Healthy ice cream – or good-for-you ice cream..?

How are we meant to perceive ice cream where sugar has been replaced by sweetened fibres? Does this mean it's healthy? I would love to give you a simple answer. Yes – and it's the solution to the world's great problem! Or, no – it's just exceptionally tasty. But complicated questions demand complicated answers. Here is my reflection on the matter.

4 October 2019 •

During the fair held by the asso­ci­a­tion for food and bev­er­age pro­duc­ers in Sweden, Bayn served ice cream with­out added sug­ar. It was sup­plied by Engelholms Glass and it con­tains our sweet­ened fibres. We received a huge­ly pos­i­tive response! “That is so tasty! It’s amaz­ing.. I’ll get my col­leagues – they just have to try this!”

Affirmation is great.

Among the praise there were also ques­tions: “Hm, what are we sup­posed to expe­ri­ence when eat­ing this ice cream? Are we to per­ceive it as healthy?”

Not a simple black-and-white issue

The ques­tions stuck, as good ques­tions do. Really good ques­tions chal­lenge and probe, and demand nuanced answers. And so they should when we deal with dis­cus­sions on food and bev­er­age these days. And they got me thinking.

I kept com­ing back to the ques­tion if the ice cream was healthy, or not. Since it con­tained clear traces of pathos, ethos and logos – val­ue, cred­i­bil­i­ty and logic.

Today we are usu­al­ly swayed by sim­pler mes­sages than pathos, ethos and logos. We are more like­ly to be fed antithe­ses. A rhetoric where good is set against bad. Right against wrong. Healthy against unhealthy.

A common enemy

But if the ques­tion is com­pli­cat­ed, it requires a com­pli­cat­ed answer. Two good exam­ples is when food and bev­er­age com­pa­nies put antithe­sis against the­sis, is Oatly’s and Kronfågel’s cam­paigns. Oatly makes milk like prod­ucts from oat, Kronfågel sells chick­en prod­ucts. Both oat grow­ers and chick­en farm­ers have spo­ken out against these cam­paigns where these suc­cess­ful busi­ness­es were try­ing to make con­sumers believe that oat is bet­ter than milk, and chick­en is bet­ter than beef.

When human­i­ty is under a com­mon threat choic­es should be easy. We are pre­sent­ed with a com­mon ene­my here: cows. They look so kind, but now seem almost criminal…

Messages with clear argu­ments, with pros and cons, are there to sim­pli­fy my dai­ly choic­es, to awak­en emo­tion and to con­vince. Now isn’t that nice! My life is already full of dif­fi­cult choic­es. Choices that con­cern not only the recy­cling under my sink, but the con­stant flow of infor­ma­tion, every­day deci­sions, and in the meet­ing of new people.

But in the con­text of these cam­paigns the mes­sages are sim­pli­fied, and this is why the crit­i­cism is so severe.

What constitutes “healthy”, really?

When the ques­tion was put to us at the fair – if you’re meant to think that the ice cream is healthy as it con­tains fibres, the eas­i­est solu­tion would have been to give a yes or no answer.

However, it’s rather dif­fi­cult to actu­al­ly define “healthy”, and how we are to per­ceive sug­ar reduced ice cream. It is after all a prod­uct that we need to place in the cat­e­go­ry of sweets. Just like that piece of choco­late, that cook­ie and the ener­gy bar we eat in between our – hope­ful­ly – nutri­tious and healthy meals.

When I was think­ing about what can be con­sid­ered healthy, I came across a study on two dia­met­ri­cal­ly opposed diets. The com­mon aim of both of them were to pre­vent, or lose, unhealthy weight and its con­se­quences. We all know that healthy eat­ing habits can con­tribute to a reduced risk of over­weight, car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­eases, type 2 dia­betes and cancer.

The result from the study is rather aston­ish­ing – and lib­er­at­ing in these times of black and white answers.

It doesn’t matter

The study, per­formed by sci­en­tists at Stanford University in the US, let their sub­jects’ genet­ic pre­dis­po­si­tions deter­mine whether they would be put on a low carb diet, where high fat foods would be allowed, or on a low fat diet, where carbs were allowed. In oth­er words, two com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent diets. As con­cerned what else they would eat, the more than 600 par­tic­i­pants were encour­aged to just eat gen­er­al­ly healthy foods.

After a year it was time to eval­u­ate the result. It turned out it does­n’t mat­ter what type of diet we choose.

We can rid our­selves of unhealthy fac­tors no mat­ter the diet. We don’t have to put one diet against anoth­er. No diet is thus bet­ter than anoth­er. Both result in the desired benefit.

What sci­en­tists did rec­om­mend is some­thing we have heard for a long time now: It is bet­ter for your health to cut back on fast carbs like wheat flour and sug­ar. No mat­ter your diet.

It could be an argu­ment for sug­ar reduced ice cream being healthy, or at least health­i­er than ice cream with sug­ar. But that would be to sim­ple an answer.

Eat the ice cream because it tastes good

Ice cream with sweet­ened fibres does not con­tain any added sug­ar. That’s a fact. But I would like to qual­i­fy this state­ment and say that the sweet­ened fibres are ben­e­fi­cial to con­sumers who want to reduce their sug­ar intake yet still be able to eat ice cream. They may do it for health rea­sons. Or it may be a choice of diet or lifestyle where fast calo­ries have no part.

But ice cream is after all a prod­uct that we eat because we enjoy it. It’s a treat, not a meal. If you want to be healthy you’re more like­ly to choose some­thing com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent to eat. Ice cream – sug­ar reduced or not – is per­haps not some­thing we should eat for break­fast. But we can still enjoy it, per­haps a lit­tle lat­er in the day.

And if it tastes good, does it mat­ter if the ice cream con­tains sweet­ened fibres or sug­ar? It’s a sun­ny day, and the ice cream is sim­ply delicious.

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