I Ate Ice Cream Every Day for a Week—Here’s What Happened
Sure, it's a warm-weather treat—but is it really a good idea to eat ice cream every day? A board-certified nutritionist reveals the truth on whether it was it all fun, or if the indulgence come at a price...
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I scream, you scream: When I think of summer, I think of ice cream! I live with my family in Los Angeles, where for more than a decade I’ve work as a certified nutritionist and yoga instructor…and being a nutritionist can still mean enjoying the occasional dessert. As the days grow hotter and the sun blazes longer, my body craves ice cream just like when I was growing up in New England, when we’d all climb into our stationwagon and drive to Dairy Queen as a special summer treat. It’s such a memorable part of my upbringing and just one of many reasons I love ice cream so much.
But for all my love of ice cream, I’m not so sure it loves me back. In my early twenties, I discovered a sensitivity when I ate a certain amount of dairy. Since then, I’ve found plenty of delicious alternatives I can also enjoy.
Ice cream & dairy intolerance
Boston Children’s Hospital says 30 million to 50 million Americans experience lactose intolerance. “Eating ice cream could negatively impact your digestion if you are sensitive to dairy or lactose intolerant,” says registered dietitian Erika Jacobson, MS, RD, CDN. “Ice cream is a higher-lactose food, so if you have lactose intolerance, you may experience stomach pain, cramping, gas, and diarrhea with dairy ice cream. This happens when your body lacks the lactase enzyme needed to break down lactose (a sugar naturally found in milk and dairy).”
So, for the purpose of this experiment, I switched up the types of dairy I tried and also opted for a non-dairy ice cream (a delicious recipe that you can try, featuring what data shows is America’s favorite fruit!).
Being a nutritionist doesn’t mean practicing dietary restriction; it’s more about knowing how much of which nutrients each of us needs and understanding that some of us experience symptoms that can be addressed with certain foods. Employing that awareness was important for this week-long trial when I ate ice cream every day.
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Is it healthy to eat ice cream every day?
April 2023 data suggested Americans count Ben & Jerry’s as their favorite ice cream brand, with 2022 sales totaling nearly a billion dollars. I kicked off this experiment with Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food, which happens to be my favorite flavor. Here are a few points I noticed when I started eating Ben & Jerry’s ice cream every day:
I couldn’t stop! I have such trouble with portion control with this marshmallow and fudge flavor because it’s very sweet, and as a nutritionist I know that sugar can have a strong addictive effect. According to the Ben & Jerry’s website, Phish Food contains 34 grams of added sugar (that’s 8.5 teaspoons), not to mention 18 grams of fat per a 2/3-cup serving. Thirteen of those 18 fat grams are saturated fat—and 13 grams of saturated fat happens to be the exact limit for how much saturated fat most of us should eat in a day based on American Heart Association guidelines. That’s super important to keep in mind for anyone who’s mindful about preventing heart disease and heart attack. Again: A single serving of Phish Food occupies your total saturated fat intake for the day.
My stomach wasn’t feeling great later on in the evening. I was very gassy and uncomfortable. I instantly knew that it was from the ice cream since I’ve already learned that when I eat too much dairy at once, it doesn’t sit well.
According to the ingredients list on Phish Food, the Ben & Jerry’s brand adds guar gum and carrageenan into some of their ice cream to thicken and preserve the product. In my practice, what I’ve discovered is what a June 2022 Pennsylvania State University study found: That when we consume too much of these fillers, it can create some inflammation in the gut. Often when my clients come to me and we look at what they’ve been eating, these ingredients have been creating bloating. When we cut these out, the bloating will reduce significantly. In my own health, I’ve noticed carrageenan and guar gum tend to bother my stomach when I consume too much of them.
Jacobson offers a solution if you’ve noticed irregular digestion after consuming too much dairy: Check out goat’s milk ice cream. “Some individuals with cow’s milk sensitivity find that goat’s milk is better tolerated; however, in regards to lactose content, they are about equal,” Jacobson says.
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Here’s what happened when I switched to gelato every day
After two days of B&J’s, I switched to my favorite gelato brand: Talenti. If you’ve ever grabbed a pint of Talenti from the supermarket freezer case, then you know: This brand definitely calls to mind the rich Italian gelato formula that inspired this US brand. (In fact, in 2013 CNBC reported that the brand is named after Bernardo Buontalenti, the Italian from Florence who’s been credited with creating gelato during the Renaissance. Buontalenti’s last name translates to “good talents”…as any gelato lover would probably agree.)
At the store, they didn’t have my Talenti Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup flavor in stock, so instead I grabbed the Double Dark Chocolate and added my own peanuts and peanut butter. (Chocolate and peanut butter, my favorite flavor combo! I often add peanut butter to my chocolate bars, and love it with my ice cream, too. I’m well aware that peanut butter adds saturated fat to my treat, which is another reason I don’t usually eat ice cream every day!)
Here are a few observations I made when I started eating gelato for a few days:
I felt satisfied after just two to three spoonfuls. I felt like I’d had a yummy treat, but I didn’t feel stuffed.
I didn’t have any stomach issues, but that could be thanks to the smaller portion sizes that satisfied my appetite.
Since gelato is cream-based and not milk-based, it seemed easier on my stomach and overall digestion.
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I tried plant-based ice cream every day
After I finished the pint of gelato, for the final night of this experiment I switched to a “fruit ice cream.” This is something I make at home for my kids when we’re looking for a sweet but healthy treat.
Fruit “ice cream” is super easy to make:
- I use one peeled frozen banana,
- a cup or two of frozen fruit (we like strawberries),
- and then a half-cup of coconut milk.
I blend these three ingredients to a sorbet-like consistency. Since there isn’t any dairy in it, I never experience a stomachache.
If you’re looking to try different types of ice cream to see what is best for your body, Jacobson says it’s worth experimenting with the many delicious ice cream alternatives that are available these days, like coconut, almond, cashew, oat, soy, goat, and even avocado-based ice creams. You could even try a brand like Alec’s Ice Cream made with A2 dairy, which can be easier to digest.
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Here’s how often should you eat ice cream, says a nutrition expert
I love a little treat after dinner, especially chocolate—but is it advisable to incorporate ice cream into my nightly routine? “Quality dairy can be a healthy part of your diet,” Jacobson says. “It contains a balance of all three macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbs) and is packed with important nutrients like potassium and calcium. And if you’re opting for fermented dairy, you’ll get a boost of probiotics too. However, whether or not dairy should be a part of your diet really depends on your individual tolerance and its impact on digestion. And while there’s definitely room for ice cream in a healthy diet, it’s best as a treat in moderation.”
Jacobson explains that how much ice cream you should have in a day depends on several individualized factors, including overall diet and sugar intake, the type of ice cream and portion size, as well as any particular health conditions. It’s important to discuss your diet with your licensed healthcare professional.
“The good news is that you can still eat ice cream daily and lose weight,” Jacobson says. “The key is to be mindful of the portion size and how that fits into your overall calorie and added sugar intake. And to support blood sugar balance, try enjoying a small portion right after a meal with protein, fat, and fiber instead of on an empty stomach.”
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As we head toward summer, Jacobson shares a few factors to consider if you’re looking to choose a healthier ice cream next time you are at the store. “Choosing the healthiest option can feel overwhelming, but it comes down to your personal health goals,” she says. “For example, are you trying to lose weight? Or are you in the market for a dairy-free option or have other dietary restrictions? Whatever it may be, minimizing added sugars and artificial ingredients is always a good idea, so be sure to look at the food label when choosing.”
Even if I don’t continue to eat ice cream every day, I will always enjoy it as a special treat. My ice-cream-every-day experiment made me excited for summer to arrive so I can try some new options! Goat’s milk ice cream, anyone?
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