Summertime, for most, is a time to indulge in cool and tempting treats like ice cream, but it may not be that easy for someone with type 2 diabetes. However, it’s empowering to know that satisfying your sweet-tooth doesn’t have to be completely off limits.
We sat down with Dr. Rajsree Nambudripad, an integrative health specialist to get her scoop on ice cream, including what to look for in the ice creams you buy, how to safely integrate them into your diet and the best alternatives.
Can someone with type 1 or type 2 diabetes enjoy ice cream?
Most ice creams contain a lot of sugar and should only be a rare treat for those with diabetes. Regardless of the effect on blood sugar, Nampudripad says eating sweet things (with true or artificial sugars) do trigger a brain response that can lead to more sugar cravings.
In her practice, she generally recommends her patients with diabetes to avoid desserts like ice cream, especially those who require medications or insulin to control their blood sugar. There are some alternatives to ice cream that we will explore below.
Things to keep in mind when having ice cream:
How will you feel after eating the ice cream?
Will the artificial sugars cause bloating?
Will you have difficulty controlling the amount you consume?
Are there other healthier alternatives to ice cream in general that may be better for your condition?
Would an ice cream low in sugar be a good choice?
Sugar is the main cause of an insulin-spike in a patient with diabetes, so yes, lower sugar versions are preferred.
Do you recommend ice creams made with artificial sweeteners?
Generally, Nampudripad avoids ice creams made with artificial sweeteners.
“First, they don’t stop the cycle of sugar cravings that one experiences,” she says. “The brain still registers it as something sweet, so although they do not impact blood sugar, they can still lead to sugar cravings.” Secondly, she says they can have side effects like gas and bloating, and they can alter the balance of good bacteria in your intestines.
Artificial sweeteners, however, do allow one to enjoy something significantly sweet without having any impact on blood sugar. So as a rare treat, ice cream made with artificial sweeteners can be OK. Stevia is a natural calorie-free sweetener from the plant species Stevia rebaudiana and is considered relatively safe thus far.
What is the recommended ice cream serving size?
“It’s best to limit to one small scoop,” Nampudripad says. She reminds us that the more you consume, the more your body will crave.
She recommends buying small, fancy ice-cream bowls or cups. “That way your tiny scoop will appear just perfect,” she says. “You can bulk up your ice cream with toasted nut toppings, unsweetened coconut flakes or some fresh berries.”
This way you will be satisfied with a smaller portion of ice cream and the healthier toppings will help to fill you up, she says.
What should someone reading a nutrition label look for?
Nampudripad says it’s important to check the grams of sugar and grams of carbohydrates. Remember the carbohydrates turn into sugar once metabolized in the body. She says to also pay attention to the type of ingredients and the quality of the ingredients.
“Are there a lot of chemicals you cannot pronounce?” she questions, “Best to avoid lots of chemicals as they can impair your metabolism and affect your overall health.”
Ice cream is often high in saturated fat due to the cream and fat content. However, Nampudripad says in diabetes, the main problem is sugar and carbohydrates.
“Fat is actually helpful as it lowers the overall glycemic index of the ice cream, making it less likely to spike your blood sugar quickly,” she says. For example, many frozen yogurts or sorbets (which have no fat) will spike your blood sugar suddenly.
In contrast, she says, fat helps slow down the absorption and release of the sugars. You can reduce the calories by simply eating a smaller portion.
Can you recommend any ice creams?
Nampudripad suggests Halo Top, a new brand that is low in calories and sugar because it is made with artificial sweeteners (erythritol and stevia). They come in a variety 0f flavors and range 280-360 calories per pint. Once again, Nampudripad says this would be OK as a rare treat.
For those who are lactose intolerant, new coconut-milk and cashew-milk based ice creams are now available as well from the brand SO Delicious that is also sugar-free. They are made with erythritol and monk fruit extract as sweeteners.
How can one make room for ice cream in their diet?
If you plan on treating yourself to ice cream, Nampudripad recommends having a healthy dinner first with lots of greens, healthy fats and protein. She says to avoid all alcohol, rice, pasta and bread in that meal and really fill up on vegetables.
For example, have a large salad, a big helping of sautéed veggies, or a big bowl of vegetable soup. This will help your body to handle any small sugar load in the ice cream.
What are other cool treats someone can consider?
Dark chocolate is full of anti-oxidants (called flavonoids) and can serve as a nice palate cleanser at the end of the meal. Nampudripad recommends developing a taste for very dark chocolate (> 90 percent cacao), which often has only 1-2 grams of sugar per serving. “It can be quite nice when paired with some cinnamon tea or decaf coffee at the end of a meal,” she suggests.
You can also make a “cashew cream” which is a luxurious and delicious alternative to whipped cream at home. There are some great recipes to choose from online.
Cashews are naturally free of sugar but do have a lot of carbohydrates, so enjoy a small portion with freshly sliced and grilled peaches, topped with some toasted pecans and cinnamon.
“At least, this home-made dessert is made of all whole food ingredients, is free of chemicals, and you can control the sugar content,” Nampudripad points out.
What’s your best advice?
“Remember that those brands with the lowest sugar/calories also expose your body to artificial ingredients and sweeteners, so try to limit this to a rare treat and limit your portion size,” she says.
“Sipping some herbal tea, cinnamon tea, or decaf coffee with your dessert will help you to slow down and enjoy your dessert more mindfully.” She says a small portion size with an accompaniment is more likely to satisfy you.
Pairing your dessert with some good fats and proteins (like some crunchy nut toppings or unsweetened coconut flakes) is a great way to lower the overall glycemic index of the dessert.
Any post-dessert tips to control blood sugar levels?
“Go for a nice evening walk after dessert,” she recommends. “This will help your body to immediately utilize any sugar consumed.”
Check out our Chocolate Yogurt Pops recipe to satisfy your next cool treat-craving.