No single food causes high cholesterol. It depends on how much and how often you eat certain foods and how they fit within your overall diet plan. But ice cream, often high in saturated fat and sugar, could certainly contribute to elevations in your low-density lipoprotein – LDL or "bad" cholesterol – and triglycerides, a type of fat that can clog your arteries. And calories in ice cream may promote weight gain, a risk factor for high cholesterol.
Ice Cream and Heart Health
A heart-friendly diet limits saturated fat, trans fat and sugar. The American Heart Association, or AHA, recommends limiting saturated fat to 16 grams a day, trans fat to 2 grams and added sugars to 5 to 10 percent of your daily total, which equates to 100 to 200 calories, based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet. Ice cream should not figure prominently in your fat intake.
One cup of rich chocolate ice cream contains 15.36 grams of saturated fat – nearly a full day's supply based on AHA guidelines. If you wanted to eat 1 cup of rich chocolate ice cream without elevating your LDL cholesterol, you'd have to give up most other sources of saturated fat – meat, cheese, milk and other animal products -- for the day. If you obtained the rest of your day's foods from plant sources – whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds – you could eat chocolate ice cream without elevating your cholesterol. A few plants contain high amounts of saturated fat – coconut, for instance – so watch your consumption of these on ice cream-eating days.
If you want to continue eating animal products as well as enjoying ice cream, choose varieties low in fat. And limit quantities – a 1/2 cup instead of a cup. A 1/2-cup serving of light vanilla ice cream, for instance, contains 2.2 grams of saturated fat. You can comfortably fit light vanilla ice cream into a cholesterol-lowering diet. But keep track of the sugar calories in ice cream and other foods. A 1/2 cup of light vanilla ice cream contains about 17 grams of sugar. This adds up to 66 calories. If you ate a full cup of vanilla ice cream, you'd add 132 calories from added sugar to your diet.
Because ice cream can contribute to cholesterol problems, make it an occasional treat rather than an everyday menu item. Obtain most of your nutrients from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, low-fat dairy and lean protein. Lifestyle changes can also improve your cholesterol levels. Losing just 5 to 10 lbs. can help reduce LDL cholesterol, according to a report from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Exercising moderately, about 30 minutes a day most days of the week, can help lower triglycerides by 20 to 30 percent, according to the AHA.