While ice cream isn't typically eaten for its nutritional value, there are several health benefits associated with this frozen treat. Since ice cream is a dairy product like milk or yogurt, it contains some of the same vitamins and nutritional content. It is important to read the nutrition label when selecting a type of ice cream to indulge in to maximize health benefits, while minimizing the health risks typically associated with ice cream due to its high calorie, sugar and saturated fat content.
Calcium found in dairy products, like ice cream, is beneficial for strong and healthy bones. According to the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), 99 percent of the body's calcium can be found in the bones and teeth where it is used to help function and structure. When the body is not receiving a sufficient amount of calcium daily, it can take calcium from where it is stored. Regular calcium intake from ice cream and other dairy products can also reduce the risk of osteoporosis, a disease related to an increase in bone fractures.
Not only is calcium good for the bones and teeth, it also plays a part in weight loss. Studies have shown a correlation between reduced weight and weight gain prevention with an adequate, daily intake of calcium. When the body is not receiving an adequate amount of calcium, it causes fat cells to enlarge by storing fat. Michael Zemel, Ph.D, of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, relates a lack of calcium to the creation of fat producing hormones and a slowing effect of fat breakdown leading to weight gain.
Like many dairy products, ice cream is a source for protein, a macronutrient that is important for parts of the body like bones, muscles, blood, skin and cartilage. Protein is also important for repairing and building tissue, while certain parts of the body, like hair and nails, are made entirely out of protein. Since protein isn't stored in the body, food and dietary supplements with significant amounts of protein are important. When eaten in moderation, ice cream can be one of the many food options to replenish the body's protein supply.
Those who exercise regularly can use ice cream as an after workout snack to help with muscle building and recovery. With the addition of healthy fruits, nuts, vegetables and dietary supplements, ice cream can be transformed into a great recovery shake or smoothie after a strenuous workout session.
Ice cream typically contains vitamins A, vitamin B2 and vitamin B12, micronutrients that are only needed in small quantities unlike protein. Vitamin A is important for healthy skin, bone metabolism and immune function. Vitamin A is also very important for the retina, allowing proper eye function for low-light and color vision.
Vitamins B2 and B12 are important for energy metabolism, breaking down fats, proteins and carbohydrates in the body. It is important to regularly replace these B vitamins since they are water-soluble and aren't stored in the body.
While other dairy products like milk might be a better source, the vitamins found in ice cream are part of the added health benefits to this frozen snack. Nutritional labels on ice cream containers can help determine the amount of vitamins that particular type of ice cream contains in one serving.
Healthy Ice Cream Options
While most traditional ice creams may be loaded with calories and are packed with sugar and fat, there are several, healthier options available:
- Low-fat, light or reduced fat ice cream: less fat and lower calorie content than traditional ice cream with some of the same health benefits.
- Soft-serve ice cream: contains twice the amount of air as traditional ice cream giving it a lighter texture with less fat and lower calorie content, but often contains unwanted fillers and additives.
- Sherbet: contains less milk than traditional ice cream along with egg whites or gelatin for thickness giving it less fat than regular ice cream, but higher sugar content than low-fat ice cream.
- Non-dairy ice cream: typically soy-based containing the same protein and nutrients with less fat and lower calorie content than regular ice cream.
Risks of Too Much Ice Cream
Most traditional ice creams are loaded with sugar and saturated fats. They also have high calorie content, and can be a dangerous "trigger" food, or a food that can be easily overeaten. Certain types of ice creams also include added toppings like milk-chocolate, peanut-butter cups, fudge and other forms of candy, which increase their calorie and sugar content. These characteristics can completely negate the health benefits of ice cream, and can lead to major health risks like diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity.
One should always remember the importance of moderation when consuming any type of ice cream. Those unsure of the weighted health benefits versus the potential health risk of a particular type of ice cream should read the nutrition label on the ice cream container carefully.