How bad is ice cream for your heart health?
Author Gill Shaffer Last updated 21st February 2020
- Ingredients & Nutrition
Summer is the time for holidays, fun in the sun, and an ice cream or two. But should we be giving ice cream the cold shoulder in an attempt to look after our heart health?
- Why is ice cream bad for your heart?
- How to make healthier summer treat choices
- Improving your heart health
You might think that scoffing the odd ice cream is beneficial to your health. After all, it’s made with health-giving milk, right?
That’s true, but while milk is known for its bone-strengthening properties, this sweet treat’s creamy goodness makes it high in saturated fat, sugar and refined carbohydrates.
This is especially the case for more processed types of ice cream, which have substituted cheaper vegetable oils for traditional fresh cream1 in an effort to keep costs down.
Why is ice cream bad for your heart?
Nowadays, your typical scoop of ice cream provides around 250-350 calories and over half your daily allowance of saturated fat2 – without even taking into account the ice cream cone, syrups and sprinkles that you may add into the mix. Even more shocking though is the fact that over 50% of the calories in ice cream come straight from its high fat content – with the rest coming from carbohydrates.
Although indulging in the occasional ice cream every now and again won’t have too much impact on your heart health, consuming it on a more regular basis may eventually impact your heart health.
With an average fat content of anywhere between 7 and 22 grams, eating too much of this high saturated fat food (milk fat is predominantly cholesterol, a saturated fat) could see 'bad' cholesterol levels in your blood begin to soar – leading to a build-up of fatty deposits in your arteries which increases your chances of heart disease and stroke.3
Ice cream's high sugar content is similarly bad for your heart health – since consuming too much sugar is associated with a higher risk of contracting cardiovascular disease (CVD).4
How to make healthier summer treat choices
- Frozen yoghurt
As the name suggests, this is a yoghurt that’s been whipped up and frozen. This option doesn’t contain such high levels of fat and sugar as its creamy counterpart.
For an even heart healthier option, choose a frozen yoghurt that’s been made with low-fat or non-fat dairy products. Why not add some fruit as a topping for an extra sweet kick?
- Ice lollies
Though they may not be as creamy (they are essentially just frozen, flavoured water) they're certainly much lower in calories and fat. Although they’re still relatively high in added sugar, your typical lolly contains an average of 100 calories, less than 0.5g fat and 0g saturated fat.
- Fruit smoothies
For a refreshing summer treat with a fraction of the saturated fat, why not whizz up your own fruit smoothie in the blender? By mixing in some yoghurt with your fruit of choice and some crushed ice cubes you can satisfy your sweet tooth and your heart in one fell swoop.
- Add some pomegranate into proceedings
Researchers at a Turkish university have shown that adding small amounts of pomegranate peel and oil from the seeds to your ice cream could really help improve the antioxidant levels5 - making this frozen dessert marginally more healthy, without affecting its taste.
Pomegranate seeds have also been shown to boost the body’s response to insulin and have fat-burning and anti-cancer properties.
Improving your heart health
Aside from scrimping on your ice cream portions, there are other things you can do to protect your heart health. For example:
- Perform the NHS’s recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week6
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables
- Try to de-stress, for example by spending time with friends or practicing relaxation techniques
You’ll find plenty more helpful tips in our Guide to a Healthy Heart.
The odd ice cream in the sun won’t do you any harm, but too much can certainly harm your heart due to the high sugar and fat content. Why not try substituting ice cream with a healthy but delicious alternative?
- Daily Mail, 2014, The chilling truth about ice cream
- NHS, Eat less saturated fat, Live well; Eat well
- British Heart Foundation,High Cholesterol, Information and Support; Risk Factors
- British Heart Foundation, Sugar amd Heart Health, Support; Health living; Healthy eating
- Çam M, Erdoğan F, Aslan D, Dinç M. Enrichment of functional properties of ice cream with pomegranate by-products. J Food Sci. 2013 Oct;78(10):C1543-C1550. doi: 10.1111/1750-3841.12258. Epub 2013 Sep 16
- NHS, Physical activity guidelines for older adults, live well; exercise