Why Is Ice Cream Considered a Slow-Digesting Food?

In any season, half of the U.S. population is enjoying a little ice cream, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Ice cream not only helps satisfy your sweet tooth, but it's also considered a slow-digesting food because of its fat content and how it ranks on the glycemic index.

A close-up of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla ice cream.
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Fat in Different Types of Ice Cream

Each type of ice cream -- regular, reduced-fat, light and nonfat -- has to contain a specific amount of fat. For example, regular ice cream must contain at least 10 percent milk fat, while reduced-fat ice cream must contain at least 25 percent less fat than the original. Additionally, regular ice cream is divided into groups based on quality, which includes super-premium, premium, regular and economy. Premium and super-premium ice creams have higher fat contents than regular and economy.

Slow-Digesting Fat

The amount of fat in ice cream plays a big role in how it's digested. Compared to protein and carbs, fat takes the longest to leave your stomach, which is why certain types of ice cream are considered slow-digesting. Ice cream with a higher fat content, such as premium ice cream, may take longer to leave your stomach than regular or reduced-fat ice cream.

Glycemic Index and Carbs

The glycemic index, or GI, is a system that ranks how carbohydrates affect blood sugar based on how quickly they digest. Foods with a low GI digest slowly and raise blood sugars at a slow, steady pace, while foods with a high GI digest fast and cause blood sugars to rise quickly. Premium ice cream has a low GI, and regular ice cream has a medium GI, which means it digests moderately faster than the premium. The fat content in ice cream is the likely reason for its low GI status.

Ice Cream and Your Healthy Diet

Ice cream is high in fat and sugar. Americans already get too many calories from foods high in fat and sugar, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, which makes it difficult to meet essential nutrient needs. It's OK to eat ice cream as a treat, but you should limit your intake. The guidelines suggest you limit foods high in fat and sugar to 5 percent to 15 percent of your daily calorie intake.

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