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7 things you need to know about non-dairy coffee creamer

Coffee lovers take their brew in lots of different ways. Some prefer it simple and black, and others stir in sugar, cream, or milk. We know what's in all those ingredients, so no mystery there. But what in the world is in non-dairy creamer?

Before you tip that container of powdered or liquid non-dairy creamer, consider these 7 facts:

Calling it "non-dairy" isn't always true. You would think that a product called "non-dairy" would be safe for those who avoid dairy in their diet, right? But vegans and those with lactose intolerance or a milk allergy be warned: While many non-dairy creamers contain no lactose - the sugar found in milk that many have a hard time digesting - those same products may still contain casein. Casein is a milk protein that can trigger reactions in those with milk allergies. It gets added to non-dairy creamer to impart a milky flavour and texture. Labels must list casein as a milk product in the ingredient information box. So, while the label may say "non-dairy" or "lactose-free," it does not mean it contains no dairy-derived ingredients. Vegans can opt for soymilk-based "creamers," though soymilk may still be problematic for those with milk allergies.

Calling it "creamer" isn't always true. This should be fairly obvious: "Non-dairy creamer" is actually an oxymoron. How can you have cream if you have no dairy? Vegetable oils - usually coconut or palm kernel oil - give "creamers" that creamy look, feel, and flavour.

Extra ingredients get added in to mimic qualities of milk and cream. Sugar, sodium, and corn syrup show up in ingredient lists because they add the flavour you lose when you lose the milk or cream. Food colourings find their way into the mix, too, to mimic the way milk or cream will change the colour of your coffee. In some cases, non-dairy creamers are more truthfully and clearly labelled as "coffee whiteners." If you have food colouring allergies, check labels, because sometimes "plain" or "original" flavoured varieties will not contain colouring.

Non-dairy creamers can boost your calorie count. Plain black coffee contains almost no calories. But once you start scooping or pouring in add-ons like non-dairy creamer, the fat and calories pile up. Be careful how much you scoop into your cup or risk serious portion distortion. Take note of the serving size on the label, and if you want more than recommended, multiply your calorie-and-fat intake accordingly. Like most food products, non-dairy creamer brands usually offer low-fat and low-calorie options. And the "original" or "plain" flavoured varieties of both powdered and fluid non-dairy creamers will likely contain fewer calories and less fat and sugar than those with additional flavouring.

Some non-dairy creamers contain trans fat. Trans fat is a kind of fat that increases your bad (LDL) cholesterol while lowering the more beneficial (HDL) cholesterol. This can boost your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. You should not consume more than 2 grams of trans fat in a day, and some brands of non-dairy creamer can contain 1 gram per tablespoon.

Non-dairy creamer can go bad. One of the perks of non-dairy creamers is that they keep longer than milk or cream. That doesn't mean they do not have an expiry date. Check package for best-by or use-by advice. Both powdered and liquid non-dairy creamers can take on an off odour, flavour, or appearance and should be discarded. Store powdered creamer in a cool, dry spot, sealed tightly. Liquid creamer should always be refrigerated and sealed tightly.

Powdered non-dairy creamer contains highly flammable ingredients. The popular TV program Mythbusters tested out an urban myth similar to the Mentos-Diet Coke reaction: Could powdered non-dairy creamer ignite an explosion? As it turns out, sodium aluminosilicate, an ingredient added to keep powdered creamer from caking together, can become flammable when dispersed. The Mythbusters packed a large amount of powdered creamer into a cannon and, when lit, it set off a massive fireball. Coffee drinkers stirring small spoonfuls into their morning cup shouldn't worry.



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