Ice Cream Nutrition

The title sounds like an oxymoron.

For me, summer is prime time for ice cream.  Along with fresh seasonal fruit, it’s the perfect treat for a hot summer day.  But we all know it’s a high sugar, high fat, high calorie food.  Not exactly a description that conjures thoughts of nutrition.  Nevertheless, it has nutrients and calories; therefore it’s a nutritional issue.

According to historical sources, ice cream has ancient beginnings.  There are Biblical references to iced drinks.  Snow, carried down from high mountain locations, was flavored with fruit, juices, honey and nectar and enjoyed in places like ancient Rome.  Marco Polo reportedly brought a recipe for a sherbet-like food from Asia.  Recipes were adapted to use dairy ingredients sometime in the 16th century.  Around that time, ice cream as we know it was concocted in France, no surprise, where cream and eggs are staple foods.  It made its way across the Atlantic, where commercial manufacturing became possible in the mid-19th century.  Even then, it was not widely available until refrigeration and freezing equipment were improved.

Now it’s everywhere, in various forms, made with a variety of ingredients and flavors.  The FDA has a standard of identity for ice cream, that — Surprise!! — doesn’t mandate cream as an ingredient.  Here’s an excerpt of the official definition:

Ice cream is a food produced by freezing, while stirring, a pasteurized mix consisting of one or more of the optional dairy ingredients…. Cream; dried cream; plastic cream (sometimes known as concentrated milkfat); butter; butter oil; milk; concentrated milk; evaporated milk; sweetened condensed milk; superheated condensed milk; dried milk; skim milk; concentrated skim milk; evaporated skim milk; condensed skim milk; superheated condensed skim milk; sweetened condensed skim milk; sweetened condensed part-skim milk; nonfat dry milk; sweet cream buttermilk; condensed sweet cream buttermilk; … (on and on and on…..)  Water may be added,…. (and on and on and on)

Plastic cream??!!!  Water??  I’m starting to wonder at the use of the word “food” at the beginning.  Anyway, cream is optional.  I’ve actually seen ice cream that lists flour on the ingredients list.  Why?

I’m partial to real traditional ice cream made with cream, eggs, sugar and possibly milk.  You can find those, but they’re very expensive.  And increasingly all ice cream is loaded up with cookie bits or candy pieces or cereal or swirls of flavored syrups, or all of the above.  Does it occur to anyone but me that this means there is less actual expensive ice cream in the container?  Ice cream producers seem to be saving money by diluting the mixture with a bunch of cheap add-ins, while maintaining the high prices.  For this rip-off reason alone, I avoid gunked-up ice cream.  There’s also a reasonably good nutritional reason to avoid it: the add-ins are inevitably mostly sugar.

But of course, ice cream itself contains sugar, as well as possibly milk or milk-like substance, maybe eggs.   So is ice cream a good source of protein or calcium?  Not really.  Here’s a comparison of 1/2 cup of vanilla ice cream from 3 popular brands:

Brand            wt     calories   protein   fat   sugar*

Haagen-Dazs     110 g    250         4 g     17 g   20 g

Breyers          66 g    130         2 g      7 g   14 g

Blue Bunny       65 g    130         3 g      7 g   14 g

Generic          66 g    130         3 g      7 g   15 g

*Sugar refers to all sugars, including the lactose naturally present in milk, so this is not an Added Sugar value.

I included the weight of the 1/2 cup serving for a reason.  It seems the premium brand, made with cream, sugar and egg yolks, weighs more than the cheaper ice cream made with gels, gums, skim milk and no eggs.  There are more calories in the premium brand because it weighs more, not because it’s inherently higher in calories.  Cheaper brands are fluffed up with additives.   So keep that in mind if you eat a small serving of lightweight ice cream and don’t feel very satisfied with the experience.

But if those ice creams work fine for you, you’ll save calories as long as you stick to small portions.  As for nutrients, you might get 200 mg of calcium, not terrible, but not a great calcium bang for the calorie buck.  And definitely not great for protein.  Ice cream is a treat.  Indulge occasionally in small portions.  As I’ve said before, people who tend to Mindless Eating should avoid keeping big containers of ice cream in the home freezer.  Too tempting to just keep spooning directly from container to mouth.  Before you know it you’ve eaten 4 servings.  Making ice cream a special event, going to an ice cream shop and getting a small cone or cup is a better choice.  You eat it, you’re done.  No leftovers calling to you from the freezer.

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