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The Great Ice-Cream Debate: Should You Indulge for the Sake of Your Health?

Indulgent, luscious, and loaded with saturated fat, the idea of ice-cream being healthy is both ridiculous and intriguing. However, in what could be a pleasing discovery for many, an American public health historian has exposed how numerous studies over the years have found potential health benefits of the frozen dessert, which have been largely ignored by scientists.

In a recent article for the Atlantic magazine, David Merritt Johns revealed that he stumbled upon the claims last summer, after reading about research conducted by a Harvard doctoral student in 2018. The research had found that eating half a cup (64g) of ice-cream a day was linked to a reduced risk of heart problems in diabetics.

Further investigation revealed that the link was over two decades old. Epidemiologist Mark Pereira had discovered that dairy-based desserts such as ice-cream were associated with a substantially reduced risk of developing insulin-resistance syndrome, which is a precursor to diabetes, in overweight individuals. However, these alleged health benefits were overlooked, with scientists instead preferring to focus on the supposed health benefits of yogurt.

Johns remarked, “Could the idea that ice-cream is metabolically protective be true? It would be pretty bonkers. Still, there are at least a few points in its favour,” citing the glycaemic index of ice-cream, which is lower than brown rice, and the supposed benefits of dairy products where the membrane is intact.

However, the findings have received a somewhat chilly response in Britain. John Ford, an academic public health doctor and senior clinical lecturer at Queen Mary University London, commented, “As an academic public health doctor, I’m not going to be rushing out to eat more ice-cream based on this research.” He added that there could be many other potential explanations, such as people eating ice-cream to cool down after exercise or opting for ice-cream instead of high-calorie desserts.

Dr Duane Mellor, a senior lecturer and dietitian at Aston Medical School, also cautioned against focusing on the health benefits of a single food and highlighted the potential inaccuracy of food intake studies, which are usually conducted using questionnaires. He remarked that ice-cream might contain some beneficial nutrients, such as calcium, and has a low glycaemic index. Still, this could be outweighed by its high sugar and calorie content.

Mellor concluded, “So, overall we should not be considering ice-cream as a health food, only something which can be enjoyed in small amounts as part of an overall healthy dietary pattern.” The Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England declined to comment on the matter.