People tend to think that ice cream contains too much sugar and that we shouldn’t eat that much of it, yet many are more than willing to indulge their sweet tooth with the frozen treat. For many people, ice cream is a flavorful frozen snack that sparks nostalgia, reminding them of summers — or even winters — spent enjoying every taste. And with such a wide variety of flavors, you will find one to fit whatever mood you’re in.
Where It Began
Invented in China in around 200 B.C., the creamy dessert started out as a mixture of milk and rice packed into snow. The craze spread throughout Europe, from Rome in early A.D. as honey or fruit-flavored mountainous snow, to the table of King Charles I of England in 1700 as “cream ice.” Industrial production began in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1851. Now there are more than 1,000 flavors! In 2019, Americans spent $6 billion dollars on ice cream, and on average, each consumes 23 gallons a year, proving it to be a common favorite.
Ice Cream for Happiness
Have you ever wondered why ice cream seems to ease heartbreak? Many TV shows and movies show a woman who just went through a breakup eating a tub by herself. The cold dessert increases the production of serotonin, also known as the feel-good hormone, and is therefore actually proven to make you happier. (Ice cream is a fun way to soothe a sore throat while also indulging your sweet tooth, too.) In fact, since ice cream stimulates serotonin so well, some medical professionals advise the consumption of the creamy dessert for people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder to lift their spirits. The cold dessert also stimulates the hormone thrombopoietin, which increases happiness and reduces stress. Was there really ever any doubt?
Ice cream also boosts the production of dopamine, another feel-good hormone, which makes you feel more awake and alert. The dessert makes you feel more relaxed, while also preventing symptoms of insomnia. Even eating the creamy dessert instead of your usual morning meal has a surprising effect: people who had ice cream instead of just a glass of water in the morning were more alert since its vitamins and minerals stimulate your brain. Of course, ice cream should not be your default breakfast but occasionally you can give in to your sweet tooth in the morning.
It’s Good That It Has Sugar
Of course, ice cream does have sugar and is a high-fat food, but that can also be helpful. One study proves that a high-fat dairy diet increases fertility, and because of the plentiful sweetness, it gives you instant energy, too. Glucose, a source of fuel for your body, is present in the frozen dessert and boosts your energy just like carbohydrates, fats and proteins, all of which are also found in the creamy treat. So the next time you’re feeling low on energy, fill your craving and enjoy it.
Despite the heavy sugar content, the treat helps you lose weight simply because it is frozen; our bodies tend to lose more calories when we eat something cold. Of course, this is only true in moderation, so don’t eat a tub of the frozen dessert every day. In combination with the sugar, the frozen dairy treat is full of vitamins and nutrients — 13, to be exact, including vitamin A, vitamin D and zinc, all of which boost your immune system. Vitamin K, which prevents blood clotting, is also found in the cold treat. Needless to say, ice cream is also rich in calcium, giving it a place in healthy diets. Calcium boosts your metabolism, builds strong bones, and protects against cancer, among numerous other benefits. Many people do not consume enough calcium, which is one of the main causes of breast cancer. Our bodies do not naturally make calcium, so you have to get it from somewhere. Why not get it from ice cream?
Different flavors have varying amounts of nutrients. The vanilla beans in vanilla, for example, have antioxidants, magnesium, zinc and iron. Dark chocolate is packed with antioxidants, flavonoids to protect your heart and oleic acid to lower cholesterol. While ice cream contains many beneficial components, you can make it even healthier by adding fresh fruit, nuts or chia seeds. These will add flavor, texture, vitamins and minerals with every spoonful.
Ice Cream’s Cousins
People in the Midwest of the U.S. are familiar with custard through Culver’s, a restaurant chain that started in Wisconsin that has spread throughout the country. The restaurant creates its concrete mixer by swirling toppings into the thicker and creamier ice cream replacement — frozen custard. Custard has a significantly lower fat content than ice cream. While egg yolks are mixed into the custard and create more cholesterol, ice cream has more carbohydrates and sugars. For people with diabetes, it is better to consume custard due to its lower glycemic index, which prevents insulin levels from spiking.
The Italian dessert gelato is denser because it churns at a slower rate and has less air mixed in, so it’s packed with flavor. It has more milk and therefore more calcium, but less cream and sometimes no eggs. The silky treat has fewer calories, too, due to less sugar and fat. So after eating gelato, you won’t obtain the same rush of energy as eating ice cream, but it can be a healthier alternative.
Frozen yogurt has gained popularity in the last decade. The ice cream variant does not include cream and instead uses fermented milk as the main dairy ingredient. While they contain about the same amount of protein and sugar, frozen yogurt has one-third of the fat.
Of course, there are drawbacks to consuming the frozen treats. High cholesterol is no one’s friend and the high sugar content correlates with an increased risk of acne in teenagers, but moderation is key. Next time you’re feeling bummed, want a sweet way to receive important vitamins and minerals or want an excuse to have ice cream for breakfast, know that it offers benefits. You can feel good about having ice cream more often.