What’s Good and Bad About Ice Cream?

By Martin Brown

There is something magical about ice cream. Whether its that small amount you eat in a sampling cup with a tiny plastic spoon or the tablespoon you use to dig into a full pint, that cold sweet sugary mix in dozens of delightful tastes always welcomes us back into its comfortable embrace.

Obviously nothing that tastes so good could possibly be that good for us, and ice cream lives up to that expectation.

The roots of our addiction to sweet and fat, and of course real ice cream offers us both, runs deep in our genetic code. Nature is all about propagation and survival and to the nursing baby a mother’s milk offers two incentives to suck away until completely full. One is that all mammal milk contains lactose, a form of sugar. That sweet taste draws us in and the high fat in milk keeps us wanting more. Nature delivers a high calorie, growth enhancing formula with every feeding an infant receives.

It’s a faulty leap in logic, however, to assume that just because a mother’s milk is the ideal food for a nursing infant, that a cow’s milk, ideal for a nursing calf, is also healthy for humans of all ages.

As whole fat cow’s milk has steadily lost market share over the last three decades to low fat and no fat alternatives; the dairy industry has been left with a glut of milk fat that finds its way in ever increasing quantities into such products as cheese and what is commonly called, “premium ice creams.” Premium, in this case, serving as a code word for “high saturated fat.”

So whenever you see the classic sitcom character burying his or her head in a quart of ice cream think sweet, think fat. This behavior, this “comfort food,” is clearly symbolic of returning to the comfort and safety of when sugar and fat were the foods that nourished you in the earliest weeks, months, and years of your life.

The next logical question is: Why can’t continue this way? Well total body weight, diabetes, stroke, heart disease provide a few ready answers. A majority of European Americans can tolerate lactose beyond their teen years. But, about 75% of African Americans, and Hispanic Americans cannot. As for Asian Americans, only one out of ten produces the enzyme lactase which allows humans beyond their childhood years to digest lactose. It’s reasonable to suspect that the vast majority of the world’s population is lactose intolerant because adults were not meant to consume milk, not from a human mother or from a bovine mother. Additionally, cow milk allergies, is one of the most common of all food allergies.

Finally, is there any hope that we can create a safer equally delicious “ice cream?” The jury is still out on that question but there are some amazing products that offer a lot of the rich velvety sensation of whole milk based ice cream. One is soy ice cream. Pretty good, but too often with a thin flavor reminiscent of fat free ice cream. A more intriguing alternative  for healthy ice cream is  the wildly creatively vegan (non-dairy) ice creams that have begun appearing everywhere. From “creamed” blends of strawberries, to lavender, and even basil based, some of these sweet treats have amazing flavors.

It would be nice to go through life with the innocent delight of a child licking away on a deep, rich, fat-laced double chocolate ice cream cone. But the simple truth is that most of us find healthy aging, and trim bodies to be an even greater delight.

I think traditional fat laced cow’s milk ice cream will be with us for a long time to come. But those who want to be with us for a very long time are wise to look for other choices . Fortunately delicious new creative alternatives might leave us with a happy and healthy compromise.


Martin Brown is the Heath Channel Editor for SingleMindedWomen.com, and co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Finding Mr. Right.

His next book, Fit in 50 Days, will be available May 2011.