Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Nutrition Debate #263: Ice Cream Games

Recently we had company over for dinner. I made Ossobuco alla Milanese. Nancy made risotto using Arborio rice, Brussels sprouts tossed in olive oil and roasted, and roasted cauliflower with melted cheese topping. Nancy insisted we had to have a dessert, so she made an apple crisp and sent me out to the store to buy a pint of ice cream. I thought one pint would not be enough for 4 people, so I bought two. Maybe I was hoping there’d be leftovers…

I bought what I thought were two premium pints: Breyers vanilla and Häagen-Dazs butter pecan. I didn’t pay any attention to the prices. I just made sure I was buying ice cream, not ice milk. After paying, though, I looked at the receipt and noticed that the Breyers was less than half the price of the Häagen-Dazs. Interesting, I thought. Breyers must be on sale. WRONG!

When it came time for dessert, I passed on the apple crisp and served myself a spoonful of vanilla and a spoonful of butter pecan. The Breyers vanilla was light and easy to dig into; the butter pecan was dense and creamy and hard. The vanilla was thin in taste too; the butter pecan was rich. But the distinction passed and the conversation turned to our friend’s recent trip to Tonga to swim with the whales and their pups. I was not until the next day when both containers were emptied – we call this mysterious disappearance of leftover ice cream “evaporation” (tee, hee) – that I learned the real difference.

A 1994 change in United States Food and Drug Administration rules allowed ice milk to be labeled as low-fat ice cream, according to Wikipedia. “…based in part on a petition filed jointly by the Milk Industry Foundation (MIF) and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), and a petition filed by the American Dairy Products Institute (ADPI),” designed to “promote honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers; increase flexibility for manufacturers of lower-fat dairy products; and increase product choices available to consumers.” See the HHS Final Rule Summary published here.

The problem is the ice cream I bought was NOT labeled low-fat ice cream. It was simply labeled “Ice Cream.” Apparently there has been another, later change in FDA rules, or Breyers is breaking the rule. But the labeling of this product does not “promote honesty and fair dealing” and is not “in the interest of consumers.” I can see, however, where it does “increase flexibility for manufacturers of lower-fat dairy products and increase product choices available to consumers.”

The Breyers container, to be fair, is one full pint in volume (473ml), and it weighs 264 grams. The Häagen-Dazs container, on the other hand, although it has the same rim diameter, has a slightly tapered side and is only 414ml, or <9/10s of a pint. But, the Häagen-Dazs weighs 14 fluid ounces (397 grams), or ~50% more than the bigger Breyers pint. That difference in weight is in large part due to the air that is entrained in this “low-fat ice cream,” making it light and easy to dig into.

The ingredients, and the order listed, tell another part of the story. Breyers vanilla: milk, cream, sugar, natural flavor, tara gum. Note, milk, listed first, is 88-89% water. Häagen-Dazs butter pecan: vanilla ice cream, cream, skim milk, sugar, corn syrup, egg yolks, salt, vanilla extract, roasted pecans, pecans, coconut oil, butter, salt. That explains why, when I finished the vanilla, just 24 hours after first opened, it tasted like hoar frost – like it had been in the freezer for many months.

But the real difference is nutrition. A one half-cup serving (gee, one pint was enough for 4 people, LOL) has the following:

Amount per 1/2 cup
Breyers vanilla
Häagen-Dazs butter pecan
    Calories from fat
Total Fat
    Saturated fat
    Trans fat
Total Carbohydrates
    Dietary Fiber

The Breyers vanilla has only 43% as many calories and only 30% as many calories from fat. The Breyers also has only 32% as many grams from total fat and only 40% as many grams of saturated fat; And only 25% as much dietary cholesterol and only 37% as much sodium. So, if reducing your consumption of saturated fat, dietary cholesterol, and sodium are important to you, and you studied these nutrition facts (and brought your calculator with you to the grocery store), these facts might interest you. But before you make a “product choice,” you should also check out the carbohydrates and sugars.
The Breyers vanilla still had 70% as many carbohydrates and 82% as much sugar as the rich, creamy Häagen-Dazs. In other words, the quality ingredients that made the product so delicious were deleted in larger proportion than the junk sugars and thickening agents (tara gum). But you saved money on your pint, if you like to eat hoar frost for that “special treat.”

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