Last night after dinner, my friends and I decided to get some ice cream. Now, I know what you're thinking - "ice cream isn't healthy!" While I will agree that ice cream isn't healthy or power packed with nutrients, after doing some research I do believe that some ice creams (or their alternatives) are healthier than others. And since I don't plan to live the rest of my life without it, my goal is to learn as much as I can about what is out there so I can make an informed decision - even if it's not always the best decision - that's what the 20 in my 80/20 rule is for :).
As I conducted my research, I was surprised to find that there very specific guidelines that determine how so-called healthy ice cream can be marketed:
1. Reduced fat ice cream must have at least 25% less total fat than the original product.
2. Light ice cream must have either 1) 50% less total fat or 2) 33% (1/3) fewer calories than the original.
3. Low fat ice cream can have a max of 3 grams of total fat per 1/2 cup (4 oz).
4. Nonfat (fat free) ice cream must have less than 0.5 grams of total fat per l1/2 cup (4 oz).
Which is healthier?
I wish there was a cut and dry answer to this question, but unfortunately there isn't. The challenge with the information above is that the majority of it focuses on fat content and contrary to what the marketers tell us, fat doesn't make us fat. We gain fat when we consume more calories than we burn. We also have a propensity to gain fat when we consume large amounts of sugar and carbs (I'll explain this more in a future article). So although labels like reduced fat light, low fat, and nonfat help us understand the fat content in relation to the original, it doesn't give us a full picture. Not only do we not know the calorie, sugar, or carb content - there is no mention of calcium, vitamins, or protein - all things that can make one product "more healthy" than another.
Well that didn't really help
I know, I know, I didn't really help much with answering the question "which is healthier?" but this is an important lesson for us to learn. A food cannot be deemed healthy just because it has a reduced fat label on it. We have to go deeper. We need to go to the store's website or read the product label to see what the product is made of. Then and only then can we rate a product's healthiness.
Although this topic isn't black or white, there are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for ice cream:
1. Generally, the simpler the product the better. For ex. plain vanilla or chocolate is lower in cals, fat, sugar, etc. than my favorite Chocolate Fudge Brownie (Ben & Jerry's).
2. Remember that reduced fat and light ice creams (especially premium brands like Ben & Jerry's, Haagen-Dazs, & Baskin Robbins) may still be relatively high in calories and fat. Just because they're lower in fat/calories than the original, doesn't mean that the original was an ideal choice. Look at the nutritional information before making a choice.
3. You are better off getting the ice cream in a cup than in a cone. If you have a taste for a cone, go for a cake cone (20 cals) or a sugar cone (45 cals). Waffle cones and bowls (160 cals) and Chocolate covered waffle cones and bowls (330 cals) can take the calorie content over the edge.
4. Sherbets and sorbets are alternatives - but choose them because you like them, not because they are healthier. Although they are generally lower in calories, they also lack the calcium, vitamin, and protein content of ice cream.
Frozen yogurt is a good alternative that is generally lower in fat and calories than traditional ice cream. Just watch the add-ins (M & Ms, Oreo, etc) and cup size.
coach tam's Blog
40-something who loves food, fitness, and fun!