Nondairy Creamers Like Coffee-Mate May Not Be Dairy Free

Posted by Eric Troy on 12 Jul 2014 19:07

Nondairy coffee creamers are milk or cream substitutes for coffee. Some people make such substitutes out of soy, rice, or even coconut milk. Most of the store-bought coffee creamers, whether powder or liquid, however, are made from partially hydrogenated oils like soybean or cottonseed. However, they contain other ingredients for flavor and texture. Although they say nondairy on the label, it is important for milk allergy sufferers to be aware that they may contain dairy derivatives, which could cause an allergic reaction in some people with dairy allergies.

Is Coffee Mate Dairy Free?

Coffee-mate brand nondairy creamers contain sodium caseinate which is a form of protein from milk. Caseinate is a common ingredient in nondairy milk substitutes. FDA regulations require that when foods characterized on the label as "nondairy" contain a caseinate ingredient, that ingredient must be followed by a parenthetical term such as "a milk derivative." Here is the ingredient listing for Coffee-Mate French Vanilla Flavor (Liquid), for example, with the pertinent parts bolded:


If you have a severe milk allergy, it probably means you are allergic to one or more of the proteins found in milk. Milk allergies are not to be confused with lactose intolerance, which is an inability to digest some or all of the lactose ( (milk sugar) in milk. Remember that true allergies to proteins found in milk, casein or whey proteins such as lactalbumin or lactoglobulin, can be very serious. People with such allergies must usually avoid all milk or dairy products or foods that may contain milk protein, such as nondairy coffee creamers. People with milk allergies should not use Coffee-mate or other nondairy coffee creamers if they contain caseinate, a milk derivative.

Other Foods that May Contain Hidden Milk Protein

There are other foods that would seem to be free of milk protein, but which may contain milk proteins. Check the ingredient listings to be sure. The following is a partial list of foods that, at first glance, appear to be milk protein free, but that may harbor milk proteins. This does not mean that these foods must absolutely be avoided, but caution is advised and the advice of your doctor should be followed.

  • Butter - Technically people with allergies to milk are allergic to the proteins in milk. Butter is the fat from milk and, at this time, there are no known intolerances to fat in milk. However, most butter has traces of milk protein in it. The only way to be sure if a butter was pure fat, with no trace of milk protein, would be to have it tested.
  • Cream - The same goes for cream as goes for butter. Technically, people with milk allergies can tolerate pure cream. Some cream may contain traces of milk protein.
  • Margarine - Margarine would certainly seem to be milk free, being that it is a butter substitute. However, most modern margarines contain milk protein ingredients or even milk, such as buttermilk. These product labels will have a milk warning such as "CONTAINS: Milk" just after the ingredient listing, and/or a parenthetical term, as for the coffee creamer, above, for milk proteins.
  • Goat's or Sheep's milk cheese - Some goat cheeses or sheep's milk cheeses may contain up to one-third cow's milk. Check the ingredient listing to be sure. As well, although most people who are allergic to cow's milk tolerate goat's milk, there may be some who cannot. Sheep's milk may still be a good alternative, and can be considered instead of goat's milk as an equal replacement.

Of course, there can be many other sources of milk or milk proteins that may not be obvious. Most breads or pastries contain milk or milk ingredients.

Is Coffee-Mate Lactose-Free?

Coffee-Mate Nondairy Creamer, since it contains caseinate, may contain trace amounts of lactose, and it probably cannot be considered completely lactose free. However, it should not be expected to contain very much lactose at all, and if you are lactose intolerant, there most likely is not enough lactose in it to affect you. Most lactose intolerant people can handle small amounts of the milk sugar lactose in their diet.

Nondairy Versus Dairy Free

According to FDA regulations, when foods characterized on the label as "nondairy" contain a caseinate ingredient, the caseinate ingredient shall be followed by a parenthetical statement identifying its source. For example, if the manufacturer uses the term "nondairy" on a creamer that contains sodium caseinate, it must include a parenthetical term such as "a milk derivative" after the listing of sodium caseinate in the ingredient list." Milk allergy sufferers should always check the ingredient listings of products which read "Nondairy" on the label. This term is not used to ensure consumers the product does not contain dairy, but rather to satisfy the dairy industry at large, which does not want substitute dairy products like coffee creamer, which only contain dairy derivatives, to be allowed to say "dairy" on the label.

Furthermore, according to the FDA "laws at the State rather than Federal level currently influence the use of a “non-dairy” statement on food labels.

It should be obvious that nondairy does may not mean dairy free. But please note that the term dairy free was used here to help readers find this article. Dairy Free also cannot be assumed to mean 'no dairy.' The dairy free is not regulated and the FDA has not established any regulations to govern the use of the term dairy free on food labels. This does not mean that it is 'legal' for a food to use dairy ingredients and claim to be dairy free as this would be false and misleading. However, this does mean that any food claiming to be dairy free might actually contain a dairy ingredient and the same caution should be used as for nondairy products.

See the Best Coffee Creamers That Are Truly Dairy Free.

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