Going to the grocery store to simply pick up some ice cream (or any other item for that matter) is not quite that simple. The days of mothers sending their little boy to the store for a bottle of milk are behind us. What might the confusion be, you ask? Well, there’s just so much to choose from. Even too much to choose from, some may say.
There are 22 different types of milk, including both animal and plant-based alternatives. This number of only the types of milk; this doesn’t even include the variation within the types, i.e., different brands and flavors.
With all of these different types of milk available, just about all of them can also be turned into ice cream. Yes, the ice cream aisles at grocery stores are also a sight to see. Shoppers could probably walk (at least) the length of a surfboard in front of both the milk and ice cream displays and still be looking at the different variations of the same thing.
We all love ice cream. Having a plethora of ice creams to choose from may sound like a dream, but having too many options can be overwhelming and merely burdensome. How are we supposed to know what to listen to? “Low fat,” “Reduced fat,” “Lactose-free,” “Dairy-free,” “Plant-based…” the list goes on and on.
It would take just about the entire new year to go through all of the ice creams available on the shelves and break them down for you. But, what we can do is a deep dive into all things lactose-free and lactose-free ice cream. Hopefully, this can help you sift through some of the options next time you’re at the store.
We All Love Ice Cream
Heck, we all scream for ice cream—everyone knows that.
Ice cream adored by all of America, and who could deny that? It’s almost impossible not to feel joy when we hear the musical chimes of an ice cream truck rolling down our street. Nothing beats spotting an ice cream bicycle as we stroll down a boardwalk on a hot summer day. And does anyone remember the excitement we felt as kids when a birthday party had an ice cream sundae station? Wow. Just, wow.
However, as we grow up from these oh so fond memories of ice cream, most of which are associated with childhood, reality sets in. Reality (unfortunately) entails being aware of the nutritional content of ice cream. Perhaps having ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner isn’t exactly the dream anymore.
People avoid or limit their intake of ice cream for different reasons—one of the most common reasons is lactose. People also avoid lactose for different reasons. That being said, there must still be ways for everyone to indulge in this creamy, sweet treat.
Is ice cream a guilty pleasure? What about lactose-free ice cream? Let’s get into it.
What Is Lactose?
Lactose is a type of sugar that occurs naturally in milk products.
Our bodies use an enzyme called lactase to break down the sugar (lactose) so that we can digest and absorb it. However, not all bodies produce enough lactase to be able to perform this function sufficiently. This is having lactose intolerance.
Bodies vary with how much lactase they produce. People who say that they have a “mild” intolerance likely have less lactase than normal, but enough to avoid having bothersome reactions.
For people without lactose intolerance, when the body ingests milk, our small intestine breaks down the sugar, and a normal digestion process occurs. For people with an intolerance, the lactose does not get broken down and is instead sent to the colon. When lactose reaches the colon, it mixes with other bacteria and begins to ferment. This triggers unpleasant symptoms such as gas, bloating, cramps, and diarrhea.
This sensitivity is more common than you may think; over one-third of Americans are lactose intolerant. Most people are born with sufficient lactase producing capabilities; however, between the ages of two and five, up to 40% of people stop producing enough lactase. The result is over 30 million Americans having some degree of intolerance by the age of 20.
But hey, fear not. Lactose intolerance isn’t the end of the world. Just about everything that has lactose is now also available in lactose-free variations. Most importantly, ice cream can be lactose-free.
Is Lactose-Free the Same as Dairy-Free?
Lactose-free is not the same as dairy-free.
Let us also point out that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines ice cream as containing “dairy ingredients.” With this in mind, unless the ice cream is labeled “non-dairy frozen dessert,” it will have at least some dairy in it.
Lactose-free products can be dairy-free, but most often are just cow milk products that have been engineered and altered. Lactose-free entails that in the manufacturing process, lactase has been added. By adding lactase during production, the lactose is already broken down before the product is even finalized.
Dairy-free products are products that do not come from animals, i.e., cow or other animal’s milk. For example, there can be regular cow milk that is lactose-free. Since lactose comes from animal milk, dairy-free products will not have lactose in them. Dairy-free = lactose-free, but lactose-free ≠ dairy-free.
Some brands (like Eclipse) are lactose-free but don’t come from animals, so they’re both lactose-free and dairy-free.
Lactose-free products are mostly for people who have lactose intolerance. When people specifically seek out dairy-free over lactose-free, other elements are likely considered, such as health and the environment. Choosing dairy-free (ice cream) may be the better choice, but we’ll talk about it a bit more and let you decide for yourself.
How Lactose-Free Ice Cream Compares
How should we be evaluating lactose-free ice cream? Let’s look at four main factors. For simplicity’s sake, we’re going to talk about lactose-free milk in general, seeing this is where all lactose-free ice cream comes from anyway.
Nutritionally, lactose-free milk is on par with regular milk. Lactose-free milk contains the same amount of protein, calcium, and vitamins A and D. Further, they are also commonly enriched with vitamin D, which plays an essential role in overall health and is only found in a handful of food sources.
Lactose-free milk is also high in micronutrients, such as vitamin B12, riboflavin, and phosphorus. All in all, nutritionally, these two types of milk are practically the same.
Regarding digestion, this comes down to individual sensitivities. Most but not all people are born with the ability to digest lactose. For those who have any degree of lactose-intolerance, lactose-free alternatives are a clear choice.
Having a lactose intolerance means that consuming regular (lactose-containing) dairy will likely cause physical discomfort. Symptoms such as gas, bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea are extremely unpleasant and entirely avoidable.
Surprisingly, there is a notable difference in taste between lactose-free and regular milk.
Lactase (the enzyme added to milk to break down the lactose) breaks lactose down into two simple sugars: glucose and galactose. Our taste buds find these simple sugars to be much sweeter than complex sugar, resulting in lactose-free milk tasting sweeter than regular milk.
The sweeter flavor does not affect the nutritional content of the milk; this is simply a difference in taste. While sweetness comes down to individual preference, the biggest take away may be to keep this difference in mind when using milk for cooking or baking purposes.
For people who are looking to avoid dairy, it’s better to look for dairy-free products and ignore lactose-free labels. This is because everything dairy-free is lactose-free, but not everything that is lactose-free is dairy-free, remember?
There are several reasons someone may prefer to avoid dairy altogether, such as a slew of potential health benefits, avoiding animal-cruelty, and reducing exposure to artificial hormones and chemicals. Choosing dairy-free (ice cream) is also more environmentally responsible; it requires less water, less land, and emits fewer greenhouse gases into our atmosphere.
Why not dairy? Not only do we not need it, but it can also be pretty harmful. Dairy triggers the negative symptoms of lactose intolerance, irritates the skin, is harsh on our digestive tract, and contributes to animal rights issues.
Lactose-Free Ice Cream Is Worth Screaming For
Imagine chocolate, with a hint of chocolate and a touch of a little more chocolate. Rich, creamy, and decadent. No compromise, just deliciousness. Eclipse chocolate ice-cream is lactose-free and indistinguishable from dairy.
Imagine vanilla that tastes just like vanilla. That’s it, that’s the whole point. Eclipse vanilla ice cream is lactose-free and so creamy, even the cows are jealous.
Calling all the cookie lovers of the world—how does cookie butter ice cream sound? Imagine a velvety river of vanilla sweetness filled with chunks of cookies so golden, you’ll feel like a miner. Eclipse cookie butter ice cream is the fan-favorite and one of the three staples in the signature must-have flavor collection.
Thanks to brands like Eclipse, lactose-free ice cream can be the best choice. With no sacrifice to taste, texture, or functionality, this ice cream is on par with premium indulgent dairy products. It won’t just meet your expectations—it will exceed them.