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Healthy Balance

Avoid a Summer Diet Disaster: Try These 5 Ice Cream Hacks

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What does sugar do to your body? We answer all your sugar questions in Bittersweet? Effects of Sugar.

The Summer Challenge

Problem #1: I’m not one of those people who can eat whatever she wants without gaining weight. Just one cookie moves me up a whole dress size. And, no, I’m also not the kind of person who can eat just one cookie.

Problem #2: It’s summer! Swampy, Virginia summer. It’s not cookies I crave, but ice cream.

Problem #3: Summer drains all of my motivation to exercise or eat healthy. I don’t want to stay balanced and make healthy choices. What I really want to do (and what I end up doing), is lay by the pool and shovel in the cold stuff.

My chances don’t look good for fitting into my fall clothes. If you’re anything like me, you need some ice cream hacks.

Treat Sweets Like Treats (What We’re Supposed to Do)

Of course, I know better. I’ve not forgotten what registered dietitian Katherine Basbaum, one of the nutritionists at UVA specializing in heart health, told me. When I asked her about ice cream alternatives: “Ice cream is a treat that we’re supposed to use like soda, candy or a cinnamon bun – discretionary calories you can treat yourself to in small amounts after you’ve met all of your needs. We’re supposed to use the calories we’re allotted in the day for nutrient-rich foods. Exercising and portion control gives us wiggle room for discretionary calories.”

Added Sugar: The Culprit

She also distinguished added sugar from the naturally occurring sugars in foods like strawberries. Added sugar, she explained, “adds fuel to the fire of many chronic diseases, like cancer and heart disease, because it causes inflammation.”

The bottom line? Too much added sugar in your diet makes many health conditions worse.

What About Ice Cream With Sugar Substitutes?

Seems like a simple solution, right? But fake sugars aren’t “a miracle solution,” Basbaum said. She did not greenlight me to eat all I want.

“When you’re evaluating your ice cream,” she said, “Look at sugars and fat. ‘No sugar added’ probably has artificial sugar and all these chemicals in it.” On top of this, Basbaum worries that many ‘zero calorie’ treats with labels claiming to have ‘healthy’ contents can “potentially confuse people into thinking they can binge or gorge on this.”

Now, Basbaum did clarify that stevia leaf extract and sucralose (Splenda) are FDA-approved and pose no health or safety issues when looking at the average intake of Americans. Her point wasn’t so much that most processed, alternative ice creams would be hurtful, but that they weren’t actual, real food. At the end of the day, you are what you eat.

Processed? Who Cares?

The thing is, it’s not just about weight gain. Avoiding sugar in your ice cream might keep your sugar intake down, sure. But constantly consuming highly processed foods can have long-term, devastating effects on your body.

Apple Juice vs. Apple

Basbaum illustrates how it works by contrasting drinking apple juice to eating an apple. When you eat an apple, your body breaks it down steadily and slowly, so your body can handle the sugar calories appropriately. Apple juice, on the other hand, hits your bloodstream like an injected drug. The swift spike of sugar overwhelms your body’s systems to the point where you just can’t keep up. The potential result if you make sugary drinks a habit? Insulin resistance, weight gain, inflammation, and increased risk of chronic disease, like diabetes.

But I’m not ready to give up on ice cream just yet. Because you can find ways to eat ice cream this summer without completely losing your shape and health.

5 Ice Cream Hacks

#1: Make a Homemade Ice Cream Sandwich

The thing about homemade is you have more control over how much sugar you add to your food. This recipe has only 54 calories, using fat-free ice cream.

Make it yourself: A healthier ice cream sandwich.

#2: Try Banana Ice Cream

Cold, mashed bananas can give you a similar consistency to ice cream with the added benefit of fiber, potassium and other healthy nutrients. Plus, it’s super easy and fast to make.

Try this great recipe for banana ice cream.

#3: Suck on a Smoothie

When I have sweet cravings, I often turn to smoothies. A blended banana, strawberry or fig can sweeten up just about any mix. Use plain yogurt, spinach, unsweetened almond milk and protein powder with ice. With a few dark chocolate chips and fresh mint your smoothie can taste like mint chocolate chip ice cream.

Try this heart-healthy mango smoothie.

#4: Buy Alternative Ice Creams (Halo Top, Arctic Zero)

By and large, these ice creams have less fat, sugar and calories than regular ice cream. The downside? While they may lack high sugar levels, you’re still eating highly processed food that’s not adding any nutritional value to your diet.

Still, as long as you don’t eat a pint every day instead of the actual nutrition of say, dinner, you should be fine.

Up your sugar savvy: Get educated on ice cream.

Ice Cream Hack to Share?

How do you eat healthy in the summer? Let us know in the comments below.

#5: Add Real Toppings to Frozen Yogurt

Frozen yogurt tends to contain fewer fat and calories than ice cream, since it lacks the all-important cream.

The pitfall: Frozen yogurt shops tend to give you the chance to graze on dozens of candies, cookies and sauces. You may start with a sugar-free yogurt and still end up downing an overdose of the sweet stuff. Go for fruit, nuts, granola for toppings instead. Even bring them yourself.

Getting frozen yogurt with kids? Here’s why watching your child’s sugar intake matters.

Go Forth & Eat

As for me, my favorite of the 5 ice cream hacks is…#3 and #4. Because, like I said, summer makes me lazy, and these are easy. But honestly, having a variety of options makes avoiding the summer spread seem totally doable.

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