According to a New Study, Ice Cream May Be Better for You Than You Think

published Aug 18, 2022
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scoops of pistachio ice cream in a white bowl with another bowl of the same kind of ice cream behind it in the background
Credit: Photo: Eric Kleinberg; Food Stylist: Kristina Vanni

If you’ve ever thought you were making better food choices by having a multigrain bagel for breakfast and skipping ice cream as your evening dessert, science now says you’re wrong. A new study has found that an ice cream cone with nuts and chocolate ice cream is almost twice as healthy as a multigrain bagel with raisins.

The surprising find comes from researchers at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, who have created a Food Compass — a guide ranking food on a scale of 1 to 100, based on nutritional value. The ice cream cone scored a 37; the multigrain bagel, a 19. And that wasn’t the only surprising find. The study placed plain Fritos at a 55, while starchy vegetables received an average score of 43.2.

Still, as a category, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds were found to be the healthiest; and snacks and sweets — with an average score of 16.4 — came in even lower than sugar-sweetened sodas. As far as meat consumption, the Food Compass places seafood at the top of the list with a score of 67, compared to 42.67 for poultry and 24.9 for beef.

Did we really need another nutritional ranking system? Dariush Mozaffarian, dean for policy of the Friedman School and the study’s lead and corresponding author, says yes. “Once you get beyond ‘eat your veggies, avoid soda,’ the public is pretty confused about how to identify healthier choices in the grocery store, cafeteria, and restaurant,” he explains. “Consumers, policy makers, and even industry are looking for simple tools to guide everyone toward healthier choices.”

The Food Compass system was developed by comparing national data about 8,032 foods and beverages commonly purchased in the U.S. Each food was graded based on 54 characteristics linked to chronic illnesses like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular problems, and cancer. The scientists behind this study also developed it to allow room for adjustments based on any future findings in the areas of gastrointestinal health, immune function, brain health, bone health, and physical and mental performance.

While it does not offer a way to calculate a score for any food or food combination that was not included in the study, the full results of the study — and additional information on the research behind it — can be found on the Food Compass website. There’s even a score card that breaks down the recommendations of the Friedman School’s researchers into categories, including ceviche, a grilled cheese sandwich, and moo goo gai pan.