Saturday, February 22, 2014

Sweetness By Any Other Name

So I've been working on a healthier kind of coffee creamer using only whole ingredients and ended up learning a whole lot about the 'non-dairy creamers' that I know and love.  Far more than I thought I knew already which was apparently in more of an abstract sense than with any true facts.  I had almost given up on ever being able to adequately replace my Carnation Coffee-Mate Caramel Macchiato or International Delight Vanilla Caramel creamer.  But I think I've found a solution.  And just in time, because I don't think I can ever in good conscience drink it again. <insert very sad face here>  But since I've begun to take the approach that "If you can't pronounce it, don't eat it", I'm beginning to understand that ignorance isn't bliss anymore.  

In case you've not read the back of your creamer container and, like me, have enjoyed it immensely for the last 20+ years in happy ignorance, (or have read it and considered the possibility it's written in a language other than your own), let me change that for you.  Here's a quick low-down of what exactly it is that we've been using as part of our every-single-morning ritual.  The following is taken directly from the back of the Carnation Coffee-Mate Fat-Free Liquid Nondairy Creamer bottle and is found in every version of their creamers with small variations for taste.  Remember, the ingredients are listed in order of greatest amount of each ingredient contained to the least, so keep that in mind as you read further:  

  • The first ingredient is water.  That's where the 'good-for-me' ends.  
  • The second largest ingredient is corn syrup solids (found in everything from granola bars to lunch meats) which have been found (among other things) to concentrate in the liver because  it's so difficult for the body to process, with a proven effect to impact your triglycerides (bad cholesterol).
  • The third ingredient listed (which means besides water and corn syrup, the bulk of this product is made from...) is partially hydrogenated oils (which most of us know by now is on the 'bad for you' list) which is made when manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil.  It's main purpose is to increase the shelf life and flavor of foods. Think MSG on steroids.  
  • Next is modified corn starch (used for thickening and increasing shelf life, made by treating starch with an acid or enzyme until it degrades slightly) which has been linked in more than one study to irritable bowel and Crohn's disease.  It's also used to keep all the hydrogenated oils from separating and congealing at the top of your creamer bottle so you don't open it up and pour a few tablespoons of oil into each cup of coffee.
  • Sodium caseinate is said to be a derivative of milk but actually contains no milk products and is used to provide a bit of dairy flavor and make the 'creamer' look like real cream and make your coffee feel creamy when you drink it.  It's true that it's made from milk by coagulating the caseine found in all milk types, pasteurizing it, neutralizing it with sodium hydroxide, and then drying it in a spray dryer. Sort of like milk without the milk.  Well, to be honest, it's like milk....without anything.  Ok.  It's nothing like milk.
  • Dipotassium phosphate, another manufactured ingredient, is used to make that creamer nice and thick, last super long in your fridge, and can actually be physically dangerous for people with liver or kidney disease to consume.  
  • Next, artificial colors are something we're all familiar with by now and are commonly accepted and known to aggravate the symptoms of ADD and ADHD, and The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a nonprofit health advocacy organization, recommends that we avoid all artificially colored foods.  
  • Mono and diglycerides: They're what happen if you take a trigylceride and mix it with the right chemical...all you need to know right there.  But it's main reason for being in your 'creamer' is (again) to keep all that oil from separating.
  • Polysorbate 60 is made by combining corn sugar with sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that the body metabolizes very slowly and will cause a laxative effect because it's so poorly digested.  In fact, the FDA requires that if a certain amount of this is in our food, it has to list the 'side effect' of causing diarrhea!  And the name should actually have been a's a manufactured item also.  
  • Sodium searoyl lactylate is a food additive and is considered from an organic source made by combining 2 acids (lactic and stearic), treating it with sodium hydroxide to make a calcium salt.  What's its use?  Bingo!  To keep all that oil from separating!  (By the way, are you noticing the trend here?  Exactly how many ingredients it's taking to keep this stuff which is mainly water, sugar, and oil from separating?!)
I've not listed sources as all of this information is readily available to you from sites such as the FDA-run '', to Wikipedia, to other food bloggers and health advocates all over the internet.

On a happier note, here's the version I've been using this week and, though it's not as addictive as the creamy (not!) goodness of your store-bought creamer, I can drink it to my hearts content and in good health and conscience.  Remember, it's a concentrate, not something you'd drink straight, so if you taste test it and find it super sweet, you've been warned!  It will dilute nicely in your favorite blend tomorrow morning.  :D

Vanilla Amaretto Coffee Creamer

1 c. vitamin D milk (whole milk)
1/2 c. 2% milk
1/3 c. Agave nectar
2 tsp. vanilla extract (use the real stuff, not the flavoring)
1-1/2 tsp. almond extract

Find a good glass container that you can reuse, or use your now emptied non-dairy creamer container that you've decided to never touch again! :)  I recycled this cute glass salad dressing bottle as I can toss it in the dishwasher between uses.  Pour all ingredients into your container and shake well to combine.  Remember to shake before each use, though I've not had it separate on me.

  • Do you like the Coconut Creamer?  Substitute the almond extract for coconut extract.  Is Hazelnut Creamer your favorite?  Substitute the almond extract for hazelnut.  Use your imagination!  Go to the baking aisle of your grocery store the next time you're there and see what flavors you can experiment with.  
  • If you like your coffee super creamy, use a higher fat milk like half-and-half or even cream.  I experimented first with half-and-half and 2% milk, but then switched to whole milk in a 2:1 ratio as I'm trying to limit my fat intake right now, and honestly didn't notice a huge difference in the creaminess of my coffee.
It's a bit scary to start learning what it is we've been consuming.  And this research made me a little sad, I've got to be honest!  There's no substitute for something that's fake, chemically made to taste far better than it's naturally-occurring counterpart!  And I'm not trying to scare-tactic you in to a change for which you're not ready.  I started on this journey of educating myself as I really do want to get off the medications I'm on that keep me functioning since my accident.  And being successful for me means making sure that things I'm putting in my body aren't going to be counterproductive, such as foods or additives that are known to cause inflammatory reactions.  And there's just no long-term data out there about what our turn from whole, naturally-occurring foods to items that are mass-produced and no longer contain anything real or naturally occurring.  We're consuming more calories than ever and are literally malnourished.  I want more than anything to be free of the pain I have every day, and free of the drugs that make that pain tolerable so I can be a productive human being.  But if you're reading this blog, you too have an interest in what you're putting into your body, and I encourage you to do your own research.  The internet has given us an invaluable source for access to information of all kinds.  Sure, there's a lot of misinformation out there.  But there's also a lot of really good information if you're willing to take the time.  

Just a little 'whole food' for thought in case you too want to make the switch.  :)