Absorption of calcium from ice cream is no different than from low-fat milk, highlighting the potential of the summer treat as a potential bone health food, says a new study from Unilever.
According to findings from the world’s largest ice cream manufacturer, calcium-fortified ice cream may contribute to total daily intake of calcium, a necessary nutrient linked primarily to bone health.
“Prevalence of dietary calcium insufficiency is not known, but there is evidence suggesting that people of all ages worldwide, including in the United States, fail to consume adequate amounts of calcium,” explained the researchers, led by Regine van der Hee from Unilever Food and Health Research Institute.
“Childhood and adolescence are critical times to optimize peak bone mass and inadequate consumption of calcium in these years increases the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures in later life.”
In order to redress this imbalance, and provide a “palatable and widely enjoyed food product” to boost calcium intake, the researchers formulated two types of calcium-enriched ice cream, and measured calcium absorption following consumption.
Concerns over the unhealthy image of ice cream appear unfounded however, with the ice cream being “formulated responsibly in terms of nutritional profile”, wrote van der Hee and her co-workers. Indeed, the energy value for both did not exceed 115 kcal, they said.
“In terms of energy content, this is comparable with the nutritional value of a banana, a bowl of yogurt with muesli, or half of a chocolate chip cookie,” wrote the authors.
Proof in the pudding
The researchers recruited 16 healthy volunteers aged between 25 and 45 to participate in their randomised, reference-controlled, double-blind cross-over study. Two test products and milk were consumed with a light standard breakfast on three separate occasions. The two ice creams were formulated with either butter fat (3 per cent) or coconut oil (9 per cent), and fortified with calcium. The low-fat milk contained 1.7 per cent milk fat.
Absorption of calcium was found to be 26, 28, and 31 per cent from the butterfat ice cream, the coconut oil ice cream, and milk, respectively, with no significant difference between them.
“These findings indicate that absorption of calcium from both ice cream formulations is as good as milk and illustrate that the typical ingredients and frozen format of ice cream do not negatively influence calcium absorption,” wrote the researchers.
Ice cream – deliverer of health benefits?
Brazilian scientists recently reviewed the potential of ice cream to delivering probiotic strains, and concluded that probiotic ice-cream offers ‘great potential’, although ice-cream presents particular challenges, such as the beating in of air - known as overrun. There is also the issue of storage under freezing temperatures, which would affect the viability of the strains over time.
Additional issues to be considered by formulators is which strain to use, how and when the bacterial inoculum is added to the product, in what quantities, as well as the choice of other ingredients,
Unilever has already added an iced lolly containing probiotic bacteria to its Walls Milk Time range, and is aimed at children in the UK.
Source: Journal of the American Dietetic Association
May 2009, Volume 109, Issue 5, Pages 830-835
“Calcium Absorption from Fortified Ice Cream Formulations Compared with Calcium Absorption from Milk”
Authors: R.M. van der Hee, S. Miret, M. Slettenaar, G.S.M.J.E. Duchateau, A.G. Rietveld, J.E. Wilkinson, P.J. Quail, M.J. Berry, J.R. Dainty, B. Teucher, S.J. Fairweather-Tait