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Diet and Nutrition

Fat free vs. sugar free

03/10/2009

Question:

I have a question about coffee creamer. I ran into the choice of sugar free which has only 15 calories and one gram of fat per tbsp verses fat free which has sugar content and 25 calories per tbsp. Which would be my better choice and what do I need to look at when trying to make this decision with other products?

Answer:

That's a good question. Let me begin by saying that if a product is "fat free" then to add taste to the product, sugar or salt are often added. If a product is "sugar free" then a sugar substitute and/or fat is added to enhance the taste. With this in mind, my answer to your question depends upon what diet goals you are trying to accomplish.

(1) If you are concerned with "weight loss" and still want your coffee lightened, then I would choose the one that gives you the lowest amount of calories per tablespoon (T). You might also consider using non fat milk, which would be about 5 or 6 calories per T. If you prefer it to be "thicker" then 2% or whole milk could be used and gives you about 7.5 to 10 calories per T.

(2) If you are concerned with heart health and the types of fats you are eating, notice that most of these creamer product labels state zero grams of saturated, trans, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated fats and zero cholesterol is in each serving (1 T). The only problem with this is that the food label can say "zero grams" if the serving has less than 1/2 % of these fats in them. So, if the ingredient labels lists some kind of fat in the product (such as hydrogenated soybean oil or cottonseed oil, coconut or palm oil) you'll know that fat is still in that creamer. If you use more than one serving in your coffee, you actually are getting fats. Choosing those creamers with unsaturated fat would be best (liquid oils such as soy, cottonseed, corn, etc.). Also note, even "fat free" creamers have some fat in them. One example is Coffeemate fat free hazelnut, which contains hydrogenated coconut oil (a saturated fat)!

(3) If you need to watch your carbohydrate intake, such as people with diabetes, you should look for the grams of carbohydrate and sugar on the label. Regular Coffeemate French Vanilla contains 5 grams of sugar, Silk Creamer French Vanilla contains only 3 grams of sugar for the same 1 T. serving. Two grams aren't a big difference, however if you use more than 1 T., the carb/sugar grams can add up. Look at the ingredient list too. Ingredients are listed in order of their weight in the product. So, if sugar is the first or second ingredient listed... that's significant. If sugar is further down the list, that would be better. Be alert to other terms used to say "sugar" on the label too, such as evaporated cane juice, honey, corn syrup solids, raw or natural sugar.

(4) There may be other things to look for on the label, depending upon your goals. For example, people limiting their sodium (salt) intake would want to choose the product with the lower amount. In the case of Regular Coffeemate French Vanilla and Silk Creamer French Vanilla, the Coffeemate has 30 mg. of sodium and the Silk only 10 mg. per 1 T. serving. Another example would be people who want the least processed or "artificial" product they can get. Reading the ingredient list carefully helps here too. Some labels state "artificial flavors and colors" others state "natural flavors" only or a combination. This is where non fat milk, 2%, whole milk or soy milk would be better choices.

So, the bottom line? One tablespoon of any creamer daily probably won't make or break your diet or health goals. However, if you use it in larger amounts and frequently through out the day, it would be best to use good ol' non-fat milk or soy milk instead. Another option would be to learn to enjoy the flavor of a really good cup of coffee and wean yourself off of the creamer entirely. I hope this information is helpful to you.

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Response by:

Jane   Korsberg, MS, RD, LD Jane Korsberg, MS, RD, LD
Senior Instructor of Nutrition
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University