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Myths vs. Facts: Is Ice Cream Healthy?

is ice cream healthy?
Is ice cream healthy? It has calcium, protein and B vitamins, but it’s also calorie-dense.

July 15 is National Ice Cream Day, and I’ll certainly be celebrating, perhaps even in advance. My doctor is always reminding me to consume calcium, and I’ve used her warnings to justify my sometimes-excessive ice cream consumption.

Is Ice Cream Healthy?

But really, is ice cream healthy? I talked with registered dietitian Katherine Basbaum. She agreed with me that the milk, cream and eggs have some necessary nutrients, including calcium, protein and potassium.

But then she burst my bubble: “Ice cream is considered an energy-dense food, meaning that it has a large number of calories per serving. So even though there are beneficial nutrients in ice cream, I would discourage using the nutrient content of ice cream as a reason or justification for eating it!”

That doesn’t mean you should never eat it. Basbaum says her patients are only successful with their nutrition goals if they allow themselves an occasional treat, such as a small bowl of ice cream once or twice a week. You might not achieve your goals as quickly, but the benefits will last longer.

“It relieves some of the feelings of deprivation and restriction that many feel when they completely cut treats out of their diet, which is often the reason a person will ‘fall off the wagon,'” she says. 

Myths v.s. Facts: What’s In Your Ice Cream?

Not all ice creams are created equal. We tackled some common beliefs about ice cream nutrition.

“The packaging on my favorite ice cream looks healthy, so it must be healthy.”

Myth. Many commercially-prepared ice creams are loaded with artificial colorings, additives, preservatives and other ingredients that are not so healthy. If you look at the ingredient list and see more than 5 ingredients listed, or if you can’t pronounce the names of what you see, such as propylene glycol, it’s best to leave the container at the store. Ice cream should primarily contain milk or cream, natural sweeteners, eggs, natural flavorings and fruit.

A Lower-Calorie Dessert

This frozen treat satisfies like ice cream, but it has only 76 calories. Get the recipe for banana ice cream.

“Going out to the local ice cream shop on occasion is better than keeping ice cream in my freezer.”

Fact. Local ice cream shops make ice cream differently, so it’s best to ask about the ingredients if they’re not listed. But many places that make their own ice cream are more likely to use fresh, natural ingredients and less likely to use the artificial flavorings and preservatives found in most store-bought ice cream. As an added bonus, it’s easier to keep your portions in check when you eat ice cream out, since once the scoop is gone, it’s gone. No pint, quart or half-gallon sitting in your freezer beckoning your name.

“If I eat low-sugar or low-fat ice cream or frozen yogurt, I can eat as much as I want.”

Myth. While low-sugar varieties of frozen treats may have fewer calories than regular ice cream, these options can be filled with ingredients that aren’t good for you. Many low-fat choices have more sugar than regular varieties to make up the taste lost by the fat. If you’re going to indulge, go for the real thing and enjoy it in moderation. Better to eat a half cup of natural, creamy goodness than a few scoops of fake chemical-laden frozen dessert.

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