Ice cream, ice cream, we all scream for ice cream, but not for toxic ice cream! Summer is here and that means our kids will be clamoring for sweet, refreshing ice cream. There are lots of brands for moms to choose from and not all of them are as healthy as we’d like to think. After all, ice cream should be just milk, cream and sugar, right?
Not so fast. Brands need ice cream to be shelf stable and that can mean additives. The good news, though, is that while not every brand is organic, many big label brands are changing up their ingredients for the better. For example, all Haagen Dazs ice cream is free of the bovine growth hormone rBST, and Breyers announced that all their ice creams would be rBST free this year.
So what kind of ingredients and additives are in your ice cream? Let’s take a look at the both top culprits and controversial additives that you can find in popular ice cream brands today.
Unless a product is specifically labeled USDA Organic or Project Non-GMO verified, it may contain GMOs. GMO plants include soy, sugar beets and corn. That means any products you see that are derived from those crops that not labeled as GMO free or organic are likely to contain GMOs. While the debate rages about health issues stemming from GMO foods, in 2011 the American Academy of Environmental Medicine issued a statement reporting on multiple studies linking genetically modified foods to numerous diseases. While more studies need to be done, GMO plants are also highly resistant to pesticides – meaning more and more pesticides like glyphosate are dousing these plants. The dangers linked to glyphosate include disrupting hormones, causing birth defects and tumors, obesity, destruction of healthy gut bacteria, cellular damage and links to autism, cancer and other illnesses. Do you want your family eating these foods?
This GMO food is just another name for high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). According to Dr. Mark Hyman, M.D., HFCS is more rapidly broken down in your system than typical sugar. The fructose, which is higher in HFCS than in standard sugar, goes right to the liver and can cause problems. Hyman also claims that research done by Dr. Bruce Ames at the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute reveals that high does of this fructose can contribute to leaky gut, “allowing nasty byproducts of toxic gut bacteria and partially digested food proteins to enter your blood stream and trigger the inflammation that we know is at the root of obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, dementia, and accelerated aging.” Not only that, but many of these toxic ice creams have multiple forms of sugar in them, in addition to corn syrup.
This additive, used for coloring, may contain a chemical called 4-Mel, according to an article by Consumer Reports. In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer did a study concluding this chemical to be potentially carcinogenic to humans.
This is another controversial ingredient. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) lists it as a low hazard, but there is debate over studies that have linked it to infertility and anaphylactic shock in pregnant women, according to research reported on by The Good Human blog. More viable studies have linked it to bowel problems, particularly for people with colitis, and exacerbation of Crohn’s disease. Ultimately, the choice is yours whether you want to expose your family to this additive.
Mono and Diglycerides
Mono- and diglycerides can contain trans fats, which have been associated with increased risks of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. The problem with these additives is that they can contain any number of chemicals, which have their own risks. There is no way to tell what you are getting when this is on the label, which is why we recommend avoiding them.
While the controversy of the safety of soy (even when it’s organic) rages on, soy lecithin is a extracted using a compound called hexane. Hexane is a both a neurotoxin and carcinogen. While the hexane is removed, this process is not regulated by the FDA and particles can remain. You may want to avoid this additive all together. Soy itself is controversial because it can affect hormone regulation.
Vitamin A Palmitate
Another controversial item, Vitamin A palmitate, is really a synthetic version of this vitamin. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, Vitamin A can be toxic in high doses, causing liver failure and death. In addition, it can cause birth defects. Empowered Sustenance explains that body cannot process synthetic vitamins, and so they accumulate in the body, leading to increased risk of toxicity. I would definitely avoid this substance if you are pregnant or trying to conceive.
This additive is labeled “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by the FDA. However, lots of brands are removing it from their products (it’s very common in nondairy milks). The Cornucopia Institute has written about the research that links the food-grade version of this product to gastrointestinal inflammation and higher rates of colon cancer . At the very least, it can cause pain and discomfort to those who are sensitive to foods.
This additive is another controversial chemical that has been deemed GRAS in low levels by the FDA but is cited as a safety concern in certain doses by the CDC. The World Health Organization states this is acceptable in your diet at 25mg per every kilogram of body weight. While there are many studies on this chemical, they have conflicting information. For example, one 2014 study researched its toxicity in children and concluded that PG can accumulate and cause a number of conditions, with infants being at a higher risk.
Partially Hydrogenated Oils
Most hydrogenated oils are processed in a way that leaves behind trans fats, which can raise your bad cholesterol levels – and lower good cholesterol. Companies are not required to label trans fats that are created this way. This is even true for “better” oils, such as palm or coconut – it just depends on the processing. I avoid any product I find with this on the label.
The Food Intolerance Network states that annatto is being increasingly recognized as a “potentially harmful additive,” causing symptoms in children including headaches, irritability, restlessness, head banging, inattention and sleep disturbances, plus arthritis so you want to avoid this ingredient if your child has allergies or food sensitivities. WebMD also states that it can affect blood sugar levels so if your child has diabetes, please be aware of that.
Cheaper than cocoa butter, PGPR can be used in chocolate ice cream products. This is another item labeled GRAS in small doses by the FDA. It is derived from castor beans. There are claims that it has gastrointestinal effects in children but most animal studies have found no evidence of that. It is, however, less beneficial than real cocoa butter, which can help improve cholesterol. Not necessarily the worst ingredient but something you may want to avoid if your family has GI issues.
Artificial Food Dyes
We already know that artificial colors are link to ADHD and hyperactivity. One of the toxic ice creams I researched listed Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 as ingredients. These dyes contain benzidine, which is a carcinogen that the FDA approves for use at very low levels. I recommend avoiding them.
EWG reports that the term “artificial flavor” on an ingredient list can contain any number of any ingredients. I’m not comfortable allowing my children to eat uncertain and undetermined ingredients, are you?
Another topic of controversy is palm oil. While it is not necessarily bad for you, most of the palm oil industry has a devastating effect on the environment. From deforestation to animal cruelty to human rights violations, when this ingredient is not sustainably sourced, it can be devastating to ecosystems, animals and people.
So, which brands should you feed your family and which should you avoid? Mamavation has looked at a number of brands and created a bad, better, best list of good and toxic ice cream choices.
Ice Cream Brands You Should Avoid
So now that you know the ingredients to look for, what ice cream should you avoid? Here is a list of ice cream’s “bad guys”:
Skinny Cow Double Caramel Swirl Bars; Palm oil, most likely GMO products, corn syrup, caramel color, monoglycerides, soy lecithin, vitamin A palmitate.
Weight Watchers Chocolate Fudge Sundae Cones: Carrageenan, most likely GMO products, soy lecithin, vitamin A palmitate, propylene glycol, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, monoglycerides.
Breyers Vanilla Caramel Gelato: Corn syrup, most likely GMO products, soy lecithin, Yellow #5 and #6, mono and diglycerdies, carrageenan, annatto, vitamin A palmitate, but is rBST free.
Baskin Robbins Chocolate Chip: Most likely GMO products, corn syrup, soy lecithin, mono and diglycerides, carrageenan, polysorbate 80, artificial vanilla flavor, annatto color.
Friendly’s Chocolate Chips Cookie Dough: Most likely GMO products, corn syrup, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, mono and diglycerides, soy lecithin, carrageenan, annatto extract.
Turkey Hill Chocolate Chips Cookie Dough: Corn syrup, most likely GMO products, mono and diglycerides, soy lecithin, carrageenan, partially hydrogenated coconut oil.
Breyers Extra Cream Vanilla: Corn syrup, most likely GMO products, vitamin A palmitate, annatto, mono and diglycerdies, but is rBST free.
Better Ice Cream Products
Now the next category is not perfect, but these are far better choices for your family than the ones above:
Stonyfield Frozen Yogurt: All organic ingredients, but some varieties do contain non-GMO soy lecithin.
Rice Dream Organic Vanilla: Mostly organic but does contain carrageenan and soy lecithin. It’s dairy and gluten-free.
Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Chocolate Chip: Contains no rBST and is gluten free, but not organic so most likely made with GMO sugar and corn syrup.
Talenti Tahitian Vanilla Bean Gelato: Not organic and contains dextrose (extra sugar). Talenti claims not to use GMOs. Their dairy cows are rBGH, hormone and antibiotic free. Comes in BPA-free reusable containers.
Ben & Jerry Chubby Hubby and Cherry Garcia: Contains soy lecithin and carrageenan, but sources non-GMO verified and Fair Trade ingredients. Also, this company is a big supporter of the movement to label GMOs so you can feel good about spending your money on them.
Turkey Hill All Natural Vanilla Bean & Chocolate: Not organic so probably contains GMO ingredients but I’ve included it here because it contains no additives, simply nonfat milk, cream, sugar, vanilla and vanilla bean.
Alden’s Organic Chocolate Chocolate Chip: Almost all USDA Organic ingredients, but does contain non-GMO soy lecithin.
Best Ice Cream Choices for Your Family
This list contains the (ice) cream of the crop! You can feel good about serving these to your family. Some are little pricy but they are worth it for the quality and flavor.
Ciao Bella Alfonso Mango Sorbetto: Non GMO Project verified, contains organic certified sugar cane and is dairy free.
Three Twins Madagascar Vanilla: Contains all USDA organic ingredients.
Coconut Bliss Dark Chocolate: Contains all USDA organic ingredients, Non GMO Project verified, sugar free, dairy free and Fair Trade certified.
Straus Organic Dutch Chocolate Ice Cream: Contains 5 simple ingredients, all certified organic. Product is Non-GMO Project verified.
Julie’s Chocolate Ice Cream: Contains USDA Organic ingredients, uses Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil supplier.
Now that you know the skinny on ice cream, go ahead and indulge your family to a healthier summer treat! Check out our tips for a hosting a healthy summer barbecue, including what brands are safest!
Disclaimer: Bookieboo LLC works with brands in the natural space including Stonyfield.