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Questions & Answers
from "On Ice Cream" featured in Dairy Foods magazine
and sourced from "On Ice Cream" technical short courses.


Low Carb Ice Cream:

Question: What are “low carb” foods?

Answer: “Low carb” dieting is popular for both weight loss and management of diabetes with terms such as “low net carbs” appearing on all types of packaged foods. “Net carbs” is the total amount of carbohydrate that negatively effects (i.e., increases) blood sugar and insulin.

Key to most low-carb diets is restriction of digestible carbohydrates (i.e., bad carbs.) Bad carbs increase blood sugar, raise insulin levels, increase deposition of fat and affect a variety of ailments from obesity to diabetes to coronary heart disease. As all this is not desirable, low “net carbs” are highly desirable with the understanding of the concept of glycemic index of importance.

Formulating Low Carb Ice Cream:

Question: How can I formulate low-carb ice cream?

Answer: Ice cream is an excellent platform for low-carb formulation. Some commercial no-sugar-added products may be inherently low-carb. However, no regulatory definition exists for low-carb foods, net carbs, or even good or bad carbohydrates. This creates difficulty.

Commercial targets for low-carb foods have been arbitrarily set at less than 5 g net carbs per serving. Be careful as this is a truly arbitrary target and is apt to change under competitive pressure and/or in light of evolving nutritional research. Net carbs are defined as total carbs minus good carbs. A product with low net carbs has an implied low or lower GI.

Conventional ice cream could have as many as 15g net carbs per serving. Conventional fat-free, no-sugar-added ice cream can have 7-8g net carbs per serving. In general, depending on ingredient selection, net carbs can vary dramatically. However, when trying to formulate a true low-net carb frozen dessert, it is highly recommended you consider basic no-sugar-added ice cream formulas, and then identify bad carbs that can be substituted out with good carbs to lower the net carbs per serving. You might find that with a slight adjustment in formula or overrun, no-sugar-added formulas can easily be modified to have less than 5g net carbs per serving.

Ice cream has the benefit of added air (overrun) to reduce serving size weight (within regulatory limits) and allows it to tolerate higher weight percentages of both digestible (bad carbs) and digestion-resistant carbohydrates (good carbs). Proper balance of sweeteners and bulking agents are necessary to insure manufacturing ease, distribution stability and sensory appeal.
Furthermore, it is important to understand the nutritional impact of each individual carbohydrate-containing ingredient in order to be able to identify it as either a good or bad carb. This can be difficult at times. The good news is that many low-carb diets allow consumption of higher amounts of fat and protein, which are easily accommodated in ice cream.

Not all digestion-resistant carbs affect blood sugar the same way. Thus, what constitutes a good carb can vary. Good carbs can include various water-soluble dietary fibers, hydrocolloids, polydextrose, sugar alcohols, hydrogenated starch hydrolysates, digestion resistant maltodextrins, resistant starches, various select oligosaccharides and glycerol.

It is also important to note that most nutritive sweeteners and bulking agents, whether good or bad carbs, still contribute calories to the finished food. So, even though an ice cream is low carb, it is probably not a low-calorie food (less than 40 calories per serving).
Furthermore, several good carbs may have restricted limits of use and may have undesirable effects on colon regularity. High-intensity sweeteners are used as only a few good carbs offer enough sweetness contribution of there own. Compatibility of sweetness with added flavorings is also of importance.

Finally, keep an eye on the regulatory environment as terms such as low carb or net carbs are not formal parts of nutrition labeling (and are liable not to be) and need to be clearly and precisely defined when making comparisons to a more conventional ice cream.


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