- ‘Light’ and low-fat ice creams appear to be part of the low-fat diet trend that emerged in the 1990s.
- There is no evidence to suggest that these products help you lose weight. Studies actually suggest the opposite.
- To find out how healthy your sweet treat really is, look for three ingredients: protein, fat, and fiber.
Sweet, creamy, and cold, ice cream is a uniquely satisfying dessert. Some might even call it perfect. But that hasn’t stopped food manufacturers from adulterating the original version.
In at attempt to adapt to American diet trends, low-fat and light ice cream varieties plague grocery store shelves. They claim to offer the same flavor and satisfaction with fewer calories and less fat. But it’s tough to say whether these treats are any better for you than the original. In fact, experts believe the opposite may be true, and several studies back them up.
‘Low-fat’ products don’t lead to weight loss
In the 1990s, a spate of scientific studies began to paint fat as the enemy when it came to weight gain. Intuitively, that argument made sense – eat fat, get fat. But the research was far from settled.
It turns out that many of the initial studies suggesting that eating fat would make us fat were funded, at least in part, by institutions and people with ties to the sugar industry. Since then, a series of new studies have revealed that instead of causing us to pack on the pounds, dietary fats from sources like olive oil and avocados may actually be a healthy part of our diet.
The problem with low-fat products is simple. To accommodate for the loss of flavor that comes with removing the cream or richness in a product, food manufacturers tend to add sugar. The end result is a product that may have fewer calories and less fat, but has more sugar instead.
While high-fat diets have not been implicated in weight gain, high-sugar diets have.
A review of 50 studies on diet and weight gain published in the journal Food and Nutrition Research found that the more refined carbohydrates (such as sugar) that someone ate, the more weight they tended to gain. Similarly, the researchers behind a large review of 68 studies published in the British Medical Journal found that the more sugar someone consumed, the more they weighed.
In other words, the amount of sugar in a participant’s diet could be used to roughly predict their weight.
That link becomes clearer when we look at the way our bodies process simple carbs and sugar.
Eat sugar, crave more
When we eat carbs or sugar, the digestion process involves the pancreas. That small, sweet-potato-shaped organ pumps out insulin, a hormone that mops up some of the sugar floating around in our blood stream. But when we consume large quantities of either ingredient, the pancreas goes into overdrive and pumps out so much insulin that we wind up craving more carbs or sugar.
Edward Damiano, a diabetes researcher and professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University, calls this “the insulin effect.”
You eat sugar, then you crave more.
This could happen easily when consuming a low-fat ice cream that is devoid of other filling nutrients like protein and fiber.
When you eat foods that are high in sugar or highly processed, your body and brain have trouble telling you that you’ve had enough. Instead of getting cues that your stomach is full, these foods can send signals to tell the brain to continue eating, even when you’ve had too much.
While sugar does not fill us up, the body responds to ingredients like fat, protein, and fiber by eventually signaling to the brain that we’ve had enough. In addition to making our stomachs feel fuller, those components also help keep our blood sugar levels steady, which makes it easier to maintain energy levels and stop cravings before they start.
This is why foods like doughnuts and cereal often only fill us up for a few hours and leave us hangry shortly after. They are all low in the ingredients that keep us satiated – fat and protein – and high in the ones that make us hungrier – sugar and carbs.
Low-fat ice cream tends to function in the same way.
That said, some newer “light” ice cream brands appear to have recognized the problem. Halo Top, for example, tends to contain hefty amounts of fiber and protein, making it a bit more filling and less craving-inducing than other light ice creams.
The best way to evaluate your ice cream choice is to check the nutrition label. If your sweet treat is low in protein, fat, and fiber but very high in sugar and carbs, it may be time to find a new dessert.