PODCAST: Are "Healthier" Ice Cream Options Really Healthy?June 13, 2023
Ice cream is one of America's favorite desserts, but all those calories and sugars and fats have lots of people considering alternatives — keto ice cream, plant-based ice cream, frozen yogurt, gelato, sorbet, sherbet, their own homemade ice cream. But are any really healthier? And what's the taste trade-off? In this episode, we talk with a dietitian about how we're biologically wired to like ice cream, the secret ingredients in the alternatives and what's a healthy framework for enjoying dessert.
Hosts: Zach Moore (interviewer), Katie McCallum
Expert: Amanda Beaver, MS, RDN, LD, Wellness Dietitian
Notable topics covered:
- The feel-good neurotransmitters that ice cream triggers in the brain
- Is there such a thing as a "healthy" amount of ice cream?
- Ice-cream parlors vs. store-bought ice cream: Yes, there's a difference
- Sugar-free, keto, vegan: The new wave of "healthier" ice creams
- Ingredients substituted for sugar and fat and their potential downsides
- DIY: How to make healthier ice cream at home
- Gelato, froyo, soft serve, sorbet: Better choices than traditional ice cream?
- Ever heard of banana nice cream? Frozen chocolate-covered bananas?
- How to build a well-balanced smoothie
- Beaver's tips for getting satisfaction out of dessert without overdoing it
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ZACH: Welcome to On Health with Houston Methodist. I'm Zach Moore. I'm a photographer and editor here, and I've worked in multimedia and television for over 15 years, and I'm also a longtime podcaster.
KATIE: I'm Katie McCallum. I'm a former researcher, turned health writer, mostly writing for our blog.
ZACH: Hey, Katie, what is your favorite flavor of ice cream?
KATIE: Ooh. you know, I had a feeling you were gonna ask me this. My favorite flavor is typically something along the lines of like, there's a lot of things going on in it. I'm thinking of a particular brand that I love, and it's like, there's vanilla, there's chocolate chunks, there's peanut butter. I love chocolate and peanut butter as a combination. So, my ice cream having chocolate peanut butter chunks is a must for me, I think I would say. But I also really love strawberry. I do like mint chocolate chip, though I know that's like a polarizing flavor for some people. Like, you either love it or you hate it. I've just seen -- I've seen on, like, on the internet, people are just like, only monsters like mint chocolate chip or you know, things like that. And I mean, I don't know. I like it. I think it's a good combo. How about you, Zach? What's your favorite flavor?
ZACH: Well, you listed about 12, so I need to --
KATIE: Yeah, sorry. Pick a different one.
ZACH: Think a little further. I really like pistachio.
KATIE: Oh, okay --
ZACH: Something about it. I couldn't put my finger on why exactly. I do love chocolate, obviously, and its various iterations.
KATIE: Mhmm hmm.
ZACH: Strawberry, big favorite of mine. When I go to an ice cream shop, I usually get vanilla with strawberries in it. I feel like that's a fresher kind of strawberry ice cream than just like your generic strawberry in a pint or a quart.
KATIE: I agree with that. I think my -- I wanna amend my list of several that I already gave you to add. I really like sweet cream with strawberries, fresh strawberries.
KATIE: That's a great, just simple combo that is delicious.
ZACH: Also, anything with cherries, you know, lots of ice cream brands have various cherry variations and those are some of my favorites as well.
KATIE: Not a big cherry fan.
KATIE: I don't know. I like fresh cherries. I almost never like flavored cherry things.
ZACH: So, we both love ice cream as you can…
KATIE: I do.
ZACH: Deduce. We have some -- we have some strong opinions about what flavors we like and don't like.
KATIE: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think, I don't know if we've talked about this on the podcast before, I've probably made myself lactose intolerant at this point thinking that I was lactose intolerant, so I've avoided dairy, and now like my body has -- kind of is rejecting it for real now. So, I don't enjoy ice cream as much as I used to, just because it's harder to find the dairy free options. There are a lot. I'm not saying there aren't, it's just there -- It's not as -- you have to be more choosy and the flavors aren't always there. And for instance, if I go to an ice cream shop, there's usually like one dairy free option now, but it's like, okay, cool. I have no choice. I have just this one. So, love ice cream. I definitely eat it less than I used to. But maybe that's a good thing. I don't know. I don't know that it's particularly healthy.
ZACH: Right. And that's what we're talking about in today's podcast, healthy ice cream alternatives. Not necessarily just substitutes for ice cream, like smoothies or other frozen desserts, but also, you know, we've all seen it out there in the grocery store and maybe even ice cream shops, quote unquote “healthier” forms of ice cream. So, we're talking to Amanda Beaver, who is a registered dietician here at Houston Methodist, and she was on last time talking about air fryers, so it was great to have her back on the podcast. Let's get into our conversation.
[Sound effect signaling beginning of interview]
ZACH: Amanda, welcome back to the podcast.
AMANDA BEAVER: Thank you.
ZACH: We had a great time talking about air fryers last time. One of our most popular episodes by the way. So, thank you for your tips there. This time we're talking about healthy ice cream alternatives. So, my first question to you is, do you like ice cream?
AMANDA: Yes. So, I personally love ice cream. My favorite flavors are chocolate chip cookie dough and mint chocolate chip.
ZACH: Really good choices there. Yeah.
AMANDA: But I will say though, if given the choice between chocolate and ice cream, I will choose chocolate so.
ZACH: Mint chocolate chip, that's just a good -- regardless if it's a cookie or an ice cream, that's a good just flavor combination. So, I feel you there. So, what is it about ice cream that makes it so tasty? Like what are we looking for when you have that craving? Like what are we looking to fulfill there?
AMANDA: Yeah, so one thing that makes ice cream really special is that it has both fat and sugar in it. And this combination makes it especially tasty for us. And we are hardwired as humans to love sugar and fat because they are concentrated sources of calories. And if we're not getting enough calories, then we might get sick or ill. So, we are biologically wired to seek out these sugar and fat rich food sources. And whenever we have one of them, we do get a little burst of dopamine in our brain. And that is one of our feel-good neurotransmitters. So, not only do we like it because of its flavor and its taste, but we're also getting these neurochemicals in our brain that are kind of reinforcing that it's a feel-good yummy thing. And that is in particular, what can make it so difficult to kind of stop doing our after dinner ice cream habit or the like.
ZACH: Yeah, I think when I was younger, like way younger, it was just an understood thing. I'm like, okay, it's dessert time. We have a pint of ice cream or a gallon of ice cream in the freezer, take one out, get a couple scoops, you know, and you just get used to that, you know. And I think ice cream is such a common treat, like when you're a kid like, “Let's go get an ice cream, kids.” And so, it's just -- it's just something that, you know, even beyond like the physical craving, it's something that just habitually gets programmed into us, right?
AMANDA: Right. Absolutely. I was the exact same way. Ice cream after dinner every evening and it's a really difficult habit to break. So, you know, not only is it delicious, but also habits in themselves are difficult to break as well. So, we have a few things that are kind of working against us if we're trying to kind of moderate it in our lives.
ZACH: So, speaking of moderation, right, what is, or what would you consider a quote unquote “healthy” amount of ice cream? What are some guidelines of like, “Hey, don't have three scoops. Don't have it every night.” Like, what are we talking about here?
AMANDA: Everybody's needs are gonna be a little bit different. So, as humans, you know, we all have different activity levels. We're all different heights and weights and ages, and we have different health conditions. So, it's really hard to put a blanket statement on an amount that's appropriate for everyone. But that being said, when we look at the label on ice creams, it's typically about two-thirds of a cup. So, that's kind of the serving recommendation for ice cream. Interestingly enough, it used to be half a cup, but the FDA kind of realized that nobody was following that, or nobody was doing that, so they kind of increased it to be more in line what typical Americans are eating. So, yeah, that's kind of the amount that's recommended to us I guess I should say.
ZACH: So, half a cup, how many days of the week is there?
ZACH: Probably not every day.
AMANDA: I feel like, you know, ice cream, it is a dessert, right? It is a treat. So, I kind of encourage people to try to find a healthy balance with it and you know, kind of assess like, hey, is this, you know, a treat that's serving me or is this maybe not aligning with my health goals? And then also to have a healthy relationship with it too. So, there's a lot of pros and cons. And when I'm working with patients, a few things that I might do is, number one, they do sell little cups of ice cream, like the little mini containers of it. I'm not talking the pints, I'm talking the little kind of mini kids size ones.
ZACH: Oh yes. Yeah. The one -- they come with the wooden spoon.
ZACH: They break every time you try to use it.
AMANDA: Exactly. So those work for some people who are trying to maybe find like a kind of a more like portioned amount, don't have to worry about, you know, going back for more and scooping more. So those can work well. And then same with ice cream bars too. Those are kind of pre-portioned too. So, both of those are some of the different ideas that I might give a patient if they're trying to work on how much ice cream they're having.
ZACH: Now, is there a real difference between any store-bought ice cream or ice cream you'd find at an ice cream parlor? Like, obviously there's different brands and whatnot, but like health-wise, like are they all -- are they all getting it from the same place? Is there any kind of difference one way or the other?
AMANDA: Yes, there definitely is. So, the ice cream that we get from ice cream shops or ice cream parlors is usually premium ice cream, which means that it has a higher fat content, higher cream content, and oftentimes also a higher sugar content.
ZACH: And that's why it tastes better right?
AMANDA: Right. Higher sugar content than what we're getting at the grocery store. So, the one at the grocery store is typically lower, and there's a few reasons for that. So cream is a really expensive ingredient. So, one reason why some of the grocery store brands might not have quite as much in it is for cost reasons as well. So, it's not just for health. So yeah, the premium ones will typically be a little bit more decadent than the ones that we're getting at the grocery store.
ZACH: Okay. No, that makes sense. That makes sense. Ice cream parlor, it sounds so, I don't know.
ZACH: Yeah. So, talking about what you buy at the store, right, there has been a new wave, relatively new wave, at least as far as I've seen of quote unquote “healthier” ice cream alternatives. Are they really that much healthier than standard ice cream?
AMANDA: Yeah. So, there's kind of a lot of different options at the grocery store. So, I'm gonna kind of just unpack this based on the different categories that we might see when we're browsing the ice cream section.
AMANDA: So, the first category that has been around for a little bit are the brands that are kind of saying, “You can eat this whole pint. It'll be like 360 calories per pint, or 200 calories per pint.” So, then the question is, okay, well how, how could it be that low? Like, what's making it that low? So, when we dig in and look at the ingredients of these, they're replacing sugar with some kind of sugar substitute. So, that might be a sugar alcohol, that might be stevia or monkfruit extract, maybe even something known as chicory or inulin, which gives things a sweet taste. And then to make them creamy, ‘cause they don't have as much cream, they are adding gums and fibers. Now, if you've ever tried one of these before, you can definitely tell the difference.
ZACH: Yeah, I have and I, and I can.
AMANDA: It is not the same, it is not as good. But you know, it will be -- it will be lower in sugar and fat. However, one thing I wanna add though is that higher amounts of these sugar alcohols and fibers and chicory and inulin can cause some GI distress for sensitive people. So, people with IBS should probably avoid these.
AMANDA: Just because these sugar alcohols and these -- and some of these fibers can increase bloating and in high enough amounts even cause things like cramping. So yes, people with sensitive GI’s should steer clear.
ZACH: And I guess with those right, if you want that, that cool soft feeling ice cream brings, like, that's what you go to. I mean, like you said, there's less flavor, sugar, those sorts of things, but it has the same, you know, texture and all that stuff. And that's probably a good category for if you're looking for a nice middle ground, huh?
AMANDA: Yeah. So, it’ll definitely still have like similar properties, but it's not quite the same. But you know, everybody has different tastes, you know, for some people that might be fine. You know, it might check the box that they're looking for. So, then there's some other options at the grocery store too, right. So, one big category that's really exploded over the last probably five years or so is the keto ice creams and the low carb ice creams. So, these ones typically will have the same amount of fat or cream as a traditional ice cream, but the one thing that they've taken out or that they're lacking is the sugar. So, they've replaced the sugar with stevia, monkfruit or sugar alcohols, but the cream part remains. And, you know, that might work for somebody's, you know, depending on what their goals are. But again, it probably will still have a little bit of a taste difference.
ZACH: Right. Right.
AMANDA: And then the last category that we are now finding at grocery stores is vegan ice creams. So, these ones are becoming a lot more popular nowadays and nutritionally they're very similar to regular ice creams. So, if we look at the, the fat, the sugar, the calories, whatnot, it's usually very similar. The only difference is that instead of using cream and milk, they're typically using coconut milk. And I've tried a few of these and they're actually pretty good.
ZACH: Okay. I've not tried that yet. Now, you're saying nutritionally they're very similar. So, there's really not much of a health advantage if that's what you're looking for by getting that ice cream as opposed to the other ones we talked about.
AMANDA: Right. Yes. So, nutritionally they're very similar. The only thing is that, you know, maybe somebody who's lactose intolerant, this might be a better option for them. Or someone who's vegan you know.
ZACH: Of course, yeah. Great. Okay. So, that kind of gives us some insight into the ice cream aisle when you're at the grocery store there. Now, homemade ice cream. Is there something you can do if you're making ice cream at home that could make it a healthier but still tasty alternative?
AMANDA: Yeah, so I've actually tried making homemade ice cream a few times before. I used to have an ice cream maker. And oftentimes, the recipes that we see online will be more in line with what a premium ice cream is, like, what we find it like an ice cream shop. So, they do use, you know, a good amount of cream and sugar, so they'll be similar to those premium ice creams that we're getting from the shop. So, not too much of a nutritional advantage if you make it yourself versus if you get it from the grocery store or the ice cream shop. But if you're trying to make one that is a little bit healthier, in the past I have successfully made some ice cream or froyo with 2% Greek yogurt and it came out pretty well actually. It does taste like froyo and it has that more tangy taste. So, for people who like that, that could be a really good option. And then kind of interestingly, something that's become really popular over the last few years too is something called banana nice cream. And what this is, it sounds crazy, but it's literally just cut up frozen bananas. The bananas -- the key thing is though they've gotta be ripe and then you put them in the blender oftentimes with a little bit of nut butter and maybe a little bit of milk or plant-based milk and you blend it up and it forms this creamy ice creamy like dessert. And you might think, oh my gosh, it's just gonna taste like pure banana. But the crazy thing is it doesn't just taste like banana. Like there is a little bit of that flavor, but it's actually pretty good. So, for somebody who's kind of the more of the experimental type and wants to try it, it is pretty fun. The only thing though is the key is using very ripe bananas, cutting them up into small pieces, and then freezing them, and then blending them. And one thing that can go wrong is we just wanna use a little bit of the tiniest amount possible of milk or plant-based milk. ‘Cause if we're adding too much, it's gonna become like a smoothie or a milkshake.
AMANDA: So, we wanna add as little liquid as possible to get it to that ice cream like texture. And what some people will do if it's not ice creamy enough, is then put it in the freezer for maybe 30 minutes and let it kind of firm up. And then it becomes that like scoopable more ice cream, like taste and texture.
ZACH: Great. No, you sold me on that. I'm definitely gonna try that as an alternative. And that’s the great advantage about trying homemade stuff because you think about, you know, other foods when you're trying to eat healthy, you know, you can always control your intake and what your ingredients are when you make something at home. Something like ice cream, not the most common thing people make at home, but you do something like this, there's lots of recipes online, as you said, you can go seek out healthy ice cream recipes and just kind of tweak it and find that middle ground between tastiness and health, or as healthy as possible when it comes to ice cream when you make something home, so.
AMANDA: Right. And it still, you know, takes about a banana and a half to make one of these, so it still is, you know, fairly good amount of sugar in it, but you know, it is gonna be healthier than, you know, just getting one from the grocery store.
[Sound effect signaling break in interview]
KATIE: So, Zach, how often do you eat ice cream?
ZACH: Well, I used to eat it a lot.
KATIE: Okay. Define a lot because I think, you know, that could mean almost anything.
ZACH: You know, growing up we had ice cream in the freezer all the time. It was like, okay, after dinner, at some point tonight we'll have some ice cream. Not every night, but usually like, it was just a habit. I mean, you're a kid and you love ice cream and if your parents love ice cream and you're -- they're cool with everybody eating ice cream, you don't really question it. But I used to eat ice cream all the time. But now it's more like a of a special occasion kind of thing. I try not to keep too many desserts around the house because they will be consumed quickly.
KATIE: Yeah. I know that -- I know that that life. I would say that I think I've always approached ice cream from, its like, “I know this isn't healthy, so I'm just gonna limit how much I eat.” Well, I won't say I always approached it that way. In my mind, that's how I approach it. That manifests maybe successfully or not here and there. But yeah, so it was interesting to hear her talk about portioning it. I'm gonna be honest, I've never thought, is this half a cup of ice cream or is this two-thirds a cup? I really liked your idea of the little mini cups just portion it for me. That is something I need for sure.
ZACH: Absolutely. I think that's essential because if you get like a normal bowl, it's in our nature to just, “Well, let me fill up this bowl.”
KATIE: Well, and bowls are all different sizes. You know, like what --
ZACH: How do you quantify a bowl of ice cream?
KATIE: Exactly. Yeah.
ZACH: And that's something when you're eating at home, you can at least kind of control -- get a little smaller serving dish. I found that to be an effective tactic in portion control, like get a little smaller dish or a smaller bowl. But then when you're at the ice cream shop, right, which I rarely go to. How often do you like go out and seek an ice cream cone in an ice cream shop, Katie?
KATIE: Almost never. Because since, I mean the dairy free options are just so limited, unfortunately. Like, I just -- I like having options and the place that I get dairy free options is the freezer aisle. There's kind of a lot of dairy free options. Almost every brand has a couple. It's not as good. Like the ice cream's definitely better from an ice cream shop, just, I want the variety, so I end up looking at the frozen aisle.
ZACH: Well, that's what's so interesting that Amanda mentioned that the cream is different there and that’s what makes it tasty. I'm like, “That -- okay, that's the missing ingredient why it does taste better.”
It's not just -- it's not just your mind. There's a scientific reason why the ice cream at the ice cream shop tastes better. And have you tried any of these alternatives that you find in the ice cream aisle?
KATIE: I guess I've accidentally tried a few because a lot of these --
ZACH: Accidentally, huh?
KATIE: Yeah. I mean a lot of these quote unquote “healthy” ones are the lactose free options. I guess ‘cause they're starting to take away some of that cream, which is, you know, fat -- as Amanda mentioned, fat has some of that component there. Now, they're often adding all of that back in another way, but like, it comes off as like, oh, lactose-free or vegan, like this is quote unquote “healthy” now. So, I've probably accidentally tried them just in trying to get a dairy-free ice cream, but I've never really purposely tried them. ‘Cause again, I just don't think of ice cream itself as like, healthy. I just-- I don't-- I I'm not surprised there's no store-bought iteration that's particularly healthy, just to be honest.
ZACH: And as she pretty much laid out for us, healthy ice cream is kind of an oxymoron, right? There's gonna be some component that it's not ideal as far as your health goes if you look at all the ingredients and whatnot. And I -- you know, I've tried the sugar-free ice cream. I gotta say, I'm not really a fan of it. It's like, “Why am I even eating ice cream at this point, right?” That's to your point, like, I know that it's not gonna be healthy. I'm gonna eat what I like, but I'm going to be deliberate about it, right. And instead of just switching it out for a quote unquote “healthy” alternative that I don't even like that much --
KATIE: And it might not even be healthy.
ZACH: Yeah. What is the return on this?
KATIE: It doesn't taste as good and I'm not sure it's actually any better for me. So, like that's where these healthy swaps, like, I think it's so interesting because I definitely don't wanna be eating something that doesn't taste as good and there's no benefit of me doing it. So, I -- that's why I kind of love this topic. It's, it's like we're kind of putting, like, putting all these things to the fire and saying like, “Okay, do these quote unquote “claims” hold up of these things that are healthy?”
ZACH: Or do they melt?
ZACH: Alright, so after the break, Amanda gives us some recipes for ice cream substitutes and other dessert options. Stick around.
[Music plays to signal a brief interjection in the interview]
ZACH: And we're back with Amanda Beaver. Alternatives when it comes to ice cream, like frozen yogurt, sherbet, sorbet, gelato, like those sorts of things, what are your thoughts on those alternate desserts to ice creams?
AMANDA: Yeah, so interestingly there's very much definitions for each of these. So, one that's really tasty and popular is gelato. And when we taste gelato, it tastes very rich and very creamy. And interestingly enough though, it actually uses less milk fat than regular ice cream does. But what makes it so creamy and rich is that it actually has less air incorporated into it than regular American ice cream. So, gelato is just a little bit more dense and it has less air in it than what we might find at the grocery store, which has a lot of air incorporated. Like you might notice that when you're scooping like regular American ice cream, it’s fluffy and it has little air pockets. It's got a lot of air whipped in. So that's gelato. Then we've also got some other options, right. We might see soft-serve and froyo. Interestingly enough, the USDA has a definition for ice cream, like a legal definition for ice cream. And soft-serve doesn't actually typically meet that definition because it has a lower fat content than regular American ice cream does. So, it's gonna be a little bit similar to froyo in that aspect, but it's missing that tang that froyo has. And froyo is typically even lower in fat than even soft-serve is. However though, whenever we kind of take an ingredient out, typically more sugar or salt will be added in. So, because soft-serve and froyo are lower in fat, companies and manufacturers will often add an extra sugar to make it still taste good.
ZACH: Yeah, I will always take advantage of when there's free ice cream at restaurants, and it's usually soft serve. I'm a swirl guy myself, so I like the whole vanilla and chocolate together. So, I'm like, “Oh great, I'm definitely gonna get some -- a free dessert on the way out of here.”
AMANDA: Yeah, it’s so good. And there's something about it being free too. But then there's some other categories too, right? So, there's sorbet and sherbet. Sherbet is going to be fruit and sugar with a little bit of cream or milk. So, it does have a little bit of dairy in it. Whereas sorbet is just the fruit and the sugar, you know, maybe a little bit of water to help kind of break the fruit down. But those are the only two ingredients that are in sorbet.
AMANDA: Fruit bars, sorbet, sherbets, you know, they -- they're not gonna have the fat content that ice creams do have, but they will make up for it in terms of sugar content.
ZACH: Yeah, they make up for it in other ways. Yeah. Gotcha. Now, not really ice cream or anything, but snow cones, right. Snow cones are just -- they're ice with flavored liquid. I'm just going to assume those are probably the least healthy of all these things.
AMANDA: Yeah. So, you're right about that. It will be just sugar and ice. But you know, everybody has different kind of goals. So, maybe for somebody they're looking for like a lower calorie treat, in which case maybe a snow cone might be better. Some people who might be watching their cholesterol levels or their LDL, you know, maybe that would -- maybe we would wanna avoid the ice cream so maybe we would go for more of a icy type dessert like a fruit bar or a sorbet. So, everything is really gonna depend on the person's needs and goals on which option will be best for them.
AMANDA: I did wanna share one of my favorites though. So, this is kind of back in line with the whole banana thing. But grocery stores actually do sell in the frozen section, typically close to the ice cream section, frozen chocolate covered bananas. They have typically either the banana on a stick and either milk chocolate or dark chocolate, or the banana kind of slivers that are dipped in dark chocolate. And both of those are two options that are a little bit healthier desserts and they're -- they're still pretty yummy too.
ZACH: Something else that's ice cream adjacent, shakes, malts, sometimes I feel like, depending on the consistency of them, ‘cause some are thicker than others, I feel like it's just ice cream in a cup at that point. Is it -- is that a fair description of what those are?
AMANDA: Yeah, yeah. Basically. So, it's gonna vary depending on who's making it and what they're adding. But typically, these are ice cream and milk blended together. And whenever we do that, we are knocking the air out of the ice cream. So, they are very dense, and it does take quite a bit of ice cream to make a milkshake or a shake just because, you know, we're knocking all that air out when we're blending it together. This might make it even more of a decadent dessert than just getting the ice cream scoop from the ice cream shop.
ZACH: Interesting. Okay. Yeah, I never really considered which one was, you know, quote unquote “better or worse” for you ‘cause I just figured, “No, well it's -- it's chocolate shake, chocolate scoop ice cream. Like, what's the difference?” But yeah, you're talking about taking out the air and that kind of stuff. That does -- yeah, once you start to really think about the science behind it, it does make more sense that perhaps, especially if you get like a -- I'll get a large shake and that's like probably, you're probably better off with a couple scoops of ice cream at that point.
AMANDA: Right. Yeah. ‘Cause a lot of ice cream does need to go into it to make that.
ZACH: Gotcha. We talked about fruit a lot. We talk about bananas a lot. Those are some great recipes and alternatives that I will certainly be trying. Smoothies, are they a quote unquote “healthy” alternative to shakes and malts?
AMANDA: Yeah, so smoothies can be a really great way to pack a bunch of fruits and vegetables into kind of a small drinkable meal. And I definitely do recommend them to people just because a lot of us do struggle to meet our fruit and veggie needs, and smoothies are a great way to help make sure we're meeting those needs. I will say though, that one of the keys is making sure the smoothie is balanced. So, the way we go about that, and we could honestly have a whole episode on smoothies.
ZACH: No, we might have to do that. Yeah.
AMANDA: But the way we go about creating a balanced smoothie is by making sure that there's both a protein source and a healthy fat source. So, the protein source could be yogurt or protein powder, and the healthy fat source could be avocado, flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, peanut butter, almond butter. There's a bunch of different options for healthy fats. But what those are gonna do is basically just ensure that they're digested a little bit slower than if it's just fruit and -- fruit and water, fruit and juice. And then the other thing that I recommend for making smoothies is to use like milk or plant-based milk, preferably unsweetened if possible, instead of juice. Just because that will help keep the sugar content, you know, very reasonable and, you know, make sure that the sugar that is in the smoothie is coming from those whole fruits that we're adding to it.
ZACH: Yeah, we talked about homemade ice cream and things like that, talking about homemade smoothies, right? Smoothie, it can be deceptively a healthy alternative sometimes if you go and you get a -- you go buy a smoothie somewhere and there's so much sugar in those, right, and they taste great. And I understand why people get 'em and, and they're like, “Oh, these are great.” Yeah, but if you really break it down, right, I mean, what are you really gaining as far as health wise by drinking a smoothie as opposed to, you know, a couple scoops of ice cream? Because to me, you know, I've mentioned this before, but like the coolness, the softness, right? Like that's what you're going for with that --with that -- you have -- you're in a mood for like, “Yeah, I really feel like a shake, but you know what? I'll do a smoothie. It'll be healthier.” Depending on the contents, it might kind of be a wash.
AMANDA: Yeah. So, it really just all depends on the ingredients and what we're adding to it. And you know, we -- if we just make sure that there's, you know, some fruit, a protein source, and a healthy fat, that's one easy way to make sure that, you know, the smoothie is gonna be nutritious for us. And one thing that I also like to tell people for like a recipe, one kind of guideline is about a cup to a cup and a half of fruit, and it can be any kind of frozen fruit. Going back to the whole banana thing, frozen bananas make smoothies really creamy and really tasty. So, I always recommend those if you're -- if you like a more thick smoothie over a more thin one. And then next up we'll need a liquid. So, ideally about a cup. Sometimes it needs a little more to help everything blend together. And then we'll want a protein source, which we talked about earlier with the Greek yogurt or protein powder and then the healthy fat. And then another thing to note with smoothies is because they are liquid, they're gonna be digested faster than a solid food will. So, they empty from our stomach quicker, they're digested quicker. So, what this can lead to is we might not feel quite as full for as long after having a smoothie versus if we were to eat solid food or eat all those foods kind of in their non-blended form. So, one way to kind of go around this is to just try to have the smoothie a little more slowly and to even add a little bit of crunchy things on top. Like maybe walnuts or some kind of seeds or you know, maybe a little bit of granola, something that's gonna force us to do some chewing.
ZACH: Slow us down.
AMANDA: Right. Slow us down, make us chew. And this just might make us feel a little more satiated from the smoothie than if we were to just drink it down.
ZACH: Okay. Well, I'm glad I like bananas ‘cause you've mentioned bananas quite a bit in our conversation, so I'm definitely gonna try some of these banana recipes. And yeah, that makes a lot of sense. ‘Cause if you, if you treat a cup of a smoothie like you do like a cup of water, then you're gonna, you know, wanna replenish too quickly and then your calories and et cetera, et cetera, you're just gonna be adding more and more. When in fact, if your smoothie's truly supposed to replace a meal, treat it like a meal, don't gulp it down.
AMANDA: Right, right. Yeah. We don't wanna be getting hungry an hour or two later, you know. If this smoothie is supposed to be our meal, we want it to be filling and keep us full. And you know, just one other way to do that is to make sure there is a good amount of healthy fats in it because fats do slow down digestion and absorption and they are very satiating and make us feel fuller for longer.
ZACH: Great. All right, so, as we wrap up here, are there any other strategies to moderate and balance that desire we all have for dessert with our desire to be healthy?
AMANDA: Yeah, so this is a really tough topic and sweets and desserts is one of the main reasons that people seek out working with a registered dietician. So, really the goal is with dessert is to have a healthy relationship with it. So, sometimes if we tell ourselves, “No, I'm not doing any more dessert, I'm eliminating it.” Then when it comes back into our lives, maybe we're at a birthday party or celebration, we might end up overdoing it and binging on it. So, the last thing that we want is for somebody to have this unhealthy relationship with it where they feel like they're out of control if it's even in the room with them. So, you know, one thing that I like to tell people is, you know, the goal is to be able to have balance with these foods that we love. So, let's say you're somebody that does like to have some ice cream at the end of the day or after dinner. So, one tip to kind of help you get the maximum enjoyment without, you know, kind of loading up on a bunch of scoops is to really make sure you're slowing down and appreciating it. So, you know, one thing that I tell people, when we're eating a dessert, we wanna be sitting down. If we're standing up distracted, we're not gonna be registering that we're eating this yummy, delicious thing.
ZACH: Walking around with your ice cream sandwich in your hand,
AMANDA: Right. So, we wanna be sitting down and we wanna be focusing on it. So, we wanna be making sure that we're getting the maximum enjoyment out of it and actually noticing the taste, noticing the flavors, and just really trying to look down at it more often too, because research actually shows that when we're not looking down at our food, if we can't see the food that we're eating, we end up eating more and not feeling quite as full. So, another key is to be looking down at it more often and that's just gonna help our brains register, “Hey, I'm, I'm eating this thing and it's satisfying me.”
ZACH: Yeah, we've all been there where we're snacking on something in a bowl and then you're like, “Oh, it's all gone. Where'd it go?” And is this because you've been sitting there watching TV or whatever and 15 minutes have gone by, and you've eaten half a bag of chips. It’s the same logic.
AMANDA: Right. We've all done it. So, the key to get that maximum satiation and satisfaction from whatever we're eating regardless of if it’s ice cream or chips, is to look down at it more often and to really try to register, “Hey, I'm eating this yummy thing and I'm getting full from it.” And then this last thing might sound really silly, but this is something that I -- that I do with my patients. So, after we finish a dessert, what I want my patients to do is to tell ourselves, “Okay, I had this dessert. It was so yummy. I really enjoyed it, and now I'm good and I'm ready to move on.” And it's almost like a little positive affirmation that we're telling ourselves to say, recognize that we had it, we enjoyed it, it was an enjoyable part of our day, and now I'm ready to move forward.
ZACH: As opposed to going back for seconds.
ZACH: No, that's good advice. That's good advice. And as you said, the moderation balance, you know, look into the ingredients of things, finding out what a good percentage of this and that is, trying these other alternatives. Man, you know, the great thing is we have lots of options these days. The vegan ice cream, the mini ice cream cups and your personal favorite, the chocolate covered bananas, right? These are great options that we can all try, you know. And some, you might not like. You may say, “You know what? That one's not for me.” Great. Go down the list, try something else. And again, everything in moderation. We're not saying never have ice cream again, we're just saying probably don't have it every night. And when you do, don't have like a whole pint by yourself.
AMANDA: Right. Yep. The key is, the key is moderation and the key is making sure when we are eating it that we're really appreciating it and enjoying it.
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KATIE: So, Zach, what are your takeaways from this?
ZACH: You know, a big one for me, and you guys know me, you guys know me, you know me, Katie. I love a good chocolate shake.
KATIE: Hmm. Yes, I do know this about you.
ZACH: And I realize that, you know what, that's actually --
KATIE: It's not healthy.
ZACH: Way unhealthy. Like, and that's why I asked her about it. Is it basically ice cream in a cup? Like it is and it's worse.
KATIE: It's ice cream condensed, so it's even more caloric than it needs to be. No wonder you love it.
ZACH: Which was kind of a revelation for me. So, you're gonna be seeing me with less -- unfortunately less chocolate shakes. So, that's kind of my go-to, right?
KATIE: Yeah. Or just have less of it. You know, you can always maybe like split one with your wife or something and then that way you can still enjoy it. I think one thing Amanda said that I took away with is like, you know, ice cream and these treats like this, they're desserts, and like still keeping a positive mindset around them where this is a treat, I can still have it, I just need to put guardrails around it. So, maybe it's like split your shake with your partner.
ZACH: Yeah. I like guardrails. I like that terminology when it comes to desserts.
KATIE: They're needed certainly with shakes.
ZACH: Absolutely. And then also some of her recipes. I know you had a particular favorite that you've already tried.
KATIE: Yeah, so I was really interested in the banana nice cream recipe. Haven't tried it yet, was also very interested in the Greek yogurt kind of froyo recipe. Also haven't tried that. What I did try already that Amanda recommended is the frozen chocolate covered bananas that you can find in the freezer aisle at the grocery store. Delicious. I have been having one at least once a week for dessert at this point since we talked to Amanda. I cannot praise those higher than I am right now. Everyone should try 'em. They're -- I mean, you're get -- you have the bananas, there's fiber in there. I get the dark chocolate covered ones. It's like, I think half a banana. It's maybe like 130 calories. I don't know, it's a really good --and I do feel like it's a dessert.
ZACH: Once a week?
KATIE: Yeah. At least.
ZACH: I don’t know -- I was gonna say, I don't know if I have that kind of impulse control.
KATIE: Well, they're, they're kind of pricey to be honest.
ZACH: Oh, okay.
KATIE: It's like a pack of five.
ZACH: So, there's a guardrail for you right there, the price.
KATIE: Yeah. No, I'm a pretty frugal shopper to be honest. So, it's a pack of five, so they're a little pricey. So, I've been trying to like not get to a place -- I do this with sparkling water. If I buy it, I drink it like a ton and then you're spending so much, so it's similar to that, where like, I'm worried if I start eating 'em too much -- I probably would wanna eat one of these every night for dessert, but I'm just trying not to.
ZACH: Yeah. She had a lot of recipes with fruits, bananas in particular.
KATIE: Yeah, I -- bananas got a huge upvote in this episode.
ZACH: Yeah, my stock in bananas has risen quite a bit in this conversation.
KATIE: Yeah. Which is good news ‘cause I think we both love bananas.
ZACH: Yeah, who doesn't love bananas?
KATIE: Well, there are people who don't love bananas.
ZACH: Really? It’s such a simple convenient snack too. I mean, they come in their own container. It's fantastic.
KATIE: So true. I think for me -- so I know there's people who don't love bananas. I am picky about the ripeness of the banana. So, that's where -- but then once it's in a frozen dessert or something like this and it's blended up, I don't -- the ripeness doesn't matter. Like if I'm just eating a fresh banana, I'm sometimes a little picky and I think people are a little picky, but, you know, if the banana is getting mashed and made into a, you know, ice cream alternative, you know, that doesn't matter anymore.
ZACH: And this is not to say that either of us are gonna stop eating ice cream entirely, right, Katie?
KATIE: Oh, absolutely not. No, I will still be eating ice cream. Again, I think it's just -- I really liked how Amanda put it in the sense of having a healthy kind of framework around dessert and things like that. And so, portioning it when you do eat it, not eating it too often, and maybe now and then when you're craving it, but you just had ice cream last night, you swap in one of these healthier alternatives that she mentioned. I think it helps make it all more realistic, because I don't know, it's just, it's nice to have dessert after dinner. So, like, you want it anyways. Just find a -- find the right way to work it into your, into your diet in a healthy way.
ZACH: And finally, one of the best tips I took away from this that Amanda shared was be a -- be an active eater, not a passive eater, right? Because it's so easy to snack if you're -- and this is not just for ice cream, this is for anything. It’s for, you know, bag of chips or whatever. If you're like watching a screen or even at like a sports game or something and your attention is not on what you're eating, you can consume so much and not even realize it. Like a bag of popcorn can disappear when you're watching a movie or something. If you were looking down at your food, and that was Amanda's tip there, like, look down at what you're eating, you can kind of like pace yourself, see how much is left. And I've experienced that myself. You know, just the difference between, you know, being an active eater and a passive eater, I guess.
KATIE: Yeah. And I think she had a good point too, of it also helps you appreciate that what you're eating is really tasty and different than, you know, the particular meals we have sometimes. Like, so when you're eating ice cream, like looking down at it so you can really appreciate it and be like, “Yeah, this is super tasty. No wonder I love this. Like, I'm glad I'm giving myself this treat.” And then check the box, move on. You know, you're finished eating. You’re -- you can be more it -- she kind of said it, it sounds maybe silly in some ways, but I don't think it's silly in that like, having that sort of gracious attitude towards these treats and things that we get to consume now and then.
ZACH: Absolutely. Well, that's gonna do it for us this week on the On Health podcast. And we encourage you all to go to our blog at houstonmethodist.org/blog, and to share, like, and subscribe to our podcast. New episodes drop Tuesday mornings. So, until then, stay tuned and stay healthy.
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