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  • Writer's pictureSophia Kamveris, MS, RDN

Brain Freeze on Ice Cream Choices?

It’s summer in New England. It’s hot! Trying to stay cool is tough right now with COVID and all. Municipal pools are closed and I suspect kiddie pools are in higher demand than toilet paper these days! And where are the melodic ice cream trucks that weave through neighborhoods on summer nights? Are they banned in this pandemic?

I thought this was a good time to discuss the topic of ice cream and frozen desserts. There’s a lot of “stuff” but I want you to be able to make an informed decision based on what I am sharing with you.

Let me start with laying down the law. The Food and Drug Administration has rules called “standards of identity” for many foods. These standards ensure that consumers get a consistent product across all brands of similar foods. There are also federal labeling laws they have to follow, such as:

  • Ice Cream: To be called “ice cream,” it must contain at least 10% milkfat.

  • Reduced Fat Ice Cream: contains 25% less fat than regular ice cream.

  • Light or Lite Ice Cream: contains at least 50% less fat, or 33% fewer calories than regular ice cream.

  • Low Fat Ice Cream: contains a maximum of 3 grams of total fat per serving (½ cup).

  • Non Fat Ice Cream: contains less than 0.5 grams of total fat per serving

On top of these categories, there are different levels of ice cream. And it’s all based on something called “overrrun.” Overrun refers to the amount of air introduced in the churning process, which also affects its texture. The higher the fat content and the lower the overrun > the more dense it is > and the more expensive it is. Price is usually the best indicator of what quality ice cream you are buying. Also, the higher the cream content of a product, the less ice crystals will form. That’s why you see icy buildup in a less expensive product that’s been in the freezer for awhile.

“Premium” ice cream has a low overrun and higher fat content, and generally contains higher quality ingredients. There’s more minutiae (sorry!) than you may want to know, but I like to be thorough! Here is the breakdown of those products:

  • Superpremium ice cream tends to have very low overrun (15-18% fat, 25-50% overrun) and high fat content. The manufacturer uses the best quality ingredients.

  • Premium ice cream tends to have low overrun (12-15% fat, 60-70% overrun) and higher fat content than regular ice cream. The manufacturer uses higher quality ingredients.

  • Regular or Standard ice cream meets the overrun (10-12% fat, 100-120% overrun) required for the federal ice cream standard.

  • Economy ice cream meets required overrun (10% fat, ∼120% overrun) and generally sells for a lower price than regular ice cream.

So, all that info was just for ice cream. What about all of the other frozen desserts that are on supermarket shelves? What’s up with them? Here they are:

  • Sorbet: is pretty much made up of sugar and fruit.

  • Sherbet: is fruit and milk-based

  • Gelato: Italian cousin of ice cream, but it has less milk fat (<7%). It is also stored and served at a warmer temperature, and has less air during the churning process, so it is denser and softer/silkier than its cousin.

  • Frozen Custard: new kid on the block, at least in my neck of the woods. They add egg yolks to the mix to make it creamier, denser, and softer than ice cream.

  • Frozen Yogurt: Cultured milk is used versus cream so it has less fat and more of a tangy taste. It also tends to have more sugar in it versus ice cream.

Now (yes, finally) to the freezer section of the grocery store. If you are buying icy treats at the supermarket, you will be overwhelmed with what’s available out there. I was, and I didn’t even look at the novelty section in the frosty cases. The biggest change with the New Nutrition Facts food label is that it’s now (law) to designate 2/3 cup as the standard serving size for (scoop-able) frozen desserts (it used to be 1/2 cup). You don’t have to eat that serving!

I put together a chart to compare some New England product lines. Always look beyond the nutrition panel and look at the ingredients. I was surprised to see that Hood’s actually still uses high fructose corn syrup!

Enjoy some treats this summer, but choose wisely and moderate servings is my best advice. Happy cooling off!


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