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What’s the Dish on Ice Cream?

Updated: Jul 9, 2022

One sure sign of summer is ice cream. And in the U.S. folks manage to consume plenty of it –approximately 12 lbs. per capita/person. If you’re an enthusiast for the flavored frozen treat you know that indulging in rocky road can create a few lumps and bumps on the bod faster than ice cream melts in hot weather. For those of you who are with me on the “I love ice cream” bus, knowing the scoop on the available choices in the freezer case can help you make wise decisions on what to choose.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) established standards of identity for many foods to ensure that consumers get a consistent product, regardless of the brand they are buying. In the ice cream category, the FDA allows the use of descriptors such as “light,” “reduced fat” and “low-fat.” This gives consumers the information they need, enabling them to make informed decisions about the nutrient content of the product they select. The FDA standards follow the federal Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA), which governs all food labeling.

Following are some of the term's consumers will see in the supermarket, along with what the term means.

  • Ice cream is a frozen food made from a mixture of dairy products, containing at least 10% milkfat.

  • “Reduced fat” ice cream contains at least 25% less total fat than the referenced product (either an average of leading brands, or the company’s own brand).

  • “Light” ice cream contains at least 50% less total fat or 33% fewer calories than the referenced product (the average of leading regional or national brands).

  • “Low-fat” ice cream contains a maximum of 3 grams of total fat per serving (½ cup).

  • “Nonfat” ice cream contains less than 0.5 grams of total fat per serving.

If you’ve made your own ice cream, you know that your goal is a creamy finished product, not an icy, hard mass. Churning which adds air to the mixture is key to creating a creamy treat. The term for adding the air is known as overrun in commercial ice cream and the established federal standard for ice cream is that the finished product cannot weigh less than 4.5 pounds per gallon.

Ice cream quality is typically classified by overrun, fat content ingredients and price. It can be identified by the following:

  • “Super-premium” ice cream tends to have very low overrun and high fat content, and the manufacturer uses the best quality ingredients.

  • “Premium” ice cream tends to have low overrun and higher fat content than regular ice cream, and the manufacturer uses higher quality ingredients.

  • “Regular” ice cream meets the overrun required for the federal ice cream standard.

  • “Economy” ice cream meets required overrun and generally sells for a lower price than regular ice cream.

Ice cream is one of the most popular treats, however for the lactose intolerant you need a dairy free option. There are dairy free commercial ice creams made with lactose free milk, soy milk, or goat’s milk.

Ice creams are practically the official summer treat but enjoy them in moderation and be mindful of the fat content and calories of the ones you choose. And if you need lactose-free choices, make sure you check the labels; they may be dairy-free, but they can be high in sugar and calories.

Take Away: Ice cream is a source of calcium, Vitamin D and calories that can help provide the energy the body needs. It is a delicious treat but indulge in moderation.

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