10 Toxic Ingredients Hiding In Your Coffee Creamer (Plus What to Use Instead)

Updated on July 6, 2023

There’s something special about that first sip of coffee in the morning. But if you take your coffee with store-bought coffee creamer, it may turn that comforting cup into toxic sludge.

I know…you’re probably thinking, “It’s just a couple of tablespoons a day, Dr. Chad—how bad could it be?"

Well, there’s a strong chance that your coffee creamer—even if it says “organic”, “non-dairy”, or “sugar-free”—contains one or more toxic ingredients.

The History of Coffee

Coffee has been a global phenomenon since the beginning of time—the 15th century to be exact (1). It first made its rounds through Northeast Africa—most likely originating in the Middle East—and then traveling west to Europe and beyond.

Just like many of the prized supplements we use today, coffee was stumbled upon by accident. In fact, rumor has it that it all started with a goat…

On a warm, sunny day, a goat herder named Kaldi noticed that his goats ate berries from an unknown tree and became so energetic that they weren’t able to sleep at night.

Confused, Kaldi went to the abbot of the local monastery to explain what happened. The abbot proceeded to make himself a drink with the berries and saw that he too had increased energy and alertness. The abbot went on to share his findings with the other monks. Soon after, coffee and its energizing effects spread across the globe (2, 3).

Coffee’s popularity has skyrocketed in the past six centuries. However, what’s added to coffee has drastically changed…

10 Toxic Ingredients Hiding In Your Coffee Creamer

The age-old phrase, “How do you take your coffee?” is one that everyone has answered at one point or another. Do you take it with cream, or without? With sugar, or without? Just black?

Coffee by itself is rich in health benefits like reducing the risk of heart failure, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, while also strengthening your DNA and protecting your liver (4).

What used to consist of just one ingredient—coffee beans—has transformed into toxic, sugary sludge.

1. Thickeners (Carrageenan, Gellan Gum, Cellulose Gum)


Did you know that most coffee creamers aren't actually made with cream?

Instead, they get their rich, velvety taste from thickening agents and emulsifiers like carrageenan—a thickener, stabilizer, and texturizer found in non-dairy products that’s known to cause inflammation, digestive problems, and cancer (5).

In one long-term animal study, animals were fed a concentration of 0.1 to 5% carrageenan and in just 6 to 12 weeks, colitis and tumors began to appear (6).

Further research indicates that this food additive causes the gut to become irritated and inflamed—creating holes in the lining of the gut (i.e. leaky gut syndrome). When food gets caught in these holes, it wreaks havoc on the digestive system, leading to chronic illness.

Store-bought coffee creamer brands that contain these nasty thickeners include:

  • Califia Farms
  • Coffee-Mate
  • Dunkin’ Donuts
  • Silk
  • So Delicious
  • So Nice by Meijer Organic
  • Trader Joe’s (Trader Joe’s products vary, so be sure to double-check the ingredient label)
  • Wildwood Soy Milk Creamer

2. Fillers (Locust Bean Gum)

A pile of locust beans surrounded by their pods

Fillers like locust bean gum—while generally considered safe, are just unnecessary.

Don’t worry, locust bean gum is NOT made from locusts (a type of grasshopper). It’s a natural food thickener derived from the seeds of carob trees (7). Although safe to consume, some individuals may be allergic to it, causing breathing problems and asthma (8).

Store-bought coffee creamers containing locust bean gum include:

  • Califia Farms
  • Coffee-Mate
  • Starbucks

3. Hydrogenated Oils (Vegetable Oil or Palm Oil)

Pouring a bottle of vegetable oil

Hydrogenated oil is a type of trans fat that food manufacturers use to keep their food and beverages fresher, longer.

So, if an ingredient label contains the word “hydrogenated” in it, stay away. In 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that removing it from one’s diet could prevent thousands of heart attacks each year (9, 10).

Two of the more popular hydrogenated oils include vegetable oil and palm oil.

At first glance, vegetable oil may seem promising. I mean, the word “vegetable” is in it–it must be healthy, right?


Vegetable oil is high in linoleic acid–an omega-6 polyunsaturated fat–which is linked to a variety of health issues including coronary heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and asthma (11). Yikes!

The reason linoleic acid is so detrimental to one’s health is because it can’t be synthesized (it builds up within your body when too much is consumed).

Store-bought coffee creamers containing vegetable oil include:

  • Coffee-Mate
  • Dunkin’ Donuts
  • International Delight
  • Starbucks

4. Artificial Flavors

Three bottles of caramel, hazelnut, and vanilla artificial flavorings

You see the words “artificial flavors” on the majority of packaged food and beverages in your grocery store. But, what does it really mean?

Artificial flavors are just that–flavors created in a lab that mimic the flavor of the real thing. Think: Caramel, vanilla, mocha, strawberry...all the delicious flavors that a company wants in their products, but doesn’t want to pay for.

In 2012, consumers were outraged (and rightfully so) to learn that Starbucks used cochineal extract–a color additive derived from insect shells–to dye their strawberry Frappuccino drinks. Thankfully, after the outrage, the company decided to transition to lycopene, a pigment found in tomatoes (12).

Store-bought coffee creamers containing artificial flavors include:

  • Coffee-Mate
  • Dunkin’ Donuts
  • International Delight

5. Dipotassium Phosphate

A pile of dipotassium phospate on a grey background

There’s a lot of contradicting controversy surrounding dipotassium phosphate–an emulsifier derived from phosphorus. What started out as GRAS (generally recognized as safe) shifted into being hazardous, and is now up for debate yet again (13).

Natural phosphate is completely safe–healthy even. However, inorganic phosphate can heighten one’s levels of phosphate, which is dangerous for those with chronic kidney disease.

In addition, it has been linked to an increase in mineral deposits on the walls of arteries and veins (i.e. vascular calcification) and mortality among dialysis patients (14, 15).

Store-bought coffee creamers containing dipotassium phosphate include:

  • Coffee-Mate
  • Dunkin’ Donuts
  • International Delight
  • Starbucks

6. Calcium Carbonate

Petri dishes of white calcium carbonate

Calcium carbonate is derived from ground limestone (16).

It’s often used as an antacid, and although it’s generally recognized as safe (GRAS), if an overdose occurs, it can cause abdominal pain, bone pain, irregular heartbeat, and more (17, 18).

Store-bought coffee creamers containing calcium carbonate include:

  • Califia Farms

7. Polysorbate 60

A bottle of polysorbate 60

Although polysorbate 60 is recognized as safe by the FDA and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), one of its main ingredients is ethylene oxide–a highly flammable irritant that is toxic when consumed in high amounts (19).

Its main purpose is to act as an emulsifier, foaming agent, dough conditioner, dispersing agent, and wetting agent (none of which sound like something I want in my coffee creamer) (20).

Essentially, it’s an additive with many different uses—and health is not one of them.

Store-bought coffee creamers containing polysorbate 60 include:

  • International Delight

8. Chemical Preservatives

A variety of chemically perversaed foods like cookies and deli meat with labels of their chemicals

Preservatives protect your food from mold, air, bacteria, fungi, yeast, and food contamination. Here’s the catch: There are preservatives that are natural and one’s that are chemically manufactured...

Two chemically manufactured preservatives include:

  • Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)
  • Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)

These two preservatives keep foods from changing color, changing flavor, or becoming rancid.

One study found that BHA and BHT negatively affected sleep by altering serotonin and norepinephrine levels (a stress hormone released by the brain when it perceives a stressful event has occurred) (21). In addition, the use of BHA and BHT have been linked to endocrine-disrupting effects and reproductive disorders.

Although they’re generally recognized as safe in the U.S., they’re BANNED in many other countries including Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, and throughout Europe.

9. Artificial Sweeteners

A container holding packets of several different artificial sweetener packets

“Sugar-free”...but at what cost?

Artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose, and acesulfame potassium are sugar substitutes that duplicate the effect of sugar in taste, with little to no calories (22). Which isn’t necessarily a good thing, zero calorie products actually lead to weight gain (23).

Side effects of artificial sweeteners include (24):

  • Allergic reactions such as hives and swelling
  • Bladder cancer
  • Bloating 
  • Brain tumors
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea 
  • Infertility 
  • Seizures
  • Weight gain

10. Sugar

Five cubes of sugar on a wooden spoon

Did you know that Americans consume 152 pounds of sugar each year (25)?

The reason for this is because sugar goes by dozens of different names.

Names for sugar include:

  • Dextrose
  • Maltose
  • Glucose
  • Fructose
  • Corn sweetener
  • Honey
  • Corn syrup
  • Sucrose
  • Sorghum syrup
  • Sorbitol
  • Brown sugar
  • Lactose
  • Molasses
  • Syrup
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • High-fructose corn syrup

The FDA’s recommended daily amount (RDA) of sugar is 50 grams (or 12.5 teaspoons) (26).

This is quite high, considering the fact that the United Kingdom recommends less than 30 grams of sugar per day (27).

If we stuck to the U.K. guidelines, that would equate to approximately 24 pounds of sugar per year rather than 152 pounds.

Side effects of sugar include (28, 29, 30, 31):

  • Acne
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Elevated cholesterol levels
  • Elevated uric acid
  • Fatigue
  • Inflammation 
  • Insulin resistance
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Weight gain

NativeTip: Check the ingredient label of not only your coffee creamer, but your milk, ketchup, salad dressing, yogurt, and anything else that’s packaged in a box, bag, can, or carton.

7 Healthy, Brain-Boosting Ingredients to Add to Your Coffee

I’m not going to tell you all the coffee creamers to avoid without giving you healthy and natural alternatives to turn to!

Here are 7 things you can add to your coffee—that all come with their own health benefits:

1. MCT + Collagen Coffee Creamer

NativePath Blog Post Image

Packed with 5 grams of MCT powder, 2.5 grams of collagen peptides, and a dash of natural sweetener, this coffee creamer is one of the best decisions you could make in the morning.

Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are known to enhance cognitive function, increase your fat-burning metabolism, and bless you with a balanced mood throughout the day (32, 33, 34).

Collagen boasts an array of benefits like strengthening bones, renewing the elasticity of skin, and strengthening hair and nails.

Monk fruit–a natural sweetener–is a plant native to southern China (35). It rates zero on the glycemic index, is rich in antioxidants, and comes with no weird aftertaste. You could say monk fruit is giving sugar a run for its money.

2. MCT Powder

NativePath Blog Post Image

If you’re someone who doesn’t care for the sweet taste of coffee creamer, MCT powder can be a flavorless addition to your coffee while giving you and your brain a boost.

Known to promote weight loss, increase brain energy, and reduce anxiety when taken daily, MCT powder is an optimal way to start your day (36, 37, 38).

3. Grass-Fed Collagen

NativePath Blog Post Image

Collagen is an essential supplement for men and women over the age of 40 (or 30, if you want to be one step ahead of aging).

What most people don’t realize is that one-third of the protein in their body is collagen. But as you get older, that plethora of collagen starts to diminish (beginning as early as your 20s) (39).

From a statistical point of view, your body starts out at 100% collagen. And by the time you reach 60 years old, your collagen levels have plummeted to just 50%.

So, when you begin to see fine lines and sagging skin or feel achy joints and bone-on-bone pain, your collagen levels are likely depleted. To replenish those levels, all you need is a high-quality grass-fed collagen supplement.

4. Grass-Fed Ghee

NativePath Blog Post Image

Ever heard of “butter coffee”? If not, it’s a steaming cup of joe with quality fats like MCT oil and grass-fed ghee. These ingredients team together to give you steady energy levels—without that mid-morning slump.

As a forewarning, it will taste more buttery than you’re used to, but the benefits can’t be beat.

Grass-fed ghee (also known as clarified butter) has stood the test of time. Spanning back thousands of years ago, ghee was used in Ayurveda (a traditional Hindu medicine) as a therapeutic remedy.

Studies show that ghee reduces the risk of coronary heart disease, prevents liver damage, reduces epileptic fits, enhances memory, and improves wound healing (40).

If you want to reap these enticing benefits, froth the following ingredients in your coffee cup:

  • 1 cup of brewed coffee
  • 1 scoop of MCT oil powder
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of grass-fed ghee

NativeTip: Grass-fed ghee can be found at your local health food store. When purchasing, make sure the ghee is both grass-fed and organic.

5. Almond Milk

NativePath Blog Post Image

Almond milk is a nutritious, nut-based drink that has become very popular over the years.

It's light in flavor, low in calories, and doesn’t have the hormones that dairy milk is pumped full of. To avoid store-bought almond milk with added sugars, flavors, and chemicals, try making your own at home. It’s super easy, all you have to do is soak, grind, and strain raw almonds. There are also some really cool devices like the Almond Cow. It’s what my wife and I use in our home!

Almond milk is rich in antioxidants, such as vitamin E, and provides a brain-friendly supply of mono- and poly-unsaturated fats.

6. Powdered Cinnamon

NativePath Blog Post Image

Cinnamon is a delicious and underrated spice packed with health benefits.

Add a dash to your morning coffee to partake in its high antioxidant content, anti-inflammatory properties, blood sugar-stabilizing properties, antimicrobial effects, and more (41, 42, 43, 44).

Pumpkin Spice Powder

NativePath Blog Post Image

Pumpkin spice powder doesn’t have to be limited to the months of October and November.

The 5 spices that make up pumpkin spice—cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice—have the ability to stabilize blood sugar, reduce inflammatory pain, and fight off colds, menstrual cramps, and upset stomachs (43, 44).

One way I like to incorporate pumpkin spice is by adding a few dashes onto the ground beans in my coffee filter. Then, when your coffee brews, you’ll have a whole new flavor profile awaiting your taste buds!

The Bottom Line

What used to be one of the healthiest beverages in the world has turned into a cup of sugar, thickeners, and artificial flavors.. Thankfully, there are healthier ways to enjoy your morning ritual. One of my favorite ways is using a coffee creamer that has MCTs and collagen peptides all in one. I simply add one scoop to my coffee, froth, and enjoy the boosted brain energy it gives me.

Dr. Chad Walding
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Dr. Chad Walding

Dr. Chad Walding is the Co-Founder and Chief Culture Officer at NativePath. He is a Doctor of Physical Therapy with a passion for helping people eat, move, and live in harmony with their natural state.

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    Medical Disclaimer

    This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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