What a question.
Ice-cream, a sweet treat renowned for its high-fat content and creamy richness seems to be enjoying quite a renaissance in the dessert world at the minute.
Over the past few years, this after-dinner treat has seen its fair share of ‘healthy alternatives’ come to market, with brands such as Halo Top, Oppo, Perfect World and Breyers making health junkies sit up and take notice.
While typical ingredients in ice-cream consist of milk, sugar, milk fat and flavourings, the ‘healthy’ versions cut down fat content by adding skimmed milk, erythritol (sweeteners) instead of sugar, milk protein concentrate instead of cream, and glycerin instead of emulsifiers traditionally used in full-fat ice-cream.
The result is an ice-cream which is around one-third of the calories, sugar and fat. Sounds great, right?
Unfortunately, I’m inclined to say no.
Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m in no way advocating consumption of high-fat ice-cream if you’re leading a healthy lifestyle. Instead, I’m rejecting the idea that low-fat ice-cream is a healthy choice and can constitute part of a healthy diet.
Alternative sweeteners, such as erythritol, have been shown to cause side effects such as diabetes, an increase in sugar cravings and, most concerningly, changes in gut bacteria.
When artificial sweeteners enter the gut, they change the numbers and types of bacteria, and in some cases end up reducing the beneficial bacteria in the gut.
This can cause digestive problems at a lower level and diabetes/obesity at a higher level. This is typically whey people who consume diet soda (of which includes copious amounts of artificial sweetener) endure feelings of bloating and discomfort. Erythritol can also cause nausea when in doses over 50g per day.
Additionally, consuming too many artificial sweeteners could confuse the brain, causing people to inadvertently consume MORE sugar. This is apparent in cases such as Oreo Thins where the same ‘cocaine-addictive’ style ingredients are used as in the standard cookies, just without as many per cookie. The result? MORE people consuming MORE cookies overall, resulting in the same – if not more – sugar and fat consumption.
See the problem?
And that’s not all. Many so-called ‘healthy’ varieties are pumped full of dietary fibre which, on the face of it, sounds fine. However, if you indulged in an entire pint of the stuff, you’d be consuming around 20 grams of fibre (avg.) – this is more than half of your daily fibre intake.
And while we are often told that fibre is good, too much can cause terrible stomach issues, resulting in bloating and digestive problems. Funnily enough, the food manufacturers know this is too much, but they simply cannot tear themselves away from their fibre-filled treats for one reason: the fibre artificially maintains the creamy texture you’d expect from ordinary ice-cream. This is essential for ice-creams made with erythritol as it has a propensity to form ice crystals even when it has fully defrosted.
So, what should you do?
I’d suggest going for traditional ice cream which uses minimally processed ingredients. And, of course, not to consume it a pint at a time!
Here are some ways you can eat ice-cream but still stay healthy:
Top Tips for Making Healthy Ice-Cream Choices
- As with most foods, eat your favourite treat in moderation. This means no bingeing of even sugar-free varieties – you can have too much of a good thing, remember. Limiting your nutritional profile is how digestive problems crop up.
- Make your own. This healthy banana ice-cream, for instance, is made with bananas, almond butter and raw almonds – no dairy!
- If you simply must choose an ice-cream, opt for one which uses as few ingredients as possible. Ideally, these ingredients would be ones you understand. Kelly’s Clotted Cream ice-cream, for instance, might be high in sugar, but it uses wholefoods such as whole milk and clotted cream. ‘Healthy’ versions, on the hand, tend to use emulsifiers, sweeteners, and dietary fibre as core components in their foods, of which, when consumed regularly, can cause digestive issues.
- Mix your ice-cream with healthy add-ons. Natural yogurt, raisins, cacao nibs and all-natural peanut butter are good options.