Danger Seen in Non-Dairy Creamer Use

Times Staff Writer

If you’re a coffee drinker who reaches eagerly for powdered, non-dairy creamers for your morning--or afternoon, or evening--brew, thinking they’re somehow better for you than milk, half-and-half or real cream, think again. That, at least, is the advice of two Nebraska researchers.

In fact, say the two doctors at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, the two chief ingredients in 22 of the 25 non-dairy coffee whiteners on the market have a pronounced ability to increase the concentrations of potentially harmful fat levels in the blood.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. June 4, 1986 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday June 4, 1986 Home Edition View Part 5 Page 6 Column 3 View Desk 4 inches; 113 words Type of Material: Correction
A March 13 article, “Danger Seen in Non-Dairy Creamer Use,” reported that a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 22 of the 25 non-dairy coffee whiteners on the market have a pronounced ability to increase the concentrations of potentially harmful fat levels in the blood. The University of Nebraska study also listed products that do not contain harmful ingredients.
However, the Midwestern-based study did not include--and the article did not mention--Mocha Mix, which, according to Bruce Coffey, president of Presto Food Products Inc. of the City of Industry, is the West’s leading liquid non-dairy creamer. Coffey said Mocha Mix, which is produced by Presto, contains the two ingredients specifically identified as beneficial in the study--soybean oil and soy protein.

Moreover, one of the Nebraska scientists said, the great creamer controversy may be a significant factor clouding the ongoing debate about whether drinking coffee with regularity drives up the cholesterol level and may make a person more prone to heart attacks than someone who does not partake of the brown brew.

Substitute Ingredients


Not only is this cholesterol-increasing ability of the creamers potentially harmful, it is also unnecessary, the Nebraska researchers say, because substitute ingredients exist that would diminish the potential harm of the products that have often been marketed as more healthful alternatives to real cream.

Most of the products already contain one or more of the potential substitute ingredients in their present formulas. At least one manufacturer, however, says it would be more difficult to make the creamers in dry, powdered form if the substitutes were used exclusively.

All three of the market leaders in the non-dairy creamer business--Coffee-Mate, Cremora and Pream--contain the potentially cholesterol-increasing combination of ingredients, said Drs. Arlyce Vanness and Bruce McManus.

Only one line of the products, Rich’s Coffee Rich and Rich’s Poly Rich, rely on ingredients the Nebraska team says are less fat-producing. But Rich Industries Inc. of Buffalo, N.Y., which makes the two products, also produces Pream, which was lambasted by the Nebraska team. Rich officials did not return calls from The Times.

“I don’t know if it’s unfair to say you would be just as well or better off using cream or milk,” McManus said in a telephone interview. “But it’s one potential conclusion.

“I think the question should be raised whether these creamers should be advertised as ‘cholesterol-free,’ because that may be misleading. No. 2, the presence of saturated fatty acids in these creamers, in a fairly consistently heavy coffee drinker, may lead to the intake of a large amount of saturated fat that they are unaware of.

“That may be very important to people who are trying to restrict calories or fat or who already have coronary heart disease.”

McManus and Vanness drew their conclusions about the non-dairy creamers in a letter to the editor published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine. Included was a chart comparing listed ingredients in 25 different popular creamers. Their letter was in response to a debate in medical literature over the effects--if any--of coffee drinking and the levels in the blood of cholesterol, some types of which are linked to increased odds of suffering a heart attack or contracting heart disease.


In a study published last year and in one released in 1983, scientists speculated that observed elevations in cholesterol among heavy coffee drinkers--those consuming five cups a day or more, for instance--apparently indicated coffee consumption should be curtailed. However, the earlier researchers noted that the use of creamers or other whitening products was unexplored and that the whiteners might be more closely linked to cholesterol than coffee.

The debate is far from resolved with the new Nebraska research.

25 Creamer Brands

McManus and Vanness examined ingredients in the 25 creamer brands to see which of two common protein bases--soy protein or sodium caseinate, a milk byproduct--they contained and which of eight different vegetable oils they used. The research was looking specifically for inclusion in the products of coconut oil, which is unique among vegetable oils in that it has a higher potential for increasing blood cholesterol than even beef fat and has often been linked in laboratory animal studies to an ability to cause coronary artery disease.


Sodium caseinate, McManus said, has been shown to raise cholesterol levels in some studies while soy protein has been shown to lower the fat readings, he said.

But the ingredient lists for the creamers, he said, indicated that 22 of the 25 brands used sodium caseinate and only three used soy protein while the same number of creamers included coconut oil.

Other oil products that are used in addition to coconut oil in many of the products are palm kernel, palm oil, peanut oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil, reprocessed coconut oil and safflower oil.

In addition to the three market leaders and the two Rich’s products, the brand names included were Autocrat, CFS Continental, Code, Community, Deli-Express, Farmer Brothers, Maryland Club, NIFDA Richer Flavor, SYSCO, United, Hy-Vee, N Rich, NT Brand, Shurfine, For Your Coffee, Hy-Vee liquid, Poly Perx, Robert’s Coffee Perfection and Royal Danish.


One unexplained difference was that the Nebraska study found pre-measured packets of Coffee-Mate contained only coconut oil but the same product sold in a jar included coconut oil as well as some palm kernel, palm oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil and safflower oil. A spokeswoman for Los Angeles-based Carnation Co. speculated the packet evaluated by the Nebraska team may have been an old one whose label was printed before the ingredient list was revised.

Dr. Raymond Reiser of the Texas A&M; University department of biochemistry and biophysics noted that research he published last year concluded coconut oil raised levels of total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein, a cholesterol isolate linked to increased heart disease risk, higher than either beef fat or safflower seed oil in the bloodstreams of 19 healthy young men.

Degree of Risk

But Reiser said in a telephone interview that even though the cholesterol effect of coconut oil was pronounced, the question of the actual degree of risk posed by the oil remains unresolved. Coconut oil is one of the most common food product ingredients in use.


“I guess the final question for food manufacturers is whether coconut oil and palm oil (also a high-fat product) are necessary for the taste of the product,” McManus said. “Could they not use, for example, less-saturated fats, like safflower oil and soy protein?”

The Carnation spokeswoman declined to explain the company’s decisions about the formulas for Coffee-Mate. “We do not advertise the product as being cholesterol-free,” she said. “We don’t make any claims along those lines.

“We’re making a product that we think is a high-quality, good-tasting product and these are the ingredients that best serve making that product at this time.”

Jerry Schindler, an attorney for New York-based Borden Inc., the maker of Cremora, contended that of the potential vegetable oil ingredients, only coconut oil lends itself to ready use in a dry, powdered form. He noted that Rich’s Coffee Rich and Poly Rich are sold frozen for use as liquids after they are thawed.


“Saturated fats are functionally necessary to make a dry, non-refrigerated product,” Schindler said. “Unsaturated fats (like safflower, for instance) are liquid at room temperature.”

But Schindler said that, in a larger sense, he doubted the public actually sees non-dairy creamers as anything more than a cheap, easier to use alternative to cream. He conceded Cremora’s package contains a statement saying the product is cholesterol-free.

“I think it’s an accurate statement,” he said. “I never thought before about whether it would be misleading.”