In Explain It Like I'm 6, a dietitian answers the burning health questions from Associate Food Editor Meghan Splawn's daughter, Ella.
When I was a kid I used to beg my parents to take me to Dairy Queen so I could order a brownie sundae. Topped with fudge and a mountain of whipped cream, it was the pinnacle of joy for my pre-teen brain. I didn't understand why I couldn't eat this all the time, or why my parents sometimes suggested eating vegetables when ice cream was a mere five minutes away. What was the big deal? Ice cream obviously tastes better, so why would I not just eat that?
Meghan's daughter, Ella, has similar feelings. I mean, ice cream has some nutrients, right? It's not just empty space! Here's what she asked her mom when they were talking about healthy eating questions.
Ella's Question: Why can't I eat ice cream every day? Doesn't ice cream have vitamins?
Good question, kid. Here's Sally Kuzemchak of Real Mom Nutrition with the answer.
Meet Sally of Real Mom Nutrition.com
Sally Kuzemchak is the author of The 101 Healthiest Foods for Kids and the founder of RealMomNutrition.com, a no-judgments zone about feeding a family. We asked Sally to answer five of Ella's questions about health and wellness in the easiest way possible.
Great question — and one that my own kids have asked a few times! You're right, ice cream has some vitamins in it (but in pretty small amounts). It has a little bit of calcium in it, which helps build your bones and keep them strong. It's got a smidge of protein, too. It also gives us energy when we eat it, like all foods do.
But one of the reasons that ice cream gives you energy is that it has a lot of sugar in it. Sugar giving you energy sounds like a good thing, but here's the deal: Sugar only gives us energy. It doesn't do anything else for the body: no vitamins, no minerals, nothing healthy or helpful beyond that. And foods that have a lot of sugar in them (and not much else) give you a burst of energy that doesn't last very long. The sugar is quickly digested by your body and then you can end up feeling tired, cranky, and hungry again.
Truth is, if you wanted to, you could eat a little bit of ice cream every single day and still be healthy — as long as you also ate a lot of foods that were good for you. I said "a little bit" because when you eat too many foods that don't have much going for them except sugar (like ice cream, candy, and soda), you're not leaving much room for foods like fruits, vegetables, grain foods like pasta, fish, meat, nuts, and beans that have way more than a smidge of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients you need to stay healthy.
And even though ice cream has a few vitamins and minerals, it just doesn't compare to those kinds of nutritious foods. You'd have to eat almost four scoops of vanilla ice cream to get the same amount of calcium and protein as a glass of milk. But that towering ice cream would also deliver nearly 14 teaspoons of sugar too!
Thanks so much, Sally!