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Plant or Dairy Based Ice Cream?

By Rebecca, Jaspan, MPH, CDE, RD

It’s summer time and I know I’ve got ice cream on the brain.  Walking through the ice cream section of the supermarket, the choices can be overwhelming.  From traditional Haagen-Dazs to non-dairy Ben & Jerrys, coconut and soy varieties, how do you even begin to choose?!  The truth is there is a place for all of these varieties in our diets.  There isn’t a “good” or “bad” type of ice cream.  We can find nutrition and enjoyment in all kinds.  Learning to try all types with a curious mind allows you to neutralize the foods and choose your favorite based on what you truly enjoy the most and not based on what you feel is the most nutritious.  This is a key step on the way to food freedom.

Let’s take a closer look at some of these ice creams.  Depending on where you are in recovery, looking at nutrition labels can be triggering.  When looking at the nutrition label, it is important to remember to use the grams and percentages as information.  These numbers don’t place a moral value on the food, they give us insight into what the food provides our body.

For comparison sake, I looked at Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream made with cow’s milk and Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie non-dairy ice cream made with almond milk.  In one serving, which is 2/3 cup for both kinds, the cow’s milk ice cream has 370 calories and the almond milk ice cream has 350 calories.  For fat grams, the cow’s milk type has 20 grams and the almond milk type has 16 grams.  The cow’s milk ice cream contains 42 grams of carbohydrates and the almond milk ice cream contains 49 grams; they both contain the exact same grams of sugar at 33 grams.  When it comes to protein, the cow’s milk ice cream contains 6 grams and the almond milk contains 3 grams per serving.

Now let’s take a look at the micronutrients.  Those are the vitamins and minerals at the very bottom of the nutrition label.  The cow’s milk ice cream contains 4% of our daily value of Vitamin D and 10% of our daily value of calcium.  Ice cream is in fact a good source of calcium needed to keep our bones strong!  The almond milk ice cream does not contain any Vitamin D or calcium.

As you can see, the cow’s milk and almond milk ice creams aren’t all that different in their nutrition facts.  While the cow’s milk ice cream is a bit higher in fat, it is also lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein.  The cow’s milk ice cream is also a source of calcium and Vitamin D where the almond milk ice cream is not.  Again, this isn’t saying one ice cream is better or has a higher moral value than the other.  They are different and both have a place in our diets.

If you feel anxious or rigid in your thinking when making the decision between a dairy or vegan ice cream, practice looking at the foods objectively.  The next time you head to the ice cream section of your supermarket, try asking yourself “which ice cream sounds good to me today?”.  Maybe buy a type or flavor that you’ve never had before.  Sit down, eat it slowly and mindfully and truly enjoy it.  And remember, eating ice cream is so much more than the food.  It is the experience and memories you are making with the people you are enjoying it with.

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