Ice cream – the not-so-safe sweet treat?

Ice cream1There’s no doubt about it – we are a nation of ice cream lovers. Especially now that it comes with a wide range of flavours, from classic vanilla to chocolate, marble fudge, strawberry, cookies and cream – you name it. But how safe is it to eat these commercially produced, sweet treats?

Ice cream is a popular dairy frozen dessert prepared from butterfat, milk and sugar as the base ingredients, and then added with flavourings, which, in some cases, are artificial in nature. Sugar stabilisers, such as gelatine or gum, give the ice cream its smooth and soft texture by preventing ice crystals from forming during the freezing process. As long as it is kept in the right temperature, ice cream retains its quality and taste for a long period of time.

But how safe are they to eat?

First, let’s look at the sugar contents of these ice creams.  What most people don’t know, many ice cream manufacturers make use of artificial sweeteners. These include maltose, saccharin, aspartame, dextrose, sucrol and xylitol. Saccharin and aspartame in particular, are known to cause cancer.

Because of its high sugar contents, ice cream is considered an ‘addictive food’. Ice cream addiction is more like a drug addiction in a sense that the more you consume, the less pleasurable it gets. In a study by the Oregon Research Institute in Eugene, scientists looked at a group of teenagers who regularly ate ice cream and another group who didn’t. They found that the reward centres in the brains of the ice-cream eaters were not as active as those who ate ice cream less often.[1] This all-time favourite treat is also high in calories. Two scoops of luxury ice cream for instance, have 110 calories, whilst a serving of Belgian chocolate-coated classic ice cream has 280 calories. What’s more – a large vanilla shake has whopping 1,070 calories! It’s much, much higher than one large fries from McDonalds which has 540 calories.

Ice cream is rich in saturated fats. Just one scoop of premium ice cream has nearly 50% of your daily fat intake. Many ice cream manufacturers also make use of additives that are harmful to our health. They include propylene glycol which is used as an anti-freeze solution for cars. Some ice creams also have piperonal in place of vanilla – a chemical used as a treatment for lice. Whenever you eat commercial ice creams, it is a good habit to read the label first and check out any ingredient that is potentially harmful to your health.

There are better ways to satisfy your craving for this sweet and delicious dessert. Here’s how:

Switch to sorbets.

Sorbets are generally lower in calories and saturated fats than ice creams but they taste just the same. Sorbet is a frozen dessert made from sweetened water, flavoured with fruit juice or puree. Since they are made from lots of fruits, sorbets are considered a healthier substitute for ice cream.

Top it with fresh fruits.

Unfortunately, many people are fond of pairing ice cream with other fatty foods like waffles, pies or cookies. If you want a lower-calorie, healthier snack, you can sprinkle some crushed nuts or top your ice cream with fresh cherries or mango slices. Yum!

Keep in mind that organic doesn’t always mean ‘healthy’.

Some people switch to ‘organic’ ice cream because they think it’s healthier than regular ice creams. But even though they are made without pesticides or artificial colouring, they can contain as much fats as regular ice creams do.

Go with frozen yoghurt.

If you plan to eat two scoops of ice cream, replace the second scoop with frozen yoghurt. As long as you choose the low-fat, plain yoghurt, you are eating a healthier snack.  Instead of buying ‘fruit-flavoured’ yoghurts, simply top fresh fruits on your plain greek yoghurt for a low-calorie, healthy dessert!

Even foods considered healthy can be potentially dangerous when we eat too much of them. However, making an informed decision about what food to feed our bodies and what food to avoid, can go a long way to making sure we keep fit, healthy and stay that way.


[1] Burger, K.S & Stice, E. Frequent Ice Cream Consumption is Associated with Reduced Striatal Response to Receipt of an Ice Cream Based Milkshake. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Apr;95(4):810-7