The cold hard truth: What you should know about dairy-free and vegan ice cream
09/11/2020 / By Leslie Locklear / Comments
The cold hard truth: What you should know about dairy-free and vegan ice cream

It’s a well-known fact that Americans love ice cream. In fact, according to recent statistics from the International Dairy Foods Association, the average American consumes more than 23 pounds of ice cream per year.

As delicious as these frosty treats are, however, they have been linked to several health problems, chief among which are Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

According to health experts, this is because a single scoop of ice cream can contain up to 25 grams of sugar. This means that a standard four-scoop serving of ice cream contains roughly 100 grams of the sweet stuff, which is four times the daily amount recommended by the likes of the American Heart Association.

Sugar isn’t the only thing that’s problematic about ice cream: its dairy content has an unsavory effect on one’s health as well.

Ice cream, as its name suggests, is often made with full cream milk and other dairy products, both of which have been marketed for decades as healthful additions to one’s diet. Not so, according to new studies.

Full cream milk and other dairy products, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine said in a statement, are the top sources of saturated fat in the American diet, which is known to contribute to Alzheimer’s disease and even breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers.

Not only that, but dairy products can trigger adverse reactions in people with lactose intolerance. About 65 percent or two-thirds of the entire human population known to have the condition.

Lactose intolerance is rooted in the fact that upon reaching early childhood, the human body ceases its production of the enzyme needed to digest lactose, which is the sugar found in milk and other dairy products.

Because of the inherent health risks associated with the continued consumption of dairy, it’s not surprising to see vegan ice cream alternatives pop out of the proverbial woodwork. One question remains, however: how healthy are these vegan alternatives?

The truth about vegan ice cream substitutes

Vegan and non-dairy alternatives for ice cream have been around since 1899, after Almeda Lambert, a Seventh-day Adventist from Battle Creek, Michigan, wrote and published the vegetarian cookbook “Guide for Nut Cookery,” which included recipes detailing the creation of food items such as nut butter and dairy-free cheese. Included in the cookbook were recipes for ice cream made from peanuts, almonds, and pine and hickory nuts.

Meanwhile, the idea for soy-based ice cream was conceived in 1918 by Arao Itano, a faculty member at the University of Massachusetts, who wrote about it in an article titled “Soy Beans As Human Food.” It would take another four years, however, before the product and the process behind its creation was patented by Indiana resident Lee Len Thuey.

In the decades that followed, numerous other products capitalizing on the idea outlined by Itano flooded the market, with each one touting itself to be a healthier alternative to the popular dairy-based dessert.

Needless to say, this has continued well into the present, with research by Global Market Insights noting that vegan and dairy-free ice cream sales are expected to surpass $1 billion worldwide by 2024. This projection, the firm said, is fueled by an increasing number of consumers who are ditching dairy products in order to follow a more plant-based diet.

However, are vegan and non-dairy ice creams really all that healthy? According to health experts, not necessarily.

As noted by medical experts and nutritionists, this is because while non-dairy or vegan frozen desserts do replace milk and cream with alternatives such as rice, oat, soy, almond or cashew milk, most of them are still packed with added sugar.

Not only that, but some vegan milks, like coconut, are also high in saturated fat, which means that they can elevate harmful LDL cholesterol levels and increasing one’s risk for heart disease.

With that in mind, here are some other facts about vegan ice cream substitutes that you have to know when choosing a frosty, non-dairy dessert:

  • Coconut milk ice cream. Despite being marketed as a healthy alternative to regular ice cream, coconut milk-based ice cream actually contains a lot of saturated fat, which means that it has the same effects on the body as dairy when consumed in excessive amounts. And while there are reduced-fat versions of coconut milk-based ice creams, these might be hard to come by in some areas.
  • Almond milk ice cream. Despite its relative popularity, the majority of the almond milk ice creams found in the market actually contain very few actual almonds. To make matters worse, most of these products are often packed with thickeners like guar and locust bean gum, as well as artificial flavorings and colorings, not to mention added sugar.
  • Soy milk ice cream. One of the very first non-dairy frozen desserts to appear on the market, soy milk ice cream possesses health-related benefits for most people, with one being its nutrient-dense nature and its low saturated fat content. One must diligently check the labels, however, in order to avoid products made with genetically modified soy.
  • Cashew milk ice cream. Similar to frozen desserts made with almond milk, cashew milk ice cream is prone to adulteration, with many of the much cheaper brands on the market known to be pumped full of thickeners, sweeteners and flavorings.
  • Oat milk ice cream. Just like milk alternatives made from other grains such as rice, oat milk — and subsequently oat milk ice cream — usually comes loaded with added fats and thickeners. This is mainly because grains in general, often have a much lower fat content, which makes their “milks” watery in nature. In addition, oats are often sprayed with glyphosate, which dries the crop so that it can be harvested much sooner.
  • Fruit-based sorbets and sherbets. Often marketed as “light” alternatives to regular ice cream, commercially-available fruit sorbets and sherbets are often made from concentrated juice mixes, which means they are often packed with food dyes, flavorings and excessive amounts of sugar and other sweeteners.

With that being said, one must always check the labels of the food products he or she purchases in order to be assured of their nutrient content as well as their overall quality.

As with everything else, however, the healthiest options will always be the ones you make at home – frozen desserts included.

Here are some tips on how you can make delicious and nutritious vegan ice cream for yourself and for your family:

  • Use a “custard” base. Unlike regular dairy, most vegan milks – coconut excluded – don’t have enough fat in them. To address this, you can add a little bit of starch, such as arrowroot, into your milk. This will result in a thick, velvety mixture not unlike a conventional custard base made with milk and eggs.
  • If you don’t want to mess with starches and milks, you can use frozen organic bananas and avocados. You can also use almond and cashew creams, which are made by simply blitzing the nuts in a food processor until thick and creamy.
  • Use organic vegan sugar substitutes such as stevia, monk fruit and maple syrup to add just the right amount of sweetness to your finished ice cream.
  • Go crazy with (natural) toppings. These can be fresh or freeze-dried organic fruit, raw nuts and cacao nibs.
  • If you want to add just a bit more flavor, you can add some liqueur to your “custard”. Not only will these give your finished ice cream a boost in flavor, but it will also keep ice crystals from forming, thus ensuring a rich and creamy texture all throughout.

RECIPE: Vanilla Vegan Ice Cream

A vegan take on a classic favorite, this recipe, adapted from uses cashew cream, which gives it an incredibly velvety and rich texture reminiscent of regular dairy ice cream.

PS: This can be used as a base for other flavors, making it a valuable addition to your kitchen repertoire.


  • 1 cup raw, organic, unsalted cashews
  • Purified or filtered water
  • 1 15-ounce can, full-fat coconut milk
  • ½ cup organic maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons organic vanilla paste or 2 organic vanilla beans, scraped
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt


  1. Place cashews in a bowl or jar and cover with water and let soak overnight or until the cashews have softened.
  2. Drain and rinse the cashews once the nuts are sufficiently soft.
  3. Place the softened nuts, coconut milk, maple syrup, vanilla paste, and salt, in a food processor and blend on high until smooth and creamy.
  4. Taste and adjust the mixture’s flavor accordingly.
  5. Transfer to an ice cream maker and churn until the mixture starts to stiffen.
  6. Transfer the mixture to a freezer-safe container and cover the top with cling film. Freeze until firm.
  7. Once firm, scoop into bowls or cups and serve. Enjoy!

It might seem impossible at first but it’s actually very easy to whip up your own healthy and nutritious frozen treats — just remember to eat them in moderation, of course.

Sources include:

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