MU researchers look to give ice cream a healthier flair

Wednesday, June 16, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
Greg Cosgrove tastes ice cream as part of Food Sciences Ph.D. student Ting-Ning Lin's Ph.D. project. Twelve volunteers were gathered at Eckles Hall on June 11 to be trained in ice cream testing. The group will actually taste the ice cream that Lin has created herself on Thursday.

COLUMBIA — An MU doctoral student is looking for ways to take some guilt out of eating ice cream.

Ting-Ning Lin is working with food chemistry professor Ingolf Gruen to give ice cream some health appeal by adding fiber, antioxidants and microorganisms that aid in digestion. 


Top five selling ice cream flavors in the U.S.:

  • Vanilla: 28.7 percent
  • Chocolate: 10.4 percent
  • Cookie n' cream: 4.4 percent
  • Strawberry: 3.9 percent
  • Chocolate chip mint: 3.3 percent

The differences in types of ice cream:

  • Ice cream has at least 10 percent milk fat.
  • Reduced fat ice cream has at least 25 percent less fat than the referenced product (the company's full-fat ice cream or the average of other brands).
  • Light ice cream has at least 50 percent less fat or 33 percent fewer calories than the referenced product.
  • Low fat ice cream has a maximum of 3 grams of total fat per half-cup serving.
  • Non-fat ice cream has less than a half of a gram of fat per half-cup serving.

Source: International Dairy Foods Association

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During a recent campus presentation about the research, Gruen handed out samples of Tiger Stripe ice cream and noted that 40 percent of its calories come from fat — twice the recommended amount.

“There is no doubt about it," Gruen said. "Regular ice cream is high in fat.”

The Center for Science in the Public Interest puts ice cream at No. 4 on its list of worst foods. The center singled out Haagen-Dazs chocolate ice cream, stating a half-cup has 270 calories and a whopping 11 grams of saturated fat — 55 percent of the daily recommended total.

According to the International Dairy Foods Association, more than 90 percent of households in the U.S. eat ice cream and other frozen desserts. Regular ice cream made up 61.1 percent of the frozen dessert market in 2008, and reduced-fat, low-fat and nonfat ice cream accounted for 25.4 percent.

When consumers were moving away from full-fat ice cream, Gruen from 1996 to 2005 studied how the flavor profile was affected by low- or reduced-fat content. Consumer preferences have since shifted back to full-fat ice cream, he said, and the research at MU is now focused on ways to give ice cream a dose of goodness.

“I hope that eventually it will impact people’s lives in two ways,” Gruen said.  “No. 1 that they will have a source of healthful ingredients in their diet through a food commodity that they enjoy, ice cream, as well as that it will hopefully alleviate or relieve some of the guilt that some people have associated with the idea of eating ice cream.”

The first phase of Lin's research is adding probiotics — beneficial microorganisms that live in people’s intestines — and prebiotics that provide food for the probiotics. She's training panelists to recognize different aspects of the flavor and texture, such as the intensity of the sweetness.

“Those functional ingredients will for sure give some health benefits," Lin said. "But I don’t know if people will like it.”

Lin will then add fiber in various concentrations, as well as antioxidants in the form of acai berries, and have volunteers judge which one they like best.

Tony Layson, a manager at Sparky’s, said it’s strange to add these ingredients to ice cream.

“You shouldn’t try to get your fiber intake from ice cream,” he said.

Layson said that every couple of days, the ice cream store on Ninth Street will get someone who asks whether there’s a low-sugar or low-fat option. There isn't.

Layson said he eats ice cream every day, but sometimes it’s just a spoonful. He said the key to eating desserts is moderation.

“Ice cream’s dessert, and dessert’s not supposed to be healthy,” he said.  “You’re supposed to have a little bit of it and enjoy it a whole bunch.”

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Ro Sila June 16, 2010 | 4:32 p.m.

"[Tony] Layson said...the key to eating desserts is moderation." Exactly! Ice cream makes us happy. Mental health is just as important as corporeal health.

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Mark Foecking June 17, 2010 | 8:00 a.m.

"Lin will then add fiber in various concentrations, as well as antioxidants in the form of acai berries, and have volunteers judge which one they like best."

This might give a whole new meaning to the term "regular" ice cream.


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