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Published July 15, 2011, 12:00 AM

Prairie Fare: Celebrate ice cream with eye on nutrition

“Mom, is ice cream good for you?” my 7-year-old daughter asked as she picked up a bowl of vanilla ice cream with a drizzle of chocolate syrup on it.

By: Julie Garden-Robinson, INFORUM

“Mom, is ice cream good for you?” my 7-year-old daughter asked as she picked up a bowl of vanilla ice cream with a drizzle of chocolate syrup on it.

“You can have ice cream now and then for a treat,” I replied, evading her question. I wasn’t ready to explain moderation at that moment.

“But it’s good for you, right? See, it has calcium in it,” she said as she looked at the nutrition label on the package.

I think she was hoping to change our “milk with meals” habit to “ice cream with meals.”

“Yes, ice cream contains calcium, just like milk. However, ice cream has more calories than milk, so it’s a treat. I think you might get tired of it if you ate it all the time, too,” I replied.

She looked sideways at me and grinned. I could almost read her mind.

“I would never get tired of ice cream!” she said as she walked away with her treat.

July is National Ice Cream Month. My family isn’t the only one who loves ice cream. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics, more than 1.5 billion gallons of ice cream were produced in 2009. When March rolls around, ice cream production and consumption increases and continues through the summer and into fall.

About 90 percent of U.S. households purchase frozen desserts, according to the Mintel Product and Market Research group. Despite all the flavors that are available, vanilla tops the list and it’s followed by chocolate, strawberry and chocolate chip, according to the NPD Group, a market research company.

To be labeled “ice cream,” a food has to contain at least 10 percent milk fat.

Along with the added sweeteners and other ingredients, ice cream becomes an energy-dense food.

If you are looking at ice cream as a main calcium source, consider this. One cup of fat-free milk has 300 milligrams of calcium and 90 calories, while a cup of ice cream has 120 milligrams of calcium and 240 calories.

You can lighten the calories in your dessert by paying attention to food package labels. For example, you may see “light,” “reduced” or “low-fat” as descriptors on ice cream or frozen desserts.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, a “reduced fat” ice cream has 25 percent less total fat than an average national product. “Light” ice cream will have 33 percent fewer calories than an average product. A “low-fat” ice cream will have no more than 3 grams of fat per ½-cup serving, and a “nonfat” ice cream will have less than 0.5 gram of total fat per serving.

On the other hand, if you want to indulge in a very creamy frozen dessert with more calories, you can opt for “superpremium” or “premium” ice cream. Both types of products have less air (called “overrun” in the ice cream industry) whipped into the product and higher fat content. Premium ice cream also uses higher-quality ingredients and usually is more expensive than regular ice cream.

If you’re ready to celebrate National Ice Cream Month with a refreshing, creamy frozen treat, take some steps to keep your ice cream at its best.

Follow these tips from the International Dairy Foods Association:

  • Stop last at the ice cream aisle during your grocery-shopping trip.

  • Check that the supermarket freezer is minus 20 degrees F or colder.

  • Choose the ice cream product that is below the freezer line.

  • Bring an insulating bag or a cooler so your ice cream stays cold on the way home.

  • At home, be sure your freezer is set at 0 degrees F or lower.

  • Remember that softening and refreezing ice cream causes changes in the texture and quality of the ice cream. (A warmed scoop can help you dip hard ice cream from the container.)

  • Store ice cream in the main part of the freezer, not in the freezer door.

  • For best quality, use ice cream within a month of purchase.

Remember moderation as you enjoy a serving of your favorite frozen treat.

Consider topping a bowl of berries or fresh peaches with a dollop of ice cream, instead of the other way around.

You can make your own ice cream, too. If you decide to make custard-style ice cream at home, be sure that your recipe does not include raw eggs, which can be a source of Salmonella bacteria. Here is a recipe courtesy of the American Egg Board at www.incredibleegg.org.


Frozen Custard Ice Cream

6 eggs

¾ cup sugar

2 to 3 Tbsp. honey

¼ tsp. salt

2 cups milk

Make custard by beating eggs, sugar, honey and salt in a medium heavy saucepan until blended and then stir in milk. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is just thick enough to coat a metal spoon with a thin film and the temperature reaches 160 degrees F, about 15 minutes. Do not boil. Remove from heat immediately. Cool quickly. Set the pan in a larger pan of ice water, gently stirring for a few minutes to hasten cooling. Press a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface of the custard. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least one hour.

Add the following ingredients to the cooled custard and stir gently:

2 cup whipping cream

1 Tbsp. vanilla

Place into a 1-gallon ice cream freezer can and freeze according to manufacturer’s directions, using six parts crushed ice to one part rock salt.

Serve topped with fresh fruit or your other favorite ice cream topping.

Makes 12 servings (about ½-cup each). Each serving has 240 calories, 15 grams (g) of fat, 6 g of protein, 21 g of carbohydrate and 120 milligrams of sodium.


Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

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