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Ice Cream - Healthy or Not?

Minerals, Nutrition | March 5, 2018 | Author: Naturopath

cholesterol, heart, Digestion

Ice Cream - Healthy or Not?

Australians love ice cream. According to a 2014 report by Roy Morgan Research, 73% of us purchased a tub or carton of ice cream at least once in the previous 12 months. We are one of the biggest ice cream consumers in the world.

What is ice cream?

Australia New Zealand Food Standards Codes define ice cream as:

 “A sweet frozen food that is made from cream or milk products or both, and other foods, and is generally aerated.”

According to the codes, in order for food to be sold as ice cream, it has to contain no less than: 

  1. 100 g/kg of milk fat; and
  2. 168 g/L of food solids.

Ice cream ingredients

Ice cream has the following ingredients:

  • Ice cream ingredientsMilk fat.
    Milk fat gives ice cream its smooth and creamy texture. Sources include butter, cream, or pure milk fat.
  • Food solids. These are typically milk proteins (caseins and whey proteins) and the milk sugar lactose. Ice cream contains around 9 to12% food solids.
  • Sweeteners. Ice cream sweeteners are added to enhance the flavour of the ice cream and make it more palatable. Common sweeteners include a combination of sugar (sucrose) and glucose syrup, about 12 to 16%.
  • Stabilisers. Stabilisers are compounds that are important for the consistency of the ice cream. They add viscosity by limiting the size and growth of ice crystals, so the ice cream does not become coarse and icy.
  • Emulsifiers. Ice cream is an emulsion of milk fat and water. Emulsifiers keep the milk fat and water from separating, creating a smooth and creamy texture.
  • Food colourings. Natural or synthetic, food colours are used in almost all ice creams to make them more appealing to the eye. The choice of colour is dictated by the associated flavour (for example, red for strawberry).
  • Flavourings. Some ice creams have added artificial flavours, to make the cheaper to manufacture. Unfortunately, manufacturers do not need to specify the ingredients used to make the flavouring or whether or not they are from natural or artificial sources.
  • Water. Water in ice cream comes from the milk or other ingredients
  • Air. Air increases the volume of the ice cream by anything from 30% to 50% and adds to the ice cream’s texture. Cheaper ice creams tend to have more air.

Types of ice cream

  • Regular ice cream. Ice cream as defined by the Food Standards Code as a sweet frozen food made from cream and/or milk products or both and contains no less than 10% milk fat and 168g/L of food solids.
  • Premium ice cream. Premium ice creams tend to have less air and more cream, making them richer in flavour and texture. However, according to Choice magazine, ''premium'' is purely a marketing term. 
  • Reduced fat ice cream. Should contain at least 25% less fat than the regular full-fat ice cream – approximately 7% fat.
  • Low fat ice cream. ‘Low-fat’ ice cream means that it contains less then 3g fat per 100g.
  • Soft serve ice cream. This type of ice cream is more fluid and similar in composition to reduced fat ice cream.
  • Gelato. An Italian-style ice cream containing more milk but little or no cream, which reduces the fat content while intensifying the flavour. Gelato has less air, which makes its texture denser, and is traditionally served at a slightly warmer temperature than ice cream,
  • Frozen custard. Made with milk, cream & eggs. Because the key ingredient is egg yolk, frozen custard has a thicker consistency than ice cream.

Ice cream and your health

The good:

Ice cream contains some important nutrients.
Ice cream, being a dairy product, contains some essential minerals and vitamins. These include the bone building minerals calcium and phosphorus; potassium - which is necessary for maintaining your blood pressure; the immune vitamins D and A, as well as B vitamins that are needed for energy production.

Ice cream and your healthIce cream can make you happy. When neuroscientists at the Institute of Psychiatry in London scanned the brains of people eating vanilla ice cream, they found that it immediately triggered the part of the brain - “the pleasure centre” - known to activate when people enjoy themselves.

Ice cream may help you get pregnant. A Harvard study of more than 18,000 women between the ages of 24 and 42 found that women who ate full-fat ice cream two or more times a week were had less trouble conceiving than women who had full-fat ice cream less than once a week, or those who had more low-fat dairy products.
Click Here for further reading - Fertility

The bad:

Sugar and fat. Ice cream is high in sugar. A serve (1/2 cup) of vanilla ice cream, for example, contains around 14 g sugar – about 3.5 teaspoons. High intake of added sugars can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and dental cavities. In addition, ice cream has a high glycaemic index. It means that eating ice cream can result in a sharp rise in blood sugar. High levels of blood sugar trigger excessive insulin release (the hormone that transports glucose into the cells), and over time may leads to insulin resistance, a condition where after a while the cells begin to resist so much insulin, so both insulin and sugar are at high levels in the blood. Ice cream is also high in saturated fat, which is the type of fat that Heart Foundation Australia warns us against as it is associated with high cholesterol levels, in particular increasing the bad (LDL) cholesterol.

Lactose. Ice cream contains lactose, a milk sugar. Many people suffer from lactose intolerance, which is caused by a deficiency of lactase, an enzyme that is produced in the lining of the gut. You need this enzyme to absorb and digest lactose. If lactose is undigested it can cause abdominal discomfort, bloating, flatulence, nausea, and diarrhoea.
Click Here for further reading

Additives. In addition to milk and sugar, ice cream is made with many additives – colouring, flavouring, stabilisers and emulsifiers. These ingredients provide no nutritional value, and in excess may be harmful for your health.
Click Here for further reading

Ice cream headaches. Many people experience a sudden headache, also known as "brain freeze", after eating ice cream. Scientists explain that the cold sensation in the roof of the mouth causes small blood vessels to constrict and then rapidly dilate, resulting in the brain getting pain signals.

Ice cream substitutes

Eating a small portion of ice cream occasionally is probably not harmful for your health. However, you may prefer one of the following options:  

Sorbet. Sorbet is a dairy-free frozen dessert made from fruit or fruit juice, sugar and water. Again, store-bought sorbets may be loaded with added sugar and artificial flavours.

  • Healthy tips: Make it yourself. Preparing sorbet at home, using real fruits and controlling the amount of sugar you add.

Frozen yoghurt. Yoghurt is prepared from milk fermented by added beneficial bacteria, and is much lower in fat than ice cream, hence has been marketed as a healthy alternative to ice cream; however, it is not always the case. The good bacteria do not survive the freezing temperatures, and although the fat content is low, frozen yoghurt is not necessarily lower in sugar than ice cream.

  • Healthy tips: Watch for sugar content, portion size, and add healthy toppings such as fresh fruit.  

Vegan ice creams. Technically not an ice cream as they do not contain any milk. These “ice creams” are dairy free and are usually made from coconut, although you can find soy-based ones as well. They are not necessarily healthier than regular ice cream, as some are very high in sugar and contain as many additives.

  • Healthy tips: As with every packaged food – always check the nutritional panel on the tub and the amount of sugar and fat. In general, a long list of ingredients, especially one containing names you do not recognise, suggests that are more additives in the product.  Australia’s best online discount chemist


Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code – Standard 2.5.6 – Ice cream. Available at:

Chavarro, J.E. et al., 2007. A prospective study of dairy foods intake and anovulatory infertility. Human Reproduction, 22(5), pp.1340–1347. Available at:

CHOICE, 2014. What you need to know about ice cream. Available at:

Harvard Health, 2017. What causes ice cream headache? Available at:

Heart Foundation. Saturated and trans fat. Available at:

Roy Morgan Research, 2014. Tubs of joy: Australians still love ice cream -. Available at:

The Guardian, 2005. How ice cream tickles your brain. Available at:

University of Guelph, Food Science. The Ice Cream eBook. Available at:

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