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What’s in This?: Coffee-Mate

All eight ingredients in this crap-the-milk-smells-off emergency substitute, explained (yep, even dipotassium phosphate)

We’re often told that you should never eat anything (or put anything on your body) if you don’t recognize everything on the ingredients list. But since most of us have no idea what xanthan gum or potassium benzoate are — or more importantly, what they’re doing to our bodies — we’re decoding the ingredients in the many things Americans put in (and on) themselves with the help of an expert.

This edition: Coffee-Mate Original Coffee Creamer, which is made from eight separate ingredients that we’ve broken down in the exact order they appear on their website.

The Ingredients

1) Water: You (hopefully) drink this one.

2) Coconut Oil: This provides a rich and creamy flavor. While you may have heard that coconut oil is good for the heart, a 2016 review of the substance argues that more research is needed to substantiate this claim:

Due to existing knowledge regarding saturated fatty acids and heart disease, evidence presented here suggesting that coconut oil raises plasma lipids and a lack of large, well-controlled human studies published in peer-reviewed journals demonstrating clear health benefits of coconut oil, frequent use of coconut oil should not be advised.

The same report even recommends thinking twice before consuming lots of products that sport coconut oil high up on the ingredients list (as Coffee-Mate does):

Not only does using coconut oil in place of other fats go against dietary guidelines which recommend reducing intake of saturated fatty acids, but, at nine calories per gram, pure fats are the most calorie-dense food source. Therefore, consuming large amounts of any oil may promote positive energy balance and weight gain.

All in all, more studies are needed to provide further insight into what coconut oil will do to you.

3) Sugar: While the original Coffee-Mate contains less than one gram of sugar per serving (approximately one tablespoon), flavors like French Vanilla or Hazelnut have five grams per serving. Too much sugar, if you didn’t already know, is terrible for you: A sugar-laden diet is associated with all kinds of ailments, from heart disease to depression. For reference, the American Heart Association recommends men consume no more than 36 grams and women consume no more than 25 grams of added sugar a day (that doesn’t include sugar found naturally in foods like fruits and vegetables).

4) Sodium Caseinate: “Sodium caseinate is a sodium salt derived from the milk protein casein that acts as a stabilizer, texturizer and thickener,” Dagan Xavier, ingredient expert and co-founder of Label Insight, told me while I was exploring the ingredients in Muscle Milk. “The GMP [Good Manufacturing Practice] states that it must be added to products in the smallest amount required to achieve the desired outcome.” What might happen if you were to consume loads of sodium caseinate remains an understudied topic.

5) Dipotassium Phosphate: “Dipotassium phosphate is an acidity regulator, antioxidant, sequestrant [a food additive which improves the quality and stability of foods] and stabilizer,” Xavier also explained while discussing the ingredients in Muscle Milk. Studies suggest those with kidney disease should monitor their dipotassium phosphate intake, as too much phosphorus in the blood can contribute to developing bone, heart and kidney disease.

6) Mono and Diglycerides: These are emulsifiers, but as we learned in our exploration of all 39 ingredients in the Dodger Dog, mono and diglycerides are oftentimes packed with trans fats that aren’t listed on the nutrition facts label, which is incredibly problematic. That’s because trans fats are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, and consuming more than you think you are (because they weren’t listed on the label) could do serious damage to your body.

7) Artificial Flavor: Artificial flavors are chemical compounds created in a lab that mimic a natural flavor in some way. While that may sound unnatural (and thus, unhealthy), physician and biochemist Cate Shanahan, author of Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food has no real problem with artificial flavors: “They’re not killers because they’re added in very, very small quantities to food.”

8) Beta-Carotene (Color): Beta-carotene is a pigment found in plants that gives yellow and orange fruits (like oranges) and vegetables (like carrots) their color.

The Takeaway

While Coffee-Mate Original Coffee Creamer might contain some hidden trans fats due to mono and diglycerides, it’s highly unlikely that adding a tablespoon of the stuff to your morning coffee will do you much harm. However, the same can’t be said for the flavored versions of Coffee-Mate, which will quickly add tons of sugar to your diet — especially if you’re adding them to multiple cups of coffee throughout the day. If that’s the case, consider taking your coffee black (or opting for a bit of soy milk) from now on.