The Scoop on Healthy Ice Cream

By Rebecca Yellin, Staff Writer

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Kings Food Markets has a variety of new ice creams that are a healthier alternative. Photo by Rebecca Yellin

Rebecca Yellin is a nutrition and food science major with a concentration in dietetics. She believes that there is a disconnect between food and health, and as an
aspiring registered dietitian, she hopes to bridge this gap. She is qualified to share nutrition information as a nutrition student, as she is constantly searching for sound sources to improve her knowledge of nutrition to help guide others.

As the weather gets warmer, we all flock to our favorite summer indulgence: ice cream. Respected as a treat, ice cream is high in calories, fat and sugar. Healthy has never been analogous to the word ice cream. Could this be changing?

Grocery stores are making shelf room for a new generation of dessert. A high protein, high fiber, low carbohydrate, sugar and fat ice cream. Brands such as Halo Top range from 240 to 360 calories and 20 grams of protein per pint, and Enlightened ranges from 240 to 400 calories and 24 grams of protein per pint.

The appeal is strong. Trust me, I know. But are the ingredients in these new wave “high protein, low sugar” ice creams actually healthier than their traditional high calorie, sugar and fat counterparts?

If you remember from my last article, reading the ingredient list is integral to ensuring intake of quality ingredients. Ice cream brands, such as Halo Top and Enlightened, do not contain high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, trans fats, or artificial sweeteners.

That’s great! Instead, these ice creams share similar ingredients, such as milk protein isolate, monk fruit extract, erythritol, stevia, non-GMO soluble corn fiber or prebiotic fiber, carob gum or guar gum. Let’s take a look at some of these less familiar ingredients to break knowledge deficit barriers.

Monk fruit extract, or Luo Han Guo, is a zero calorie nonnutritive sweetener. Mogrosides, extracted form the fruit, are antioxidants that happen to be sweet.

Embedded in ancient Chinese medicine, monk fruit was approved in 2014 by the U.S. FDA as a GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) food additive. It is 100 to 250 times sweeter than sucrose, our benchmark for sweetness. Consuming monk fruit does not impact blood sugar levels negatively, whereas a regular high sugar ice cream would. Governments in the U.S., Canada, China, Japan and Singapore have all concluded that monk fruit sweeteners are safe for the general population.

Erythritol is a sugar alcohol made from grapes, melons or pears. It provides fewer calories than sugar because your body does not completely absorb it. That being said, eating too much can lead to abdominal gas or diarrhea. On the plus side, erythritol does not spike blood sugar. Erythritol was also designated by the FDA in 2001 as a GRAS food additive and is also approved in other countries.

Non-GMO (genetically modified organism) soluble corn fiber is a prebiotic. Interestingly, non-GMO soluble corn fiber may actually help the body utilize calcium in adolescence and post-menopausal women, according to studies published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and the Journal of Nutrition. Non-GMO soluble corn fiber is commonly used in food products that have lower sugar content and provides a source of fiber.

Using ingredients, such as the ones discussed above, allow similar taste and texture to regular ice cream without the use of mass amounts of cane sugar, full-fat milk and cream, and trans fats. Research has not shown negative health outcomes from any of the ingredients, but as with every thing in life, moderation is key.

If you eat the entire container of one of these “healthy” ice creams, you may be taking in more calories than you would for a standard half cup serving of a traditional ice cream. In fact, the traditional ice cream might serve itself more satiating, if you can hold yourself accountable to consuming one serving. If not, a “healthy” ice cream may be your best bet, as you will consume less calories, fat, sugar, and no trans fats.

Just remember that these items are still highly processed. The less processed food items you consume by replacing them with whole foods, the greater health outcomes you may experience. As well, some of these ingredients are only recently being researched. As studies continue, be on the lookout to remain aware and informed.

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