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“You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream” is a soundtrack to food joy. Now vegans, sustainable shoppers and calorie-conscious consumers can get their food joy fix with many big-name brands launching products to cater for their dietary desires. But are these alternative ice creams healthier for us and better for the planet?

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Plant-based foods generally use fewer resources (water, feed, energy) and have lower greenhouse gas emissions. However, not all vegan foods are sustainable options due to their high level of processing – they use more energy and their long supply chains add transport inputs and create emissions. For example, the new Magnum Classic Dairy-Free ice cream contains pea protein, but quite a number of steps and resources are required to turn peas into pea protein and then add it to ice cream. Remember, these vegan products are developed to meet consumer demand and increase market share, not to boost sustainability. Big picture. The planet could do with fewer ice creams (and highly processed foods generally) rather than vegan ones.

Today, there are ice creams on the market to cater for nearly every diet: vegan, low-calorie, higher protein, gluten-free and even “guilt-free” (whatever that means). When we compared the nutrients in Magnum Classic to the new Magnum Classic Dairy-free (Unilever Australia) per 100 grams, we found that the nutritional profiles are quite similar, with a similar ratio of fat to sugar to obtain the desired flavour and texture. The protein content of the Magnum Classic is slightly higher than its dairy-free counterpart. But (and it’s a big but) they are both still highly processed, discretionary (treat) foods. They both contain plenty of calories and roughly half your daily saturated fat allowance.

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The take-home: “Low-calorie” and “guilt-free” ice creams are probably not as virtuous as the marketing suggests. While they may be a little lower in calories (or sugar) than the real deal, they are still highly processed treat foods best enjoyed occasionally. And unlike the real deal, they may also come with an unwanted side of diarrhoea, bloating or gas for some people, as they are often sweetened with sugar alcohols (polyols).

It’s OK to enjoy ice cream as a treat, but enjoy a modest portion and savour every mouthful. At other times, choose fruit and yoghurt such as our favourites Greek yoghurt with honey and walnuts or seasonal fresh fruit salad with vanilla yoghurt. For a treat that satisfies, try a portion of Kate McGhie’s Banana and Peanut Ice Cream recipe in this issue of GI News. Add a drizzle of melted dark chocolate if you fancy it.

Ice Cream in a Nut Shell 

  • Vegan and low-calorie ice creams are still highly processed “sometimes” foods that have an impact on our environment and health, just like regular ice cream. 
  • No foods are off-limits; enjoy a good quality ice cream from time to time. 
  • For everyday sweet treats, choose satisfying wholefoods such as fruit and yoghurt.

Thanks to Rachel Ananin AKA for her assistance with this article.  Nicole Senior     
Nicole Senior is an Accredited Nutritionist, author, consultant, cook, food enthusiast and mother who strives to make sense of nutrition science and delights in making healthy food delicious.   Contact: You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or check out her website.