If you have hypertension, you may be wondering: Does ice cream raise blood pressure, and is it even OK to eat it? It's true, ice cream can be high in sodium and sugar, and it can contribute to weight gain, so it may not be the best choice for heart health. But there are ways it can still fit into your diet.
Read more: 10 Tasty Frozen Desserts, Picked by a Dietitian
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Can Eating Ice Cream Raise Your BP?
"Ice cream can contain higher amounts of sodium than people may realize," says Benjamin J. Hirsh, MD, director of Preventive Cardiology at Northwell Health's Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital in Manhasset, New York. Taking in high amounts of sodium increases blood pressure, so ice cream can contribute to hypertension.
However, another thing you should focus on with ice cream is sugar, Dr. Hirsh says. Processed sugar, including the sugars in ice cream, may contribute to weight gain. Most ice cream also falls under the category of processed foods, which are linked to inflammation and other health concerns, Dr. Hirsh says.
"But we cannot be too hard on ourselves," he says. "'Diet' derives from 'dieta,' which means 'a way of life.' As long as your primary focus is to eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and other nutrient-healthy and non-processed foods, you can have the occasional ice cream." In other words, moderation is key.
Ice Cream Alternatives
- Smoked and cured meats
- Hot dogs
- Most cheeses
- Salty snacks
For most people with high blood pressure, eliminating ice cream is unnecessary, according to Sharon Zarabi, RD, program director at the Katz Institute Women's Health at Northwell Health in New York City. If you're set on replacing traditional ice cream, there are lots of alternatives — like low-calorie ice cream or non-dairy ice cream.
But that doesn't mean they're any better for your blood pressure than regular ice cream. Most are designed to be lower in fat or sugar, but they may not be lower in sodium.
"Don't be fooled by frozen yogurt," Zarabi adds. "Some may have even more sugar than ice cream itself; while removing the fat from the cream, they oftentimes add sugar, which can up the calories and raise our insulin levels."
Instead, she recommends good old-fashioned yogurt — but with a twist.
"My dietitian-approved go-to when you are craving something creamy is full-fat Greek yogurt in plain flavor, topped off with a few cookie bites, PB2 chocolate peanut butter powder, drizzled honey and chopped nuts, or blended with frozen fruit and refrozen for an ice 'mockcream,'" she says.
Dairy and Your Heart
Dairy itself isn't off-limits when it comes to hypertension. In fact, a large November 2016 systematic review in Advances in Nutrition found a link between eating dairy and a lower risk of hypertension.
Plus, dairy foods are good sources of calcium, protein, vitamins and minerals, according to the Heart Foundation of Australia. But some dairy products also have less nutritious fats, including saturated fat and trans fats, so it's important to pay attention to the type of dairy you eat.
While some dairy foods don't negatively affect heart health, dairy products with high levels of saturated fats — such as ice cream — are linked to higher LDL (or "bad") cholesterol and risk of heart disease.
The Foundation recommends limiting ice cream to occasional small servings, not as a daily dessert.
- Benjamin J. Hirsh, MD, FACC, FNLA, director, Preventive Cardiology, Northwell Health’s Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital, Manhasset, New York
- Sharon Zarabi, RD, program director, Katz Institute Women's Health at Northwell Health, New York, New York
- Heart Foundation Australia: “Dairy and Your Heart Health”
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “Choose Foods Low in Sodium”
- Advances in Nutrition: “Systematic Review of the Association Between Dairy Product Consumption and Risk of Cardiovascular-Related Clinical Outcomes”