There’s no denying it. As delicious and delicious and comforting as ice cream is, it’s also an incredibly poor choice for health. Loaded with sugar, fat, and calories, ice cream easily leads to weight gain, especially as it’s so easy to reach for another spoonful.
Plant-based ice cream offers a fantastic alternative. Not only do the products avoid dairy entirely, but they’re also often more natural and lower in calories than regular ice cream could ever be. There are also many delightful brands to choose from.
So then, is plant-based ice cream good for you? It can be, there’s no doubt about that. However, you need to choose your products carefully, as the types of plant-based ice cream vary dramatically. So too do the implications for your health.
Is Plant-Based Ice Cream Good For Your Health?
- The Problems With Regular Ice Cream
- Avocado Ice Cream
- Coconut Ice Cream
- Nice Cream
- Almond Milk Ice Cream
- Soy Milk Ice Cream
- Processed Plant-Based Ice Cream
- Other Types Of Plant-Based Ice Cream
- Which Type Is Healthiest?
- Final Thoughts
The Problems With Regular Ice Cream
High In Fat And Calories.
Regular ice cream is never seen as being healthy, with good reason – there are simply too many problems with it. To talk about the issues, let’s start with something basic: Breyers Natural Vanilla Ice Cream.
A two-third cup serving of the ice cream contains 170 calories, 9 grams fat (including 6 grams of saturated fat), and 19 grams of sugar. All these values are much higher than you want, especially if you’re hoping to lose weight.
Remember too that these values are for two-thirds of a cup of ice cream. That’s not much. Most of us eat more than this when we have dessert, perhaps twice or even three times as much.
Those numbers are just for vanilla ice cream. Things get much worse when you turn to complex ice cream flavors, particularly those with extra bits. Take Ben & Jerry’s Chewy Gooey Cookie as an example. The same two-thirds cup serving size now contains 360 calories, 20 grams of fat (13 grams of saturated fat), and 31 grams of sugar.
Need we say more? There’s no way a nutritional profile like this will ever improve your health.
High In Carbs Too
Not only is ice cream high in fat and saturated fat, but it’s also often high in carbs as well – like the 19 grams of carbs per serving of Breyers Natural Vanilla.
By this point, the concerns surrounding carbs are well-known. Carbs have become this huge part of modern diets, partly because we’ve been focusing so heavily on processed foods.
Yet, high carb intake may lead to many issues, including spikes in your blood sugar levels and increased inflammation.
To make matters worse, most of the carbs in ice cream are simple carbs. Specifically – sugar. While carbs from whole grains can offer health benefits, carbs from sugar certainly won’t. They’re just a rapid source of energy that raises your blood sugar fast.
The low fiber and protein content of ice cream increases the risk that you’ll get a blood sugar spike from it and an accompanying crash not long afterward.
Relies On Dairy
Ice cream relies on milk and cream, so it brings with it all the problems that you find with dairy, like the potential to promote inflammation, the way that many people are lactose intolerant, and all the ethical concerns surrounding the dairy industry. In fact, dairy is the main reason that people turn to plant-based ice cream to begin with.
So, let’s consider the main plant-based options and how they compare.
Avocado Ice Cream
Cado produces an interesting avocado ice cream, one that comes in some delicious flavors, like salted caramel, deep dark chocolate, and java chip. The company keeps the ingredients list to a minimum and avoids most of the additives that other companies rely on. It’s an impressive feat, especially as the ice cream ends up quite tasty.
You can make avocado ice cream at home as well. Recipes often rely on coconut milk to provide the desired flavor – as you’re never going to get an avocado to taste or feel like ice cream on its own,
Benefits Of Avocado Ice Cream
Avocado ice cream has some key benefits. For one thing, it’s a rich source of healthy fats, ones that can help your heart health. This is much better than the saturated fat that you find in regular dairy ice cream.
This type of ice cream is easy to make too. You don’t need any specialized tools at all.
Plus, the avocado gives your ice cream the texture you want, while only mildly influencing the flavor. This gives you plenty of flexibility, allowing you to make some truly tasty treats.
Issues With Avocado Ice Cream
The reliance on avocados and coconut milk or coconut cream means that avocado ice cream tends to be high in fat.
You get healthy fats from the avocado, but coconut contains saturated fat as well. The saturated fat content might be an issue if you’re worried about your heart health.
The fat content also makes coconut ice cream a fairly high calorie treat, so you’ll need to be very cautious with your serving size.
Coconut Ice Cream
Coconut ice cream relies on coconut milk, coconut cream, or a combination of both. It’s a popular approach because the fat content of the milk makes it easy to create a creamy vegan product.
Benefits Of Coconut Ice Cream
The most important benefit is that coconut ice cream is easy to make at home. You don’t need many ingredients or special tools. This may be why most homemade plant-based ice creams feature coconut milk somewhere in their recipe.
Coconut milk allergies are rare, making coconut ice cream an excellent choice if you’re serving a crowd of people. Coconut ice cream tends to be low in carbs too. You might even be able to fit it on a keto diet.
Issues With Coconut Ice Cream
The fat in coconut milk and coconut cream is excellent for making ice cream. It also gives you ice cream that’s high in fat and calories. This isn’t great, especially when you’re trying to lose weight. For example, this homemade version from Seasonal Cravings contains 150 calories per serving and includes 7 grams of fat.
Coconut milk is also high in saturated fat, which could mean that it raises your heart disease risk. There are plenty of debates about whether this saturated fat is a problem or not, especially as coconut milk is high in medium chain triglycerides, a type of fat that might offer some surprising benefits.
Many people feel that the fat and saturated fat in coconut products isn’t a big deal and could even promote health. Others avoid coconut milk and coconut ice cream because of these factors. You’ll need to decide for yourself whether the fat content is a problem or not.
Either way, be careful with your portion sizes. Coconut ice cream is calorie dense, so it’s very easy to consume more of it than you mean to.
The term nice cream originally referred to banana ice cream. The idea is that you get the texture and creaminess of regular ice cream, but the product is much nicer for your body.
Nice cream is incredibly simple to make at home, as you’re simply freezing fruit and then blitzing it in a blender until smooth. Adding a little plant-based milk can help speed things along. The resulting dessert ends up with a texture like soft serve ice cream or you can freeze it to firm the nice cream up.
Bananas are the classic ingredient for nice cream, but you can also use some other fruits, including apricots, honeydew, mangoes, peaches, and nectarines. Most other types don’t have the right consistency, although you can always experiment. Who knows? You might find some new favorites.
Benefits Of Nice Cream
Nice cream is one of the easiest plant-based ice creams to make at home. You just need the fruit, some type of liquid, a blender, and a freezer. What could be simpler?
You can also tweak your ice cream by adding in other ingredients. For example, a spoon or two of cocoa powder will basically give you chocolate banana ice cream.
Because you’re relying on fruit, the ice cream is naturally low in fat and is entirely free from additives. You’re also getting some of the antioxidants and nutrients found in the fresh fruit.
Finally, nice cream is often made using the entire fruit, so you get a decent amount of fiber. This is impressive. You don’t normally see much fiber in ice cream and many of us need to increase our fiber intake.
Issues With Nice Cream
Nice cream is sometimes promoted as being sugar free, but that’s not entirely true. Instead, nice cream is free from added sugar. It still contains all the natural sugar from the fruit.
Natural sugar is generally healthier than added sugar, particularly if you’re eating whole fruit, rather than using fruit to sweeten other foods. Still, even natural sugar can be harmful if you consume too much of it.
A serving of banana-based nice cream, for example, may contain around 5 grams of protein, 9.5 grams of fiber, and 20 grams of sugar. That sugar content may be far too high for some people, particularly if you’re on a keto diet or are diabetic.
Almond Milk Ice Cream
Not surprisingly, almond milk ice cream relies on almond milk. It’s another product that you can make at home and some stores sell almond milk ice cream as well.
Benefits Of Almond Milk Ice Cream
Almond milk is mostly water, so almond milk ice cream ends up being low in calories compared to many other types. However, you will need some source of fat, as almond milk alone won’t make the ice cream creamy.
Almond milk is naturally low in carbs too, so you can make low carb almond milk ice cream. To do so, you’ll need to look for an alternative sweetener, such as swerve or stevia.
Another benefit is the flavor. The mildness of almond milk means that most flavoring ingredients will work well in your ice cream, giving you a delicious finished product.
Issues With Almond Milk Ice Cream
Almond milk ice cream is a little trickier to make at home than fat-heavy options. You need extra ingredients to get the desired sweetness and texture. Sometimes you might even need an ice cream maker.
You could turn to store-bought almond milk ice cream instead, however such products often rely on additives to create the right texture.
Soy Milk Ice Cream
Soy milk ice cream is a popular choice. It was one of the first plant-based options to hit the market and is still produced by many companies.
Benefits Of Soy Milk Ice Cream
Soy ice cream gives you access to the various nutrients and plant-based compounds found in soy, many of which could help with your health. The ice cream is also low in saturated fat and is easy to find.
Plus, because so many companies produce soy ice cream, there are plenty of different styles and flavors to choose from. You can even find soy ice cream sandwiches and other novelty treats.
Issues With Soy Milk Ice Cream
Soy milk doesn’t contain enough fat to give you the creaminess of ice cream on its own. Manufacturers get around this by adding emulsifiers and oils. Such additions don’t provide health benefits and some of the additives they use could even be risky.
Then there’s the whole debate about soy itself. While soy is often associated with benefits, some theories suggest that it might cause harm instead, due to GMO soy, the isoflavones found in soy, and the presence of antinutrients.
Focusing on organically grown GMO-free soy should help to lower the risks. Even then, if you’re concerned, you might choose to avoid soy-based ice cream entirely. There are plenty of other delicious options out there.
Processed Plant-Based Ice Cream
We also need to talk about processed plant-based ice cream. These are the products with a relatively long ingredients list, which often include stabilizers. Soy ice cream is the most common processed option, but you can find additives in any type of plant-based ice cream.
Benefits Of Processed Plant-Based Ice Cream
Many of us don’t have the time or energy to make ice cream ourselves at home. Or, perhaps we want a treat when we’re out. Processed ice cream does this. You can find versions at most stores and there are plenty of flavors to try.
The Flavor And Texture
Processing allows companies to get surprisingly close to the taste and texture of real ice cream. Some companies even produce both dairy and non-dairy versions, often trying to match the flavors closely. Ben & Jerry’s, for example, has a large variety of non-dairy flavors, including Peanut Butter Half Baked, Phish Food, The Tonight Dough, and Coconut Seven Layer Bar.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell that the ice cream is even plant-based at all. It might be difficult, if not impossible, to get the same balance of texture and flavors at home.
Issues With Processed Plant-Based Ice Cream
The Processing And Additives
Heavily processed foods are never great for health, even when the base ingredients were healthy. The processing steps strip away many of the nutrients and antioxidants found in whole foods, leaving you with a poor imitation.
Some of the additives could even be harmful. Take added flavors as an example. These are incredibly common, but even natural flavors could have subtle negative effects on health.
The Nutrient Profile
Many processed products focus on being non-dairy and as close to ice cream as possible. Doing so often leads to nutritional compromises.
Let’s look at Ben & Jerry’s again. A two-third cup serving of their original chocolate brownie ice cream has this nutritional profile:
- 350 calories
- Total Fat: 18 grams
- Saturated Fat: 10 grams
- Total Carbs: 42 grams
- Sugars: 36 grams
- Protein: 6 grams
Their plant-based version looks like this:
- 290 calories
- Total Fat: 15 grams
- Saturated Fat: 8 grams
- Total Carbs: 37 grams
- Sugars: 27 grams
- Protein: 4 grams
While the plant-based version is a little better across most measures, it’s still not healthy at all. You’ve got more than 25 grams of sugar and 8 grams of saturated fat per serving.
This pattern isn’t unusual either. Oatly’s Vanilla Flavored Dessert, while delicious, still contains 8 grams of saturated fat and 18 grams of added sugar.
Honestly, there’s always going to be a tradeoff. If you want a plant-based product that’s creamy and tastes almost exactly like real ice cream, you can expect a similar nutritional profile as well.
Other Types Of Plant-Based Ice Cream
We’ve highlighted some of the most popular types of plant-based ice cream, but honestly, we’re just scratching the surface. Plenty of other ingredients can be used to make ice cream as well. Some are star ingredients in their recipes, while others simply provide extra flavor or texture.
Here are a few interesting ones to keep an eye out for.
- Oat milk. This plant-based milk is naturally thicker and creamier than other types, making it an easy choice when you’re making ice cream. It offers some fiber too, allowing you to get fiber from your dessert.
- Other types of plant-based milk. Theoretically, you could make plant-based ice cream with almost any type of plant-based milk, including cashew milk or products that use multiple plant-based ingredients. However, you’ll need to find a recipe first, as each type of milk will behave slightly differently.
- Nut butter. Nut butter is often used to provide extra body and texture to plant-based ice cream. Combining oat milk and nut butter, for example, gives you a delicious vegan ice cream that you can make at home.
- Seed butter. Options like sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds make delicious plant-based butter too and you can easily include this in your plant-based ice cream recipe.
Which Type Is Healthiest?
Let’s start with processing. Most of the time, minimally processed foods are much healthier than heavily processed ones. To find these, look for products with short ingredients labels, ones that don’t rely on additives.
Or, better yet, make the ice cream yourself.
Homemade ice cream is often much healthier than store bought options. However, it’s still important to pay attention to the recipe. Some aren’t as healthy as you might expect, particularly those that use a decent amount of maple syrup or honey for sweetness, along with high fat ingredients.
Beyond this, the healthiest type of ice cream will depend on what you’re looking for. Fruit-based nice cream, for example, is a poor choice for low carb dieters, but could be excellent if you’re watching your fat intake.
Conversely, avocado and coconut-based products tend to be high in fat. Some will even contain a decent amount of saturated fat. Such ice creams work well with some eating approaches and not with others.
You might think about the calorie content too. If you’re interested in health, you’ll probably want ice cream that contains fewer calories than regular dairy ice cream. This is true for many products, but not all of them, so it’s important to shop around.
It’s too simplistic to say that plant-based ice cream is good for you or that it isn’t. Instead, the good points and bad ones are strongly related to the type that you choose.
Some plant-based ice creams, particularly those you make at home, are healthy. They’re relatively low in calories and contain plenty of important nutrients. Some are low in carbs too, while others may be low in fat instead.
Other types are just as processed and concerning as any dairy ice cream that you’ll find in stores. Sometimes the nutritional profile isn’t any better either.
These patterns are why it’s so important to closely check the ingredients label of any product you buy. Make sure that the nutritional profile matches what you’re looking for.
It’s also worth taking the time to check out the reviews for any product you’re considering buying. Some plant-based products are delicious, creamy, and everything that you might hope for. Many others aren’t. Reviews help you tell the difference before you waste any money.
Finally, while plant-based ice cream can be healthier than dairy ice cream, we’re still talking about an ice cream substitute. This means it’s best to still see your plant-based ice cream as a type of treat, rather than as a healthy food.