It was only inevitable that once alt-milks became nearly as commonplace as cow’s milk that a slew of other trends-within-the-trend would follow. Nut milk yogurt, “nice” cream, and plant-based butters have since risen in popularity too, and now a new iteration of dairy-free products is gaining steam: plant-based creamers.
Similarly to the plethora of alt-milks now available at your local grocery store, the new-to-the-market selection of plant-based creamers spans the gamut: hemp, almonds, coconut, soy, and banana all serve as popular bases, and some, like Urby, even include extra plant-based protein sources.
You may be wondering what the point of these new creamers are anyway—after all, you already have alt-milk in the fridge. It’s a valid question. Traditionally, the difference between milk and creamer was that creamer tended to be heavier (and had more fat) and include added sugar for a sweeter taste. But brands have wizened up to the fact that healthy eaters are looking for simple ingredients lists, and with added sugar mostly left out, the difference is less clear.
“The difference between plant-based milk and plant-based creamers is that the creamers are more concentrated,” says registered dietitian Marla Heller, RD, author of The DASH Diet Mediterranean Solution, among other books. While most alt-milks are primarily made of water—with the concentration of the actual nut or other primary ingredient being quite low—Heller says creamers are thicker and less watery. That makes the ingredients they do use pretty darn important. That said, she points out that for the most part, people use such a small amount of creamer that you shouldn’t expect to get a huge hit of nutritional value regardless of whatever one you go for. “Unless you’re using it to make a latte or in your cereal, you’re really only consuming a small amount,” she says. Still, every little bit counts, right?
Here, Heller weighs in on the different plant-based creamers taking over the alt-dairy scene. Use her intel to find the healthiest, most nutrient-rich mate for your cup of joe.
Best for heart-healthy omega-3s: Hemp creamer
Brand to keep an eye out for: Elmhurst
Hemp is still an emerging ingredient for creamers, but it’s one that Heller is into. “What’s interesting about hemp is that it’s a rich source of omega-3 [fatty acids], and in this case, being a plant-based one, it’s a specific type of omega-3 called alpha linolenic acid,” she says.
Alpha linolenic acid (ALA) is linked to preventing heart disease, lowering blood pressure, and lowering the risk of strokes, so if you want a creamer that can potentially benefit your cardiovascular health (albeit in small doses), hemp is definitely one to consider. Hemp is also higher in protein than almond creamer, another plus to reaching for this variety.
Best for almond milk loyalists: Almond creamer
Like hemp, Heller says almond creamer contains ALAs. While hemp is higher in protein, she says almonds are a good source of another major nutrient: magnesium, which is linked to muscle recovery and lowering anxiety.
“Something to keep in mind with almond creamer, however, is that it might not be the most sustainable choice,” Heller says. “Many people are cutting back on almond consumption because they take a lot of water to produce.”
Speaking of alt-milk, here’s what a registered dietitian really thinks about oat milk:
Best for calcium: Coconut creamer
If you want to add sweetness to your coffee and you like your creamer extra rich, coconut creamer may become your new favorite—and there is no shortage of options available. In terms of nutrition though, this one isn’t one of Heller’s favorites, primarily because coconut creamer tends to be higher in saturated fat. “But again, if you’re just using a little splash in your coffee, I wouldn’t get too hung up on this because it’s such a small amount,” Heller says. So if you really love the taste, go for it.
On the plus side, Heller says coconut creamer does contain a decent amount of potassium and calcium—especially beneficial if you avoid dairy completely and may not be getting enough calcium in your diet in general. Laird Superfood’s coconut creamer, for example, has 25 milligrams of calcium per serving. (You want to aim to get 1,200 milligrams a day.)
Best no-frills option: Soy creamer
Brand to keep an eye out for: Silk
As a dairy alternative, Heller says that soy has long been the topic of controversy as many believed consumption negatively impacts women’s hormonal health. (A belief that has largely been debunked.) While Heller points out that soy itself is a good source of protein and calcium, Silk’s soy creamer doesn’t contain these nutrients—or any others. This is one option where the benefit is purely taste, not nutrition.
Best for healthy fats: Cashew creamer
Brand to keep an eye out for: Modest mylk
What makes cashew creamer so appealing to many is that it’s creamer in texture than almond, hemp, and soy, and doesn’t have the sweetness that coconut does. Nutritionally, Heller likes that its a good source of healthy fats. “This is one of my favorite choices,” she says. “The unsaturated fat content is good for heart health.” Modest mylk’s creamer also has 50 milligrams of potassium and one gram of protein per serving.
Best up-and-comer: Banana creamer
Brand to keep an eye out for: Mooala
The humble banana is a trending ingredient in the healthy food world—including a primary ingredient in this new creamer from Mooala. Blended with coconut cream and almonds, Heller is into the fact that it’s a blend from a few different sources and uses real banana puree, pointing out that the fruit is a good source of potassium.
“This one does have gums, which help give the creamy texture you want from a creamer, and while some people may be sensitive to it, overall there is nothing inherently wrong with gums,” she says.
Best if you’re really passionate about protein: Plant-protein creamer
Brands Urby and Ripple are leading the charge of this trend-within-a-trend with their pea protein-based creamers. “This is really interesting and it does give the creamer more nutritional value,” Heller says. (It should be noted that the protein can still be pretty minimal per serving—Ripple’s has less than one gram per two-tablespoon serving.) She reiterates that the amount of creamer someone uses tends to be minimal, so a coffee with plant-based creamer shouldn’t replace your breakfast.
“In general, unless you’re making a latte, the amount of creamer you’re using isn’t much, so it more comes down to taste than anything,” she says, of all the options available. While it’s always a good idea to read the label when buying food products and be mindful of what you’re consuming, this is one trend where your tastebuds can be the deciding factor on what to pair with your coffee.
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