In the movie "Hook," Peter Pan (played by Robin Williams) and his band of lost boys magically create any food their hearts desire for a dinner-turned-food fight. In real life, however, every meal isn’t a mix of all our favorite foods. And decadent treats like ice cream are always relegated to occasional treats. Or are they?
Believe it or not, outside of the fantasy world of Neverland, there is diet that claims you can eat ice cream and lose weight (via Healthline). The concept behind the ice cream diet is that you are only allowed so many calories a day, some of which you can put toward ice cream, and the rest ideally toward healthy options that are low in fat and high in fiber, particularly fruits and vegetables. By the end of the day, you’re only consuming a fixed number of calories, so the weight should come off. But don’t get your hopes up too quickly. While the basic idea by the ice cream diet can work, if you start straying from its strict calorie limit, the weight will come right back. Plus, classic ice cream not only lacks certain nutrients — it’s also loaded with ingredients like sugar and fat, which over time can take a toll on your health. Okay, but are there any pluses to making this frozen treat your go-to daily snack? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t very sweet.
You could raise your cholesterol
Did you know that your body needs cholesterol? No, that’s not a typo. Cholesterol is crucial for a number of activities happening inside of you right now, like the making of vitamin D and the building of new cells (via Healthline). However, not all cholesterol is the same, and unfortunately, ice cream boosts the wrong kind for your health.
As Healthline explains, cholesterol is divided into two types: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). While both HDL and LDL contain fat and protein, LDL has more fat than protein, making it bad for your heart. And, yes, when you hear about the dangers of having high cholesterol levels, you’re specifically hearing about the dangers of having high LDL levels. Although your liver makes both HDL and LDL, eating foods that are high in fat can lead to the production of more LDL. And since ice cream is a full-fat dairy product that’s loaded with saturated fat, there’s an excellent chance eating it regularly will raise your LDL levels.
If you’re an ice cream lover and worried about your cholesterol, you don’t have to quit your favorite treat cold turkey. An occasional scoop should be all right as long as you take care of yourself by regularly observing a healthy meal plan and exercising, etc. But indulging in even a small amount of ice cream every day is not a good idea if you want to keep your cholesterol under control.
You might irritate your IBS
If you have IBS, those three letters represent a world of discomfort and health issues. Short for irritable bowel syndrome, IBS affects your gastrointestinal (GI) tract and can lead to a number of problems like pain in your abdomen, gas, and bowel issues such as constipation to diarrhea (via Johns Hopkins Medicine). And if you guessed that ice cream is not good for IBS, you’d be 100% right. Because classic ice cream is made using milk, it contains a type of sugar called lactose. As Dr. Linda Lee tells Johns Hopkins, "70 percent of adults worldwide do not produce large amounts of lactase, an intestinal enzyme that helps break down the sugar in milk." So, instead of being properly broken down, the lactose interacts with the bacteria in the colon and creates those unpleasant IBS-related symptoms. And, yes, this is why some people are lactose intolerant.
Besides ice cream, Medical News Today also warns about some other foods often served with ice cream that can exacerbate IBS issues. For example, fruits like bananas are definitely off the menu if you have IBS (so, say goodbye to banana splits). Popular ice cream toppings like nuts and cherries are also no-nos for irritable bowel syndrome. And even if you go with ice cream made from less sugar, artificial sweeteners can also set off IBS-related problems.
You’ll probably give yourself brain freeze
Ice cream is so irresistible that often people eat it too fast, resulting in a painful sensation commonly known as brain freeze or an ice cream headache — or, to use the technical term, "sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia," according to WebMD. According to the Mayo Clinic, when you swallow something cold, it touches the entire roof of your mouth, including your soft palate and the back of your throat. This sudden cold sensation sends your blood vessels into a slight emergency mode where they become smaller to trap heat inside your body. Unfortunately, until the blood vessels return to their normal size, you may experience a headache.
While ice cream headaches are usually not dangerous, they can affect your heart if you have a condition called atrial fibrillation or AFib (via WebMD). In addition to feeling pain, a person with AFib may also experience an irregular heartbeat, difficulty breathing, and dizziness when they gobble down their favorite frozen treat. Once again, why this happens isn’t completely understood, although it’s theorized that the sudden temperature shift in your mouth may temporarily throw off your nervous system. And one final word of caution: If you are prone to migraines, you’re more likely to experience an ice cream headache than someone who never gets migraines, according to WebMD. Fortunately, while ice cream can give you brain freeze, it’s unlikely to give you a migraine.
You’ll make happy memories
Chances are that when you think back on eating ice cream, you’re reminded of cheerful memories like a birthday party, a day at the beach, or even just buying a cone with your friends at the local ice cream truck. And you’re not alone. A study from 2008 found a pattern between sweet treats like ice cream and feelings of happiness (via WebMD).
Conducted by Dr. David Vanata, associate professor in the foods and nutrition department at Ashland University in Ohio, the study involved more than 200 adults who had to rank 62 foods based on how they made them feel. Keep in mind that the participants were only supposed to record their knee-jerk reactions to the food. Not surprisingly, ice cream ranked high in the following four categories: happiness, pleasantness, excitability, and comfort. In addition, chocolate, which is an ingredient often used in ice cream (or as an ice cream topping), also scored high in these areas. In fact, ice cream and chocolate were among the foods that received the overall highest score in this study, along with cookies and cake.
It could impact your fertility
Does eating ice cream every day increase your chances of becoming pregnant? Well, a Harvard study did find that women who ate high-fat dairy foods like ice cream were significantly less likely to have issues ovulating than women who ate low-fat dairy foods (via WebMD). However, don’t go running out to Carvel just yet. "This should not signal women to get buckets and buckets of ice cream," says Harvard researcher Dr. Jorge E. Chavarro, who worked on the study (via WebMD). "That would be bad for fertility and bad for their overall health." Fertility expert Dr. Celia Dominguez echoed Dr. Chavarro’s concerns, telling WebMD that "Nobody needs to run off to eat Haagen-Dazs to get pregnant," and emphasizing the importance of eating a balanced diet. She also pointed out that obesity can impact ovulation, and none of the women involved with the Harvard study were obese.
In the end, Dr. Chavarro was surprised by his study’s findings and felt that additional research is needed on the possible connections between high- and low-fat dairy products and fertility. So, if you are having trouble conceiving, your best option is to speak with your healthcare professional or a fertility specialist about your diet and lifestyle. You may find there are unexpected ways you can increase your chances of becoming pregnant.
You could become constipated
You may love ice cream, but when you eat it every day, it may not love you back. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, if you have constipation, you should cut back on how much ice cream you’re eating. So, does that mean ice cream actually causes constipation? Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. First, let’s clear something up. If a person is constipated, that doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t have a bowel movement. Rather, they are irregular, and when nature does call, they have difficulty moving their bowels. Your stool should contain a certain amount of water so it can exit your body without difficulty. However, when your colon absorbs higher amounts of water than it should, your stool becomes dry and hard and more difficult to pass.
A simple way to avoid this issue is eating fiber-rich foods like fruits and vegetables. However, consuming foods lacking in fiber — like ice cream — just creates more waste material to be converted into hard stool. And if you’re eating ice cream in place of foods that contain fiber, this could increase your chances of becoming constipated. If you’re thinking a little discomfort in the bathroom is a fair price to pay for having chocolate ice cream every day, keep in mind that constipation can lead to other medical issues like hemorrhoids and fecal impaction where your stool becomes stuck inside your colon.
You could have a heart attack
Between childhood memories and its comforting nature, it’s no wonder ice cream has found a special place in many people’s hearts. Unfortunately, indulging in this sweet, soothing treat too often can be bad for your cardiovascular health. According to Healthline, a heart attack (or more technically known as a myocardial infarction) occurs when something prevents normal blood flow to the heart. As a result, your heart is deprived of oxygen. And just like you need to breathe oxygen to live, your heart needs to take in oxygen from your blood, or the muscle tissue will die. While there are many possible elements that can make you more likely to have a heart attack, your diet, weight, and cholesterol level can all impact your chances. And, unfortunately, eating ice cream every day could raise your cholesterol and put your heart at risk (via Healthline).
Furthermore, Healthline notes that if you’ve already had a heart attack, you should either cut out or stop eating ice cream entirely because it is high in bad-for-you fats, as well as salt and sugar. In addition, popular add-ons for ice cream like candy, cookies, and cakes (yes, there are ice cream flavors that contain chunks of cake) are also no-nos if you want to avoid heart attack number two.
You’ll consume more calcium
This may sound positive, but there’s some fine print to this possible health benefit of ice cream. Yes, according to the Baton Rouge Clinic, ice cream does have calcium. And as Medical News Today explains, calcium is an important nutrient that you need to consume on a regular basis (unless, of course, your healthcare professional advises otherwise). Among calcium’s benefits are that it helps keep your heart beating and your blood clotting properly. It’s also essential for strong bones and teeth, since all but 1% of the calcium in your body is in your skeleton. And research supports that calcium may help control cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as reduce your chances of developing colorectal adenomas, a type of benign tumor of the colon and rectum. So, with all these possible positive outcomes, isn’t it worth it to eat ice cream every day to up your calcium intake? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
While there is calcium in ice cream, there isn’t a large amount (via Baton Rouge Clinic). And although eating it every day would cumulatively increase your intake, it would also mean eating more sugar and unhealthy fat. In the end, the negatives from upping your sugar and fat intake would overshadow the positives from increasing your calcium. If you want to incorporate more calcium into your diet, you may want to try foods like yogurt and almonds (via Medical News Today).
You could wind up with tooth decay
It’s no secret that classic ice cream is loaded with sugar, or that sweet treats are not good for your dental health. But what is it about sugar that makes it so potentially harmful for your teeth? To answer that question, we need to talk about something that comes up in just about every commercial for teeth whitening products: enamel.
Like your skin, your teeth have layers, and the outermost layer is called the enamel (per Asleep for Dentistry). Unfortunately, when you eat foods rich in sugar (like ice cream), a type of acid forms inside your mouth that can weaken your enamel (via Parkcrest Dental Group). How? Well, according to the American Dental Association, your mouth naturally has bacteria inside of it that thrive on carbohydrates. When that bacteria comes into contact with foods that have high quantities of sugar and other simple carbs, it causes the food to ferment, creating acid that harms your teeth. And once your enamel is weakened, you’re more likely to develop dental issues. In fact, Parkcrest Dental Group’s website specifically says ice cream can lead to gum disease, cavities, and tooth decay.
Besides ice cream, the American Dental Association’s website warns that other foods commonly found in ice cream or its toppings can also be bad for your teeth. These include caramel, candy, cakes, and cookies. But whether or not you sometimes indulge in ice cream, make sure to exercise good dental hygiene by seeing your dentist for regular checkups and brushing your teeth two times every day (via Parkcrest Dental Group).
It could affect your mood
There’s no denying that when you’re feeling down, something sweet can lift your spirits. And ice cream has become so associated with being a mood-lifter that it’s almost cliché. Case in point, when someone goes through a breakup on TV or in the movies, they usually dive into a carton of ice cream for comfort. But the happy sensation you get from sugary treats is not just because of their flavor.
According to WebMD, sugar like the kind found in ice cream can impact how you’re feeling in two ways. First, when you eat sugar-rich foods, your body creates large amounts of a chemical called dopamine, which makes you feel happy. The problem is that dopamine can have a similar effect on your brain as some drugs, causing you to need greater quantities of sugar to get that same emotional high. Speaking of highs, the second way sugary ice cream can affect your mood is through a good old-fashioned sugar high and sugar crash. Since sugar can spike and drop your blood glucose levels, you can quickly go from feeling energized to nervous and shaky. While fluctuating dopamine and blood glucose levels might sound like temporary side effects of eating sugary foods like ice cream, research has connected eating too much sugar to an increased chance of developing depression (via WebMD). In addition to possible chemical changes, research is finding that sugar may cause depression because it increases inflammation throughout your body (via Healthline).
You may get less restorative sleep
Imagine this: A 5-year-old is getting ready for bed but wants a snack before she goes to sleep. Her dad gives her a big bowl of ice cream covered with chocolate syrup and sprinkles. Later, he’s confused why his little girl is jumping on the bed and full of energy instead of sleeping. It doesn’t take a professional nutritionist to figure out that the sugar in her bedtime sundae is why she’s too hyper to sleep. However, even eating sugary foods like ice cream during the day can disrupt your sleeping patterns.
According to Psychology Today, research has found a connection between eating sugar and poorer quality sleep. One study divided people into two groups based on diet. The first group focused on fiber-rich foods while the second group consumed higher levels of fat and sugar. As a result, the participants in the second group did not fall asleep as quickly, and even when they did drift off, they did not have as deep or restorative a sleep. To make matters worse, once you begin consuming high amounts of sugar (like you would if you ate ice cream everyday), you can get caught up in an unhealthy cycle (via Psychology Today). Basically, when you eat large quantities of sugar (especially at night), you don’t sleep as well, which increases your sugar cravings, which leads to you consuming even larger amounts of sugar, escalating the situation.
You could develop cancer
Okay, before you start throwing out all the Rocky Road in your freezer, let’s be clear that a little ice cream probably isn’t an issue. However, eating it every day can cause you to put on the pounds, and as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains, being overweight or obese can increase a person’s chances of developing cancers of the breast, pancreas, kidney, colon, and liver, among others.
Now, this doesn’t mean there is one ideal weight for anyone. After all, we’re all different heights, and it would be unreasonable to expect someone who is 6’2" to weight the same as someone who is 4’5". This is where the body mass index, or BMI, comes into play, since BMI is determined by both a person’s weight and height. So, if someone’s BMI number is too high, they may have a higher chance of developing cancer. To mitigate this risk, the CDC recommends managing your weight by eating a nutritious diet and maintaining a regular exercise regime.
You could get wrinkles
Even though we associate ice cream with being young, this frozen delight from childhood can add years to your appearance. Now to be fair, many things can impact your skin. As Dr. Andrew Weil, the founder and director of the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, states on his website, factors such as age, genetics, smoking, ultraviolet light, air pollution, and even making facial expressions can all take their toll on our skin.
With that said, sugar, like the kind found in classic ice cream, can lead to sagging skin and wrinkles when it’s eaten in large quantities. How? Well, if your blood glucose levels are elevated, then sugars and proteins in your body may combine into advanced glycation end products or AGEs. Yes, AGEs really is the acronym, and it’s easy to remember since that’s exactly what these compounds do to your skin by weakening its molecules. So for your skin health, sugar is best consumed in moderation. According to Dr. Weil, if 90% of the calories you consume every day are not sugar, that could help prevent your skin from sagging and developing wrinkles. Plus, you may want to add vitamin C and antioxidants to your diet to keep your skin healthy. But bottom line: eating ice cream every day could make you look older.
You could experience pain in your joints
Unfortunately, there is a domino effect when it comes to ice cream and arthritis. Classic ice cream is loaded with sugar, which causes inflammation throughout your body (via Verywell Health). So, the more sugar-filled ice cream you eat, the more inflammation your body has, and the more likely you are to either develop arthritis or exacerbate your existing arthritis.
But wait, there’s more. As Verywell Health explains, there’s more than one type of arthritis you may have to deal with, especially if you start eating ice cream every day. Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, goes beyond just pain and stiffness in your hands, wrists, and knees. RA can also lead to health concerns for your heart, eyes, and lungs. And as one study showed, sugar-loaded desserts are likely to increase the severity of RA symptoms. Additionally, inflammation caused by sugary ice cream can have a negative impact on a condition called osteoarthritis or OA. While RA usually affects the hands, wrists, and knees, OA often targets the spine, hips, and knees. Besides being painful, OA eventually causes deterioration of the joints, so it’s definitely an ailment that can impact your quality of life both in the short and long term. One study also found that weight gain caused by a diet high in sugary and fatty foods can also exacerbate OA-related issues.
You might gain belly fat
Did you know that there’s more than one type of belly fat? As Harvard Health Publishing explains, there’s the subcutaneous kind that forms just under the skin, which tends to make up about 90% of belly fat. Visceral fat is deeper, and can be found around organs like the liver, as well as in a tissue beneath the muscles called the omentum, which is located in the belly and around the intestines.
Now, chances are it’s not a shocker that eating ice cream on a regular basis could contribute to belly fat. However, as Eat This, Not That! points out, eating one pint of ice cream could mean consuming more than 90 grams of sugar. And around half of this sugar could be fructose, which specifically can add more belly fat. In fact, findings in Science Direct concluded that "excess fructose ingestion" can lead to several health concerns, including visceral fat.
Okay, but visceral fat is usually only 10% of total belly fat, so is it really that big of a concern? Unfortunately, even that seemingly low percentage of visceral fat can be bad for one’s health. According to research published in Obesity, visceral fat can up one’s chances of developing conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even certain cancers. Plus, according to Harvard Health Publishing, visceral fat can lead to higher blood pressure.
You may experience brain fog
Imagine this: Two friends are meeting up in a nearby park. Normally, either one of them could easily walk there, but on this particular day, there’s a heavy fog. Now, everyday tasks like crossing streets and avoiding bumping into other people have become extremely difficult. As a result, it takes longer for the two friends to meet up than it normally would. This is similar to what happens when someone experiences brain fog — only in this case, the "fog" refers to having difficulty performing mental tasks like focusing and remembering (via Hackensack Meridian Health).
Now it’s important to keep in mind that a number of things can cause brain fog, including certain medications and not getting enough sleep. And, yes, diet can also be the culprit behind this mental clarity issue. In fact, as Assisting Hands Home Care explains, foods that contain dairy can impact one’s central nervous system and cause brain fog, as well as headaches. Additionally, artificial sweeteners — especially in large amounts — can cause problems like confusion and fatigue.
Of course, the ice cream market has expanded over the years to appeal to a wider audience. For example, there are ice creams made from dairy alternatives. Nevertheless, if you suspect certain foods might be behind your brain fog, you should speak with a medical professional about your condition.
You’ll keep craving ice cream
There’s a simple logic to craving ice cream. A person tries it, enjoys it, and wants to have that experience the again. However, a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found possible parallels between the impact of eating ice cream frequently and drug addiction. So, yes, there is data to support that craving ice cream goes beyond just having a bad day.
With all of that said, there are aspects to ice cream that make it a treat one wants to eat again and again. According to Gail Civille, founder and president of the consulting firm Sensory Spectrum, sweetness is the major factor behind why people crave ice cream (via CNN). But too much sweetness can have the opposite effect. Additionally, Deanna Simons, the quality manager of Cornell’s Dairy Bar, told CNN that the amount of butterfat in ice cream impacts its "mouthfeel," which is a component of its appeal. Even the rate at which ice cream melts is all part of why people keep coming back for more.
Although sometimes people crave ice cream in general, Civille explained that for some, the craving is centered around a specific brand of ice cream. Steve Young, a consulting food chemist and microbiologist, told CNN that even if two manufacturers were to make the same flavor of ice cream, their products could still be different.