose contains 55%, and cane sugar contains 50$ fructose.” It has a very high glycemic index, and can bring on diabetes.

      Reply
      1. Austin Brooks Post author

        Thanks for your comment, Edison. Agave syrup should be treated as any other added sugar, and limited in our diets. Added sugar from any source is not a smart choice for health.

        Reply
  13. annm

    I am a calf (never properly weened) plus a coffee addict. I use non GMO zylotol as a sugar substitute all others including Agave unacceptably change the flavor. I also use powered creamer for it’s shelf life and it seems for the misguided perception that it was healthier than 1/2 &1/2.

    So what about Lido the Mexican powered milk I use for baking and the rare occasion when I run out of milk. It tastes better than low fat US made dry milk. I know it has more fat which is what makes it taste better.

    I drink coffee for the flavor so forget regular powdered low fat milk or skim milk they are awful. When i was a kid on my Grampa’s farm skim milk was pig slop and as far as I’m concerned still is. I’ll give up coffee before cream and sugar (Zylo Sweet).

    annm

    Reply
    1. Austin Brooks Post author

      Yes, powdered milk would be a good substitute for non-dairy creamer. An earlier commenter mentioned that as well.

      Reply
  14. Pingback: How Many Calories In Non Dairy Coffee Creamer | Burning Calories Online

    1. Austin Brooks Post author

      Lee Ann, any type of unsweetened nut milk would be a good alternative to the typical coffee creamers. I would recommend choosing unsweetened versions that are fortified with Calcium and Vitamin D, and the one you mentioned is.

      Reply
  15. Lee Ann

    Another quick question. I have to have sugar in my coffee. I’ve heard that Splenda and Truvia are our best choices. True or false?

    Reply
    1. Austin Brooks Post author

      Great question, Lee Ann. I’ll definitely be writing a more detailed post about artificial sweeteners in the near future. In general, artificial sweeteners are safe in reasonable amounts. So if you like your coffee sweet, Splenda or Truvia (or your prefered artificial sweetener) would be a better choice than sugar.

      Reply
  16. Lee Ann

    Thanks Austin!! All I use are the unsweetened Almond and Cashew. It sounds like I’m on the right track…thank goodness! Looking forward to the info on sweeteners.

    Reply
  17. Ann

    I became diabetic in 2013, with my A1C was 6.4. I gave up regular soda, but started drinking about 2-3 cups off coffee a day with about 2 tsp of half & half in each one. The last time I had blood work my A1C, down to 5.3, and my glucose was 109, which was 142 before, but my LDL was 200, which never was a problem…could this be the half & half I’m using in my coffe?

    Reply
    1. Austin Brooks Post author

      Ann, I’m glad to hear you’ve had improvements in your blood sugar control since giving up sugary sodas. Since half and half contains more saturated fats than other options discussed in this article, it is possible this affected your LDL levels. Without being familiar with your medical history, I cannot say for sure. I would recommend that you consult your healthcare provider for more specific recommendations on controlling your LDL cholesterol.

      Reply
  18. suzie

    My hubby is a diabetic. sometimes we just can’t get his sugar down. When it was high he was using coffemate french vanilla we noticed and changed to sugar free vanilla coffemate. now it is better. but then sometimes where we eat breatfast a couple of times a week , he forgets to bring his and he uses half and half. QUESTION…is half and half almost as good as the sugar free? He tried black and just can’t….thank you so much for the answer….

    Reply
    1. Austin Brooks Post author

      Suzie, thanks for taking the time to comment on this article. Reducing the amount of added sugar is an improvement for everyone, but especially people with diabetes like your husband. To that end, the sugar-free creamer is a better choice than the full sugar version. But as was discussed in this article, low-fat (1%) or fat-free (skim) milk is even better choice than creamer or half and half, since it is lower in saturated and trans fat. Milk also is a great source of 9 essential nutrients. Most restaurants should have milk as an option for coffee. If you don’t see it, it doesn’t hurt to ask. If your husband needs more help in getting his blood sugar under control, I recommend talking with your healthcare provider and/or getting a referral to a Registered Dietitian, who can help him make healthy eating and activity choices to better control his diabetes.

      Reply
  19. John Hash

    I find this info very helpful, I am trying to stay away from half & half but 1 % doesn’t do it for me.
    Maybe I will just indulge 1 day a week.
    Thanks for the info !
    JH

    Reply
    1. Austin Brooks Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Josh. Your approach of cutting back to just 1 day a week of half and half is a great way to practice moderation.

      Reply
  20. Shari

    Understanding that sugar is problematic I switched to liquid Stevia sometime ago. I use it for everything that needs to be sweetened, including coffee. Since I have a sweet tooth, I believe this change has been beneficial for me. I’m wondering if you agree and have any comments about the use of Stevia since people have asked about alternative ways to sweeten. Stevia is natural … not an artificial sweetener, so in my opinion it would be a better sweetening alternative for sugar … or artificial sweeteners.

    Reply

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