With summer firmly behind us, there’s a debate over ice cream, how healthy it is and how much we should really consume?
Ice cream used to be pretty simple to make. It consisted of cream, sugar or honey, an egg and possibly some fruit. Ice cream recipes have now changed considerably since the days of old fashioned ice cream, so how healthy is the ice cream we eat today?
The majority of scoops sold are loaded with artificial sweeteners, trans fats, thickeners, artificial colourings, and preservatives. A quick glance at most of the major brands will reveal some 25 or more ingredients.
The legal definition of ice cream is “a sweet frozen food made from cream or milk products or both, with a minimum of 10% milk fat.” What this doesn’t tell us is what is, or rather what isn’t in ice cream. The dairy products that go into ice cream are saturated fats with premium ice creams being around 10% saturated fat, standard ice creams 7% and low fat ice creams 2% saturated fat.
Ice creams bought from an ice-cream parlour contain more fat and calories than burgers and pizzas, US researchers have found. In some cases a single dessert contains two days’ worth of saturated fat, while others are the calorific equivalent of an entire meal.
Synthetic colours used in flavours have also raised questions about related health effects, especially around children’s behaviour. It is generally accepted amongst nutritionists and health care professionals that every single artificial colour in the food industry has some kind of detrimental health effect. These flavourings and colours have been deemed to be safe in many countries, but the European Union specifies that products, which include them must carry a warning.
The sugar content of ice cream can vary between brands and flavours of ice cream. On average, two scoops of regular ice cream provide about 28 grams of sugar. This sugar will, once digested, turn into the equivalent of 7 teaspoons of sugar, just in that one portion.
As a result manufacturers increasingly turn to sugar-free ice creams, usually containing sorbitol or maltitol. These are sugar alcohols that aren’t as easily digested as sugars; therefore, they may have a laxative effect. Sugar alcohols are used to sweeten sugar-free ice cream and are not included as part of the sugars on the nutrition facts label, but still count as carbohydrates.
The ultimate question, therefore, is how much ice cream should we have? Dietitians tell us the answer really depends on our lifestyle; how much we exercise; our weight and what else we’re eating. If we’re generally active and not overweight, we can get away with one or two scoops of ice cream once or twice a week, so we’re told.
Finally, we seem to be consuming more ice cream now than we ever have before, so it’s become less of a treat. It’s easy to reach for the ice cream, but the ramifications of its ingredients on our long term health if consumed in larger quantities isn’t something I would want to have to deal with. I am sure though, as sure as I can be… the debate will continue to go on.