The word “vegan” conjures up images of gardens and salads. We usually associate vegan diets with healthy foods, and regard vegans as healthy people. Many vegan foods are healthy foods, and there are tons of healthy vegans to serve as perfect role models for the benefits of a vegan diet.
That having been said, not all vegan foods are healthy and not all vegans are healthy.
Healthiness comes from choices.
If you choose to eat healthy foods and live a healthy lifestyle, you’ll be a healthier person. Choosing what kind of dessert you’re going to eat is a part of that process. Ditching dairy ice cream for a plant-based alternative has the potential to be a great idea, but it’s only a healthier swap if you’re choosing a healthy plant-based ice cream.
What is Vegan Ice Cream?
On paper, vegan ice cream doesn’t exist. The FDA only recognizes products containing dairy as ice cream. Everything else is a frozen dessert. Because of this, “vegan ice cream” can have a very broad definition. It can technically be made of anything, and the packaging won’t refer to the product as an ice cream.
Sorbet is usually vegan. It doesn't contain any dairy, but it lacks the creamy texture that people have come to expect from ice cream.
For the sake of simplicity, we’ll call vegan ice cream any frozen dessert that serves the same purpose as dairy ice cream but does not contain any animal ingredients.
What is Vegan Ice Cream Made Of?
Vegan ice cream is usually made of plant milks and sugar. It’s sometimes made of plant milk and artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols for lighter varieties. In some cases, the base may be made of fruit and naturally sweetened. Vegan ice cream usually contains the same vegan friendly flavors you’d find in dairy ice cream, like chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla.
How Does Vegan Ice Cream Compare to Dairy Ice Cream?
When people are wondering if vegan ice cream is healthy, they’re likely really wondering if it's healthier than dairy ice cream. There’s a health halo around the word “vegan” that leads people to believe that every food that’s vegan is automatically better for them. This isn’t always the case. It all depends on the base of the vegan ice cream.
The Nutrition of Dairy Ice Cream
Dairy ice cream is high in fat, moderate in protein, and high in sugar. Not all fats are bad. Essential fatty acids help the body to process and utilize certain vitamins and nutrients. It isn’t the fat in dairy ice cream that’s the problem.
The protein content of dairy ice cream is usually somewhere between 5 and 8 grams of protein per serving, which is usually ½ a cup or ⅔ a cup. That’s a reasonable amount of protein for such a small volume of food. The protein isn’t the problem either.
The problem with dairy ice cream is the sugar, hands down. Many flavors of dairy ice cream contain between 25 and 40 grams of added sugar per serving. That tiny scoop of ice cream can contain eight times more sugar than protein, meaning that dairy ice cream isn’t actually a good source of protein because any good done by the protein is negated by the sugar.
The sugar in ⅔ cup of ice cream can exceed the recommended daily maximum amount of sugars for an entire day. That’s a huge problem. There are plenty of foods that offer more protein for the same volume that aren’t overloaded with a shocking amount of sugar.
The Nutrition of Plant Milk Vegan Ice Cream
Most people are shocked to find out that vegan ice cream is made the exact same way as regular ice cream, but can often be way worse due to additives and fillers used to make it taste more like the ‘real’ thing. Plant milks (except soy milk) are naturally very low in protein. These milks are made by crushing nuts, seeds, or oats and infusing their starches into water. The protein they contain is tossed away with the pieces.
Vegan ice cream companies could add plant-based protein to their pints, but for whatever reason, they simply choose not to. Hemp protein and pea protein would definitely improve the nutritional profile of most plant milk based ice creams. (Psst, we thought of that. It’s in ours.)
Most plant milk vegan ice creams are also sweetened with sugar. Refined sugar doesn’t do anything to power your body. If you never ate foods with refined sugar again, your body would thank you. Natural vegan sweeteners like maple syrup and date sugar would be a step above processed white sugar. Date sugar and maple syrup retain their minerals and nutrients when they’re harvested, and refined sugar loses anything remotely nutritional when it’s processed (not that it had much to begin with).
In the end, you’re getting the exact same amount of fat, the exact same amount of sugar, and less than half of the protein you were getting from dairy ice cream. Plant milk ice creams tend to blot out the only bright spot that dairy ice cream has to offer.
The Nutrition of Fruit-Based Vegan Ice Cream
Fruit-based vegan ice cream fares better from a nutritional perspective. Fruit is obviously good for you in its natural state. Pureeing it and freezing it doesn’t take away its benefits. The fruit’s natural vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein content become a part of the ice cream.
The best fruit based vegan is cream is one formulated with plant based protein and without refined sugar. Very few exist, as most vegan ice cream brands are simply focused on duplicating the properties of dairy ice cream without the inclusion of any animal products as opposed to making a plant-based option that is both nutritious and delicious.
Finding a Healthy Vegan Ice Cream
Snow Monkey is a plant-based ice cream that isn’t just better for you than other ice cream. It’s actually good for you, full stop. Snow Monkey’s base is made from just fruits, seeds, and superfoods. Each flavor uses unique ingredients, all with their own benefits. Snow Monkey even comes in all the same flavors as your favorite traditional ice cream. Are you fiending for a pint of creamy, sweet strawberry? We’ve got your back.
Snow Monkey contains 20+ grams of plant-based protein in every pint. Our protein is derived from hemp, rather than from animal sources. It has the same, if not higher, protein content of dairy ice cream, but without the insane amounts of sugar. Fruits are naturally sweet, so all we had to do was add a tiny bit of pure maple syrup. That’s it!
Vegan ice cream can certainly be healthy, but you shouldn’t assume an ice cream is healthy just because it’s vegan. It’s a product’s ingredients that dictate its nutritional value.
Ice creams loaded with sugar and artificial sweeteners to the exclusion of protein and antioxidants won’t be great for you, whether or not their formulas are vegan.
Snow Monkey is a different kind of vegan ice cream. Our approach was to create an ice cream as delicious as a dessert, but as healthy as a smoothie. Snow Monkey is something you can feel good about eating at every meal. Healthy food can be delicious food, and we’re here to challenge anyone who says otherwise.
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