Yep, that’s what it says, folks. Thine eyes don’t deceive, but what about the research from which such a statement is gleaned? Seems there have been quite a few studies over the decades, dating back to the 1980s actually, in which the nutritional implications of ice cream have been investigated. Curiously enough though, the data from these studies consistently show that a diet consisting of, well, pretty much any dairy product, including ice cream, appears to keep overweight people from developing insulin resistance syndrome, a precursor to Type 2 diabetes and its concomitant cardiovascular issues. Wow, that’s pretty earth shattering news, yet, these results barely scratched the headlines, and they certainly didn’t crash any websites. To the contrary, the hidden health benefits and/or the lack of a negative impact on health that ice cream appears to possess have been kicked to the curb in lieu of yogurt as the “healthy” dairy alternative. So what gives? Is ice cream “good” or “bad” for one’s diet?
To say there is a whole lot of science behind the answer to that question is an understatement, but working through it all, the data basically shows that ice cream, in moderation (serving size in the research studies was either a half cup or one cup of ice cream only, no toppings, eaten either every day, two or three times a week) can be part of a healthy diet. Good news, right? Not according to some.
Raising a skeptical eyebrow, the world of nutrition called foul regarding these research findings. Afterall, Harvard’s Nutrition Source website calls ice cream an “indulgent” dairy food that is considered an “every-so-often” treat. As a result, numerous highly-credentialed nutritionists threw all they had at the “ice cream could actually be a part of a healthy diet” data. Guess what? Any attempt to debunk the research findings by the esteemed nutrition scientists failed, the data held up! Keep in mind, the researchers conducting the studies on ice cream’s effect on health were as baffled as anyone, too. How preposterous! There is no way a sugary treat laden with huge amounts of saturated fats could have any health benefit. It makes no sense, and honestly, defies nutrition logic, or does it? As the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding, except in this case, in the ice cream. Interestingly enough, there are some plausible biological explanations for the unexpected but consistent findings that ice cream is metabolically protective, suggesting it can be a diabetes prophylactic and that it is not a completely unhealthy food choice.
First, ice cream’s glycemic index, the measure of how fast a food raises blood sugar on a scale of 0-100 (the lower the number, the better) is considered low at 37. To drive this point home, brown rice has a glycemic index of 55, which is considered medium, and whole wheat bread has a glycemic index of 71, making it high. Second, ice cream is rich in vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, B-1(thiamine), B-2 (riboflavin), B-3 (niacin) B-6, B-12, C, D, E, K, calcium and phosphorus to be exact. It also contains protein and fat. Finally, ice cream stimulates the production of serotonin, the joy hormone. And, who doesn’t like to be joyous?
Beginning to see ice cream in a different light right about now? Perhaps, those of us who chanted the mantra, “You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream,” as a kid intuitively knew something about the frozen treat’s health benefits. Speaking of frozen treats, let’s take a quick look at ice cream’s history, like who invented it.
Every country has its own spin on the delectable frozen treat. In Japan, it’s mochi. In Italy, it’s gelato. In India, it’s kulfi and in the good old USA, it’s ice cream. It’s a globe trotting treat if ever there was one, but getting the “scoop” on ice cream’s true origin is difficult. There are as many theories to ice cream’s birth as there are Baskin Robbins flavors! Ice cream’s earliest forms, precursors if you will, date back to ancient times and don’t really bear much resemblance to the creamy sweet stuff found in freezers today. Iced drinks and desserts have been noted throughout time, dating back as early as 4,000 B.C., when nobles built ice houses along the Euphrates River to take the edge off the long, hot summer days with chilled drinks. In 5th century B.C., Greece, snow was likely used to cool wine (hmm, an adult version of the sno-cone?), and in first century Rome, iced refreshments were laced with honey. During the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.), emperors would eat a frozen milk-like confection made of cow, goat or buffalo milk. The milk of choice was heated with flour and mixed with camphor from evergreen trees for flavor and texture then placed in metal tubes and lowered into an ice pool until frozen. Of all the ancient frozen treats known across humanity’s timeline, China’s frozen milk concoction sounds the closest to the ice cream enjoyed these days, so it stands to reason that China would get to pull the “inventor of ice cream” card, but history actually places credit with a Neapolitan steward by the name Antonio Latini who, in 1694, published a recipe for a milk based sorbet laced with candied pumpkin. Thank you, Mr. Latini!
And now for a big round of applause for the scientists who say ice cream may actually be beneficial to your health, helping to dispel some of the negative publicity ice cream has endured over the years as society has become more health conscious. Here, here, let’s all scream for ice cream then raise a cone or a cup in honor of the research findings!
by JD Harper
JD Harper is a local author. GLINT, her debut novel, is set in Chattanooga amid its rich Civil War history and rock climbing culture. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.