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How to Fit Ice Cream into a Heart Healthy Diet

Ice CreamIce cream in its many forms is a very popular summer treat worldwide. For some. it is even a year-round indulgence. But can ice cream be included in a heart healthy diet?

While ice cream comes in many flavors and varieties, it is generally made from whole milk or cream, sweeteners, flavorings such as vanilla, and also ingredients with nutritional benefits such as fruit, nuts, and dark chocolate. According to the USDA Food Composition Database, one-half cup serving of vanilla ice cream contains the following:
  • 15.58 grams of carbohydrates
  • 7.26 grams of fat
  • 2.3 grams of protein
  • 14 grams of sugar
  • 53 mg of sodium
  • 137 calories, which is about twice the amount in ½ cup of whole milk1
To be labeled “ice cream”, the dessert must contain a minimum of 10% milk fat. Some ice cream contains as high as 16% milk fat, which is a saturated fat and accounts for almost half of the calories in a serving of ice cream. The remaining calories come from the protein in the milk and from carbohydrates, added sugar, and flavorings. The 14 grams of sugar in a half cup serving means 56 calories in ice cream come from sugar. This is more than 50% of the American Heart Association’s recommended daily consumption of sugar for women and almost 40% for men.2

Ice cream does provide small amounts of nutrients, including vitamin A, B6, B12, C, D, E, niacin, thiamin, and riboflavin as well as vitamin K1 which functions as a blood thinner and helps prevent clotting. The dairy treat also includes antioxidants as well as the minerals, calcium, and phosphorus.1

Here are some tips for including ice cream in a heart healthy diet:
  • Reduce calories and saturated fat by choosing sorbet, frozen yogurt, gelato, or “light” ice cream. Be sure to check calories, fat, and sugar on the label, as added ingredients may increase calories even in lighter varieties.
  • Choose other frozen treats, like fruit bars, to reduce fat. But be sure to take a close look at the label. A typical frozen fruit bar can contain anywhere from 14 to 24 grams of carbohydrates, with little protein and fat (although some do include milk fat). Select the most appealing flavor with the least amount of saturated fat and sugar.
  • Follow the AHA guidelines to use up as many calories as you take in3 and take a walk while or after eating your ice cream treat.
Like many foods, ice cream has some nutritional advantages and disadvantages depending on the variety chosen and serving size. The bottom line: in moderation ice cream can be included in a heart healthy diet.

  1. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. USDA Food Composition Databases. Accessed 3.28.17.
  2. American Heart Association. Sugars, Added Sugars and Sweeteners. www.heart.org. Accessed 3.28.17.
  3. American Heart Association. American Heart Association's Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations. www.heart.org. Accessed 3.28.17.