JULY IS NATIONAL ICE CREAM MONTH
According to the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), President Ronald Regan signed National Ice Cream Month into law on July 9, 1984. He noted that ice cream consumption substantially contributed to the U.S. economy and strengthened the health of the country’s dairy industry. President Regan further designated the third Sunday of the month as National Ice Cream Day and encouraged all Americans to take part.
Heading into July, we can expect to see some long hot summer days, with the sun and high temperatures quickly sending us looking for a way to cool off. It’s not surprising that the month of July is designated as National Ice Cream Month. But when it comes to choosing, is one better than another?
THE HISTORY OF ICE CREAM
Ice cream was introduced in the United States in the 1700s. The consistency was initially more like sherbet and enjoyed only by the elite and wealthy. In 1776, the first ice cream parlor opened in New York City. It wasn’t until the 1800s, when ice houses came about, that the ice cream industry got started. In1812 during the Madison administration, First Lady Dolly Madison, served ice cream at the White House.
In the later 1800s, soda fountain shops began to pop up, and the ice cream soda was born. There are a few different theories about the origin of the first ice cream sundae and a rivalry exists between Ithica, NY, Two Rivers, Wisconsin, and Evanston, Illinois for the boasting rights.
During World War II, the military used ice cream as a morale booster for the troops. The Navy borrowed a barge from the Army and modified it as an ice cream parlor for sailors and Marines stationed in the Pacific Ocean. The barge could quickly produce a large amount of ice cream and could hold up to 2000 gallons at a time.
In an effort to boost morale, one Marine commander outfitted a fighter plane as a high-altitude ice cream parlor. After several attempts, the final product was perfected and enjoyed by hot Marines who were stationed on an island without much fresh food.
Today, ice cream remains a favorite treat for most of us. There are many new varieties and variations of the original. Differences in the fat content, dairy or non-dairy source, additives, sugar content, and flavorings are just some of the changes we see. But just how do they stack up in terms of flavor, calories, and healthfulness?
ICE CREAM VARIETIES AND VARIATIONS
-Traditional ice cream is made from whole milk and cream and must contain at least 10% fat in order to be labeled as “ice cream”. On average there are about 14 grams of fat per serving, with about half coming from saturated fat. A 3/4 cup serving can range from about 130 to 330 calories depending on the recipe. Pricier, more decadent brands are usually on the higher end. The sugar content can vary from 12 to 26 grams. Ice cream becomes frozen custard with the addition of egg yolks.
-Frozen yogurt is similar to ice cream except for the use of yogurt in place of cream. As you might expect, the fat content is lower. Non-fat and low-fat varieties range from 0-4 grams of fat per serving. Similar to ice cream, the sugar content of frozen yogurt varies, with some brands approaching that of ice cream. Frozen yogurt does not contain the same live cultures as regular yogurt, as freezing inactivates or destroys its properties.
-There are Lactose-free and Dairy-free varieties of both ice cream and frozen yogurt. Lactose-free products may still contain milk, just without the lactose, while dairy-free products contain no milk or milk products at all. Dairy-free frozen desserts can be found made from almond, cashew, coconut, and oat milk as well as soy, avocado, and pea protein. Most non-dairy frozen desserts are lower in fat and calories than traditional ice cream. The exception is for those made from coconut which has a high saturated fat content similar to that of ice cream.
-Some ice cream products are labeled as gluten-free. However, typically all single-flavor ice creams, with primary ingredients of sugar, milk, cream, and sometimes eggs, are gluten-free. Nonetheless, hidden gluten may be found in additives, starches, or flavorings such as malt, brown rice syrup, and yeast extract. Cookie dough, or cookies and cream flavors usually contain gluten.
-Vegan ice creams or frozen desserts are also available. These are made with plant or nut milk and without any dairy or eggs.
-Low Carb or Keto, and No added sugar ice creams are also on the market. They are low in sugar, but in some cases, very high in fat, saturated fat, and even trans-fat. They may contain starches such as tapioca, corn, and flour, and are advertised as low “net carbs” after subtracting fiber and sugar- alcohol carbohydrates.
-Gelato is very similar to ice cream. It is also made using milk, cream, and sugar. However, there is usually more milk and less cream, which lowers the fat content. Gelato also does not usually contain eggs and is churned more slowly than ice cream, giving it a different and more dense texture.
-Sorbet is made from water and pureed fruit. While it is low in fat, it is high in natural as well as added sugar. Sorbets have no dairy products and therefore are both gluten, and lactose-free. Sherbet is essentially the same as sorbet with the addition of milk or cream.
WHAT IS THE HEALTHIEST CHOICE?
In determining the healthiest ice cream choice, there are many ways to look at it. Either in terms of lower fat content, fewer grams of added sugar, or the least number of additives and artificial ingredients.
Start by becoming a Nutrition Facts label reader. Look for options with no more than 120 calories per serving and no more than two grams of saturated fat and/or 16 grams of added sugar.
A lower-sugar frozen yogurt may be the best choice. The fat and sugar content will be lower than traditional ice cream, as well as the calories per serving. However, don’t forget to check the portion size.
Also, try to find the ones with the fewest additives or preservatives. Many are used for stabilizing the product, improving the texture, or as a flavoring. As with any prepared food, there are going to be some however, the fewer of these the better.
THE BOTTOM LINE
There’s no need to take ice cream off your list of treats to enjoy. With so many options available, there is a version of this favorite frozen dessert, for everyone.
Become a Nutrition Facts label reader to help choose the one that is right for you. Portion sizes do make a difference and the number of additives and artificial ingredients can make one choice better than another. Consider making your own ice cream where you can control the ingredients and add in fresh fruit, nuts, or dark chocolate bits. There are many healthy ice cream recipes available, and you don’t have to have an ice cream maker!