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Is Ice Cream a Good Source of Protein?

22 min read -

Protein is one of the biggest selling points of dairy foods. That’s why whey protein shakes and protein-packed yogurt are often billed as ideal health foods, snacks, or meal replacements. 

Ice cream is a dairy food (with some exceptions). Why don’t we hear that we should incorporate more ice cream into our diets?

The answer is complicated. Yes, ice cream does contain protein. But the other ingredients of ice cream and its meager serving size can serve more as dietary hindrances than helpers. 


How Much Protein Do I Really Need?

Protein is a vitally important part of your body. A diet deficient in protein can cause many adverse side effects. If you aren’t getting enough protein, you’ll experience an extreme decline in the health of your hair, skin, and nails. Your muscles may begin to waste away. You can become prone to bone fractures. A layer of unhealthy fat can build up around your liver.

If it sounds serious, that’s because it is. Protein deficiency is a terrifying condition. It’s also thankfully an extremely uncommon condition in the United States. The average diet provides enough protein to stave off these harmful symptoms. Even if you aren’t getting as much protein as you probably should be getting, you’re probably still getting enough for your body to function.

Daily requirements for protein can differ from person to person. The recommended daily intake of protein for someone who works a desk job is 0.36 grams per pound of bodyweight. A 150-pound person needs about 54 total grams of protein a day to maintain their health. 

If you live a highly athletic lifestyle, increase that to 0.5 grams per pound of body weight, making that 75 grams of protein for a 150-pound person. A serious weightlifter requires about 0.8 grams to gain muscle through rigorous training, making their requirement about 120 grams a day. Almost no one fits that category -- especially not a 150-pound person. Bodybuilders are generally significantly heavier and have massive caloric requirements. This probably isn’t you. 

The protein contained in a black bean burrito (24 grams) and half a fillet of salmon (40 grams) comes to 64 grams, which is more than what the average 150-pound person requires in a day. 

You’re probably not hurting for protein, even though it’s nice to have some. Incorporating a scoop of frozen dessert at the end of the day can tack on an extra 6 grams, bringing you closer to your athletic intake requirement. Did you work out today? Feed yourself a healthy dessert


The Nutrition of Dairy Ice Cream

Traditional dairy ice cream does come with some protein. It’s slightly calorific, but calories aren’t necessarily a problem. It’s what the food actually provides for your body that matters the most. Ice cream is often light on nutrients and rather empty calorically. The calories come from dairy fat and added sugar - neither of which will do much to power your body. Regardless of the calories, you can expect about 6 grams of protein per serving.

The Nutrition of Plant Milk Frozen Dessert

Plant milk-based dairy-free desserts are going to have the least amount of protein. Nut milks and coconut milk are naturally lower in protein. The ingredients manufacturers add to thicken their desserts add calories without imparting any additional protein. 

Expect about 3 grams per ⅔ cup.


The Nutrition of Fruit-Based Frozen Dessert

Some non-dairy frozen desserts like Snow Monkey use bananas and apples as a base, rather than nut or plant milks. These desserts can be fortified with additional protein. Thanks to the fruit-heavy recipe, they’re naturally higher in fiber and vitamins than other alternatives to conventional ice creams. Snow Monkey packs at least 7 grams of protein into a 2/3 cup serving. Flavors pack in over 20 grams per pint.


The Big Comparison

The best way to get an accurate portrait of calories, serving sizes, and protein per serving is to directly compare different kinds of frozen desserts. Here’s how Snow Monkey’s fruit-based frozen dessert stacks up against So Delicious Dairy Free Cashewmilk frozen dessert and traditional dairy ice cream Ben & Jerry’s.


Brand and Flavor

Serving Size

Calories per Serving

Protein per Serving

Snow Monkey Chocolate

2/3

160 calories

7g protein

So Delicious Dairy Free Chocolate Truffle Cashewmilk

⅔ cup

250 calories

3g protein

Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Therapy

⅔ cup

330 calories

6g protein



If you’re looking for the best protein to calorie exchange, eliminate plant milk ice cream from the equation. The protein will always be lower per calorie than other alternative ice creams. If you’re looking at conventional ice cream, you’ll want to knock full fat and refined sugar formulas off your list. 

Remember that it isn’t always the number of calories that are important. It’s what’s in the calories that counts. The only bad calories are empty calories. If added sugars, refined carbohydrates, and fats are bulking up your desserts, that’s where the real problem is.

If you don’t eat dairy or you’re looking for something healthier, fruit-based frozen desserts like Snow Monkey are the clear winners. You can enjoy a ⅔ cup serving of Snow Monkey and fuel your body with 7 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, 10% of your daily potassium, and 20% of your daily iron.

We’re not not telling you to eat Snow Monkey for breakfast -- we actually very much are. 

Try an açai frozen sundae instead of your usual smoothie bowl. The fiber and protein will keep you feeling full while the antioxidants power your body. Serve it up alongside a cold brew and a veggie scramble for a nutrient-packed start to your morning.


The Takeaway

While it is crucially important to get enough protein in your diet, it isn’t really a difficult thing to do. Unless you lift weights seven days a week, you probably don’t need to be counting every gram. Simply making wise choices about what you eat should be enough to get you the protein that you need. 

Try keeping track of your protein intake every day for a week, eating as you normally would. You’ll likely find that you come close to your daily requirement without making any changes to your lifestyle.

Protein isn’t the only important thing. What you should be paying most attention to is what other vitamins, nutrients, and trace minerals you’re getting in conjunction with your protein. You want to know how many calories you’re ingesting to get that protein, and you want to fit all of your choices into a well-balanced diet. 

While choosing a protein-rich dessert certainly helps, it only helps if the dessert could overall be considered a healthy choice. It’s not worth heaps of sugar and fat just for a few measly grams of protein. Make sure your dessert is offering you everything you need. 




Sources:

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29786804/ 

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-much-protein-per-day 

https://www.healthline.com/health/nut-milks-mylks-health-guide#nutritional-facts 

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