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This article was originally published in Diabetes Health in February, 2003.
Originally ice cream consisted of milk, cream, sugar, flavoring and lots of air. But modern brands adhering to this original recipe are few and far between.
Today, the "cream" in ice cream is often taken out to produce "heart-healthy" and "reduced-fat" products. Soy milk sometimes replaces both cream and milk. Air is reduced to make way for an excess of denser, richer desserts packed with high-quality ingredients. In addition, stabilizers, emulsifiers and other ingredients are mixed in to titillate our taste buds and trick us into believing we're getting the real deal.
At What Cost to Diabetes Control?
Stable blood-glucose levels depend not only on what is eaten but also on when the food reaches the bloodstream. These new ice cream additions—or subtractions—can affect your blood-glucose levels.
You need to read and understand ice cream labels. Know how the ingredients affect you individually so that you can choose wisely.
You should ask yourself several questions before an ice cream indulgence:
Fat slows the digestive process. Thus fat-free iced products can dump carbohydrates into the bloodstream quickly. Depending on the type of carbohydrate available, your blood glucose can spike rapidly. If fat-free products cause high blood glucose, they may not be a valid "happy heart" alternative.
Sweeteners also affect blood glucose. Many different types of sweetening agents are used in frozen desserts—sometimes in combination.
Aspartame does not raise blood glucose, but be careful when you read labeling; "sugar-free" might simply mean that no sucrose has been added to the ice cream base.
Mannitol and sorbitol—examples of sugar alcohols—are absorbed very slowly but can raise blood glucose if consumed in excess. In addition, they can cause diarrhea when consumed in amounts greater than 10 grams per day for adults—less for children.
Also, the cookies, candies and syrups sometimes added to ice cream can contain their own carbohydrates. It is the total amount of carbohydrate in each serving that is important rather than simply the amount of sugar. Those on insulin therapy should be able to adjust bolus (mealtime) insulin doses to match the grams of carbohydrate.
Testing Tells All
To easily work any ice cream into your meal plan, always test your blood glucose first. Replace a specified number of carbohydrates in a meal with ice cream and track the results for six hours. This time frame will ensure that all nutrients are digested and utilized. Don't despair if your blood glucose rises or falls—just use this valuable information to make adjustments the next time around.
Also, don't be surprised if your body doesn't follow the "rules." Everyone is different. You might need to eat less, change brands of ice cream, or exercise. If you take insulin, you might need to adjust your bolus insulin dose. If you are on an insulin pump, you might want to use a split bolus.
Once you know how you respond to ice cream and have figured out how to incorporate it into your meal plan, go ahead and indulge.
Diabetes Health is the essential resource for people living with diabetes- both newly diagnosed and experienced as well as the professionals who care for them. We provide balanced expert news and information on living healthfully with diabetes. Each issue includes cutting-edge editorial coverage of new products, research, treatment options, and meaningful lifestyle issues.