Walk down the frozen dessert aisle at the grocery store, and you’ll find shelves upon shelves of ice cream, in both dairy and non-dairy varieties. Vegan ice cream has expanded in recent years, but are these moo-free options any healthier than the cow’s milk-based original?
Well, yes and no. Some of the most popular non-dairy ice creams are cashew, almond, soy, rice, oat, and coconut milk-based. These are a nice reminder of how much the plant-based movement is growing, and they may be a fun, occasional treat. But most of them are still packed with added sugar.
In addition to sugar concerns, here are some things to be aware of when you’re strolling through the vegan ice cream section.
- Coconut milk ice cream contains a lot of saturated fat. In fact, coconut oil is nearly 90% saturated. Replacing saturated fat intake with unsaturated fats lowers your risk for heart disease. Is there a difference between animal-based and plant-based saturated fat, when it comes to impact on your health? Research is ongoing, and we need more information before determining that answer.
- Almond milk ice cream sounds nice and simple, but commercial almond milk often contains very few actual almonds. It’s mostly water that you’re paying for, though you wouldn’t know it from the price. A carton of almond milk only contains around 30 cents worth of almonds, though it can sell for $3.99. Most almond milk ice creams also contain a number of thickeners like guar gum and locust bean gum, flavorings, and of course, plenty of added sugar.
- Soy milk ice cream was one of the first non-dairy treats, and it remains a strong competitor. Though you should make sure that it’s organic soy to avoid any GMOs and pesticides, there are health benefits to consuming soy for most people. Still, consuming soy ice cream is not nearly as beneficial as eating whole soy foods, like tofu and tempeh.
- Cashew milk ice cream can be creamy and thick, but as with almond versions, there may or may not be many cashews. Be on the lookout for thickeners (a sure sign that they skimped on the nuts).
- Rice milk ice cream appeals to some people, but today’s rice has been shown to contain high levels of arsenic. The other problem with “rice cream” options is that rice is, like all grains, low in fat. In order to get that “creamy” texture, oil and thickeners are usually added.
- Oat milk ice cream, like versions made from rice and other grains, usually comes with added oils and thickeners. As a bonus concern, non-organically grown oats are often sprayed with glyphosate ( Roundup) as a desiccant, which is used to dry the crop out before harvest. If you want to avoid glyphosate, that’s a great reason to make sure you buy organically grown oats.
- Fruit-based sorbets and sherbets are great if they use real fruit. But sometimes, they use fruit juice from concentrate — or food dyes and “natural flavors” (a somewhat obscure term that could mean a number of things). And as if fruit isn’t sweet enough already, these commercial products often contain a bunch of added sugar.
What’s The Verdict?
Whatever your ice cream is made of, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be tasty. But when it comes down to the details, there are big differences between dairy and non-dairy ice cream. Here are some of the pros and cons of non-dairy ice cream. Read more at Food Revolution Network