Ice cream can be a delectable treat, as it’s creamy, cold, and sweet.
However, like many sugary treats, it’s loaded with calories, sugar, and fat.
Naturally, you may wonder about the potential downsides of this dessert — and whether you can include it in a healthy diet.
This article tells you everything you need to know about ice cream.
Ice cream nutrition
The nutritional profile of ice cream varies depending on brand, flavor, and type.
|Regular||Premium||Low-fat||No added sugar|
|Total fat||7 grams||13 grams||2.5 grams||5 grams|
|Cholesterol||30 mg||70 mg||10 mg||18 mg|
|Protein||2 grams||3 grams||3 grams||3 grams|
|Total carbs||17 grams||20 grams||17 grams||15 grams|
|Sugar||14 grams||19 grams||13 grams||4 grams|
In most cases, premium ice cream — which is processed to be richer and creamier than regular ice cream — is also higher in sugar, fat, and calories.
Interestingly, while low-fat or no-sugar-added products are often promoted as healthier, these choices may contain around the same number of calories as regular ice cream.
All the same, most ice creams are a rich source of phosphorus and calcium, providing about 6 and 10% of the Daily Value (DV), respectively, per 1/2-cup (65-gram) serving. Both minerals are important for muscle function and skeletal health (
Yet, this mineral content doesn’t compensate for ice cream’s heavy calorie and sugar load.
Most ice cream is high in calories and added sugar while low in nutrients. Although low-fat and no-sugar-added choices are commonly marketed as healthier, they’re still calorie-dense and may contain various sweeteners.
Like most processed desserts, ice cream has several health drawbacks to keep in mind.
High in added sugar
It’s no secret that ice cream is loaded with sugar.
It’s recommended that you limit added sugars to under 10% of your daily calories, or about 50 grams of sugar for a 2,000-calorie diet (
Thus, one or two small servings of ice cream can easily push you toward this daily limit.
Calorie-dense and low in nutrients
Ice cream is laden with calories but offers few nutrients — aside from calcium and phosphorus (
If you eat ice cream as an occasional treat, you shouldn’t worry about its lack of nutrients. However, if you often replace nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, or whole grains with ice cream, your diet could be lacking necessary vitamins and minerals.
Plus, ice cream’s high calorie load may promote weight gain if you eat too much.
May contain unhealthy additives
Many ice creams are highly processed and include ingredients like artificial flavors and additives.
Some artificial ingredients and preservatives have been associated with negative health effects, while others have been proven safe.
Notably, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently banned seven artificial flavorings, including benzophenone, given their association with cancer in animal studies. These compounds were common in ice cream and other desserts (
Additionally, processed ice creams regularly harbor artificial food dyes, such as Red No. 3 (erythrosine) and Blue No. 2 (indigo carmine). Although they’re approved by the FDA, some research links these dyes to hyperactivity and behavioral issues in children (
Guar gum, which is used to thicken and texturize foods, is also common in ice cream. It’s generally considered safe but has been associated with mild side effects, such as bloating, gas, and cramps (
What’s more, animal and test-tube research suggest that carrageenan, likewise found in ice cream, may promote intestinal inflammation (
Ice cream has several downsides. It’s low in nutrients, high in added sugar and calories, and may contain artificial ingredients.
Can you include ice cream in a healthy diet?
It’s perfectly acceptable to enjoy an occasional dessert as part of a healthy diet. The key is moderation.
To avoid overindulging, try pre-portioned products like ice cream bars or mini containers. Otherwise, you can use small bowls rather than large ones to keep your portions in check.
Remember that even though low-fat or low-sugar varieties may appear healthier, they’re not necessarily more nutritious or even lower in calories than other options — and they may contain artificial ingredients. Use discretion by reading labels carefully.
Furthermore, you can practice mindful eating to help enjoy every bite.
Ice cream can be part of a balanced diet, but it’s important to practice portion control and moderate your intake.
Recommendations for healthy ice cream
When shopping for ice cream, check the nutrition and ingredient labels carefully. Choose products made mostly from real ingredients, such as cream, milk, cocoa, and vanilla beans.
If possible, avoid heavily processed ice creams by choosing those with a small number of easy-to-read ingredients (
If you’re watching your weight, look for products with less added sugar and fewer than 200 calories per serving.
Alternatively, try making a low-calorie, nutrient-dense ice cream at home using only two simple ingredients:
- 2 ripe bananas, frozen, peeled, and chopped
- 4 tablespoons (60 ml) of unsweetened almond, coconut, or cow’s milk
Pulse the items in a blender or food processor until you reach a creamy consistency. Add more milk if needed. You can serve the mixture immediately or freeze it for a more scoopable texture.
This dessert includes no added sugar, fewer calories, and more nutrients than regular ice cream.
It’s best to choose ice cream that’s minimally processed and contains few ingredients. You can also go for homemade ice cream that’s simple and nutrient-dense.
The bottom line
Ice cream is a sweet and refreshing treat.
However, it’s high in sugar, calories, and possibly additives and artificial ingredients.
Thus, you should read labels carefully if you want a more wholesome dessert.
Ice cream can be part of a healthy, well-balanced diet if consumed occasionally and in moderation.