So you want to eat a little bit better, but refuse to subsist entirely on sad salads and depressing handfuls of mixed nuts? Good news: You can have the best of both worlds — that is, good health and good food — so long as you mind your portion sizes and limit how often you indulge in the less-than-healthy stuff. To help you stay healthy and satisfied, we’re asking nutrition experts how often you can dig into your favorite unhealthy snacks without setting yourself back too far. The focus this time around: Ice cream.
Ice cream, I hate to say, ranks among some of the unhealthiest eats known to mankind, simply because it contains massive loads of sugar, fat and calories, with virtually no redeeming qualities. It does sometimes deliver some phosphorus and calcium, which work together to strengthen our bones and teeth — although, all of the sugar in most ice creams negates those effects, and there are much healthier ways to load up on phosphorus and calcium, like by stuffing your face with leafy vegetables (which, I know, is less fun that stress-eating a whole pint of ice cream).
Moreover, while there are low-fat and no-sugar-added choices out there, these still tend to be dense in calories, mainly due to the presence of dairy and heavy creams, and usually contain alternative sweeteners, which can be even more debilitating than sugar itself. Plus, many ice creams are highly processed, containing dangerous additives, and of course, extra ingredients, like sprinkles or chocolates, can mean even more sugar and even more calories.
All of which is to say, it should be obvious that eating ice cream with any regularity would, sadly, be detrimental to your health (physically, maybe not mentally). But everyone needs a little ice cream here and there, especially in these trying times, so I asked Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, how often we can have some without really messing ourselves up — and she basically said never. As she’s told me many times before, dairy products are linked to all sorts of ailments, including heart disease, diabetes and even cancer. Combine that with all the sugar that ice cream contains, and it would be really tough to justify eating it, ever.
Before you give up on living altogether, though, Hunnes does provide an alternative, and one that she says you can safely consume quite often. “I’d recommend shopping around for non-dairy alternatives to ice cream, such as soy, almond and coconut-milk-based products,” she says. “I’d also say that having a small portion daily would be acceptable for these non-dairy varieties, meaning around a quarter or half cup, maximum. Too much more than that, and you’re probably getting more calories, sugar and carbohydrates than you need.”
It might not be the milky stuff you’re used to, but hey, I’ll take non-dairy ice cream every day, well, every day.