Ice Cream: Diabetes Nutrition

Yes, it may be one of the colder sections of the grocery store, but the frozen dessert aisle is also the source of happy memories and the centerpiece of many celebrations. For those of us with diabetes, frozen confections were probably one of the first types of food that passed through our minds with a big red X on them as we got the news of our diagnosis. But now we know they don’t need to be condemned. Ice cream and frozen novelties can have a place in the diets of people with diabetes. Let’s discuss a few things about how we can have our ice cream cake and eat it too!

First off, ice cream and frozen yogurt — what is the difference? In a blog entry[1] I wrote on my own site a couple years ago, I explain in detail how each differs in calories and carbohydrates. Here is a summary of what I uncovered:


Frozen yogurt is not necessarily the best option, especially for people with diabetes. While it is usually low in fat or fat-free, the fat has often been replaced with more sugar to add flavor. Also, frozen yogurt, depending on the brand, can contain unappealing ingredients such as corn syrup, artificial colors, and preservatives. Also, note that soft-serve ice cream is not frozen yogurt, a common point of confusion.

Ice cream in all its dairy richness is generally higher in fat and lower in total carbohydrates than its frozen yogurt counterpart, and it is often more natural. I may be a bit biased, but I personally would rather have a bowl of full-fat ice cream that I know will have a more predictable effect on my blood sugar (with a delayed rise due to the fat), rather than a bland frozen yogurt that will spike my numbers more quickly because of the higher sugar and lower fat content. At the end of the day, it is a personal choice. But just know that you can absolutely enjoy ice cream, in any form, as long as you keep your portions in control. It may be easier said than done, but portion control with any dessert is key to blood sugar and weight control.

As for other frozen novelties such as fudge pops, cream pops — any type of frozen pops — the same rules apply: If they are made up of mostly sugars and coloring, know that you will need to account for a fairly quick spike of your blood sugar, sort of like drinking juice. But if they have dairy, or fat of any kind, the impact on blood glucose may be offset slightly. Take a look at the Nutrition Facts label on the box; if the item has more than 12 grams of carbohydrate per serving (and depending on how sensitive you are to carbohydrate), you should probably account for it in your diabetes regimen. It may not always be possible to find or afford (or even really like) a more natural version of your nostalgic favorites, but if you can go without the added corn syrup and food dyes (especially for the kids), it’s better overall. Try the box that says “made from real fruit juiceā€¦” but first be sure to turn it around and check out the first three ingredients to make sure the box isn’t telling a fib.

Frozen cakes, ice cream sandwiches, sorbet, Italian ices, the list goes on. For the sake of your diabetes, try to keep it simple with frozen treats, and keep the sugary toppings to a minimum. And while it may be tempting to treat a low blood sugar with a frozen treat, note that it’s not the fastest choice, since it takes a bit of time to eat and melt. As for those taking insulin or other medication who need to account for the effects of a high-fat and high-sugar food, speak to your diabetes educator[2] or dietitian about how to manage that. It is very much an individual trial-and-error project when adjusting insulin over time for the fat delay.

Now, go get a mini ice cream cake on your next Diaversary and wish yourself another healthy year!

How important is it for people with diabetes to stay hydrated? Some evidence shows it’s very important. Bookmark[3] and tune in tomorrow to learn more.

  1. In a blog entry:
  2. diabetes educator:

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Regina Shirley: Whether you have Type 1, Type 2, Type-somewhere-in-between, or a loved one with diabetes, Regina Shirley hopes that you can relate to her and that she can help you take this condition in stride. She will let you in on some of her challenges as a mom with Type 1 diabetes to an active toddler and a wife to a husband who is a foodie. She has been a Registered Dietitian for over a decade and has lived with Type 1 for over 25 years (complication free!). She has always participated in JDRF events and is on their National Speakers Bureau, and she also serves on the Outreach Committee of the Boston JDRF Chapter and speaks annually at their Type 1 Nation Summit. Shirley was the Fund-a-Cure Speaker for the New Hampshire JDRF Granite Gala in both 2009 and 2013 and has also contributed to the DECA (Diabetes Education & Camping Association) national nutrition guidelines manual for diabetes camps. Her alma mater, Framingham State University, invites her back each fall to guest lecture on the topic of diabetes, technology, and nutrition. She is the creator of a widely viewed blog called Serving Up Diabetes and works as a nutrition consultant for both individuals with or without diabetes and the restaurant industry.

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