I must confess that I am such a sucker for ice-cream. One reason I was ’nearly’ a vegan for years was because I couldn’t give up my ice-cream.
We all seem to like ice cream, don't we? It’s no wonder with that highly addictive combination of fat and sugar.
Truth be told, it is only recently that supermarkets have started stocking a variety of ice-creams to suit people’s nutritional needs.
I am sure there are quite a few of you out there that eat ice-cream, and experience the short-lived pleasure only to pay for it later with wicked indigestion, gas, bloating and even diarrhea from the dairy and sugar combination.
The good news is, like the grain industry have come up with gluten-free bread which can now be found everywhere, the ice cream industry is stepping up their game and creating healthier options for those that are lactose intolerant, Keto, Vegan, Paleo, or others that simply want to enjoy an occasional bowl of ice cream and not curse their decision a few hours later. So, the fact is, there's actually now some pretty decent store-bought ice cream options out there.
So, let’s get down to the nitty, gritty of what to look for in a healthy ice-cream.
Keto ice cream lovers now have more choices than ever. Traditional ice cream is generally high in carbs, mostly from sugar, and contains around 20g carbs per ½ cup serving. Nowadays you can find ice cream that has less than 5g net carbs per 500ml.
The only thing with keto-friendly ice-creams is that many brands may add indigestible fibre (such as inulin or tapioca fibre) to decrease net carbs. They’ll also throw in zero-sugar artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols, which can cause uncomfortable gas, bloating, nausea, and diarrhea in some people.
Put simply, avoid eating a whole tub of Keto ice cream in one go – otherwise …. the toilet is exactly where you’ll be sitting afterwards !
Regular ice cream uses cream as its base (hence the name), while “high-protein” brands are usually made with skim milk along with whey or milk protein concentrate to increase protein content. However, they usually only contain around 6g protein per serving; but to be fair, that’s double traditional ice cream’s protein content (2-3g). Don’t forget to read the labels, as many high protein brands may add some nasties such as gums or carrageenans. If you are lactose-intolerant or you generally avoid dairy, it may be tougher to find a high protein ice-cream since most are dairy – based.
Traditional ice cream contains anywhere from 7-13g of fat per serving. Today, you can find quite a few ice creams lower than 5g of fat per ½ cup—and there are even brands with literally zero fat.
Low fat products in general are questionable as most often the fat is removed from the milk and is replaced with sugar, which we already know in large amounts is disastrous to a healthy, nutritious diet. We also know that without the fat you are more likely to eat more of it as you won’t feel satiated compared with the full fat varieties.
Your average ice-cream has a high content of sugar which can range from between 12 – 24g of added sugar in ½ Cup.
Today you can find dozens of low-sugar and even zero-sugar ice creams… for example; those that are labelled “low fat” or “high protein,” it’s important to consider what they’re replacing that sugar with to make it taste better than just a tub of ice.
Usually, sugar is replaced with ingredients such as artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes, which can often be worse for you than actual sugar.
Here are some general guidelines.
Consume in moderation:
In summary, I would probably choose ice cream with a few grams of natural sugar over one that contains zero sugar, or contains large amounts of artificial sweeteners or bloat-inducing sugar alcohols.
Traditional ice cream, which is rich in dairy and high in sugar, fat, and calories, contains a very simple list of real food ingredients: milk, cream, sugar, egg yolks.
However, in order to create “healthier” ice creams that tailor to specific diets or health needs, many of these basic ingredients get swapped out for alternatives, some of which may be harmless whilst others are anything other than healthy.
Unfortunately, a large number of vegan and dairy-free ice-cream companies add vegetable oils as an emulsifier, to make up for the low-fat content. The most common vegetable oils used are soybean, canola and cotton seed. Avoid vegetable oils like the plague, simply put they cause inflammation in the body and are bad for brain and heart health.
When the label mentions natural flavours, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are natural. “Natural flavours” is a blanket term for any plant- or animal-based ingredient that a company wants to keep secret. In general, while most “natural flavours” won’t kill you in moderate amounts, I’d look for ice cream brands that use more natural flavouring ingredients, like cinnamon, cacao, peppermint, mastic, rum and which are actually listed on the label.
Gums, Stabilizers, and Thickeners
Look at most healthy or dairy-free ice creams, and you’ll notice the presence of gums such as xanthan gum, guar gum, locust bean gum, acacia gum, or carob bean gum. These are added to prevent the formation of ice crystals, which is key to a rich, creamy, smooth ice cream. While these gums are generally thought to be safe, they are in essence soluble fibres that the body can’t break down, so for some people, especially those with Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) or leaky gut problems, they can cause digestive upset.
Another very common stabilizer is carrageenan, which is an extract of red edible seaweed. It’s commonly used in ice cream due to its gelling, thickening, and stabilizing properties. However, it should be avoided as some animal studies link it to inflammation, diabetes and even cancer.
Taste, Texture & Thaw Times.
Even if an ice cream passes the test with macronutrients, sweeteners, and additives, along with quality and dietary considerations, you probably won't want to eat it unless it tastes good ! Two important factors are taste and texture.
Healthy ice creams also tend to be somewhat more limited in flavours because the more add in’s added to them – the more likely they would sabotage the health factor.
Most people want a creamier texture—regardless of whether or not there is any actual dairy in the ice cream—which is the result of higher fat content.
Finally, there’s the importance of thaw time. There can be quite a variation in the time it takes for different ice creams to thaw. If an ice-cream takes 15 minutes to thaw before you can eat it – it may dampen your ice-cream enthusiasm. I am willing to bet that when most of you want to eat ice cream you'd prefer to eat it right then and there and if you have kids, there’s absolutely no way they'd want to wait !
Whatever ice cream you choose to eat, it can absolutely be part of a healthy diet but always in moderation !
Barbara is a qualified nutritionist offering Health, Nutrition & Lifestyle Counseling. She gives Healthy weight loss advice and promotes the Mediterranean diet. She is the author of the Med Life Diet - creating healthy lifestyle habits and attitudes for life !