Sweet, creamy, and cold – ice cream is a uniquely satisfying dessert. Some people might even call it perfect.
Yet, that has not stopped food manufacturers from adulterating the original version.
In at attempt to adapt to American diet trends, low-fat and light ice cream varieties plague grocery store shelves.
They claim to offer the same flavour and satisfaction with fewer calories and less fat.
However, it is tough to say whether these treats are any better for you than the original. In fact, experts believe the opposite may be true, and several studies back them up.
'Low-fat' products don’t lead to weight loss
In the 1990s, a spate of scientific studies began to paint “fat” as the enemy when it came to weight gain.
Intuitively, that argument made sense – eat fat, get fat. But the research was far from definitive.
It turns out that many of the initial studies suggesting that eating fat would make us fat were funded, at least in part, by institutions and people with ties to the sugar industry.
Since then, a series of new studies have revealed that instead of causing us to pack on the pounds, dietary fats from sources such as olive oil and avocados may actually be a healthy part of our diet.
The problem with low-fat products is simple.
To make up for the loss of flavour that comes with removing the cream or richness in a product, food manufacturers tend to add sugar.
The result is a product that may have fewer calories and less fat, but has more sugar instead.
While high-fat diets have not been implicated in weight gain, high-sugar diets have.
A review of 50 studies on diet and weight gain published in the journal Food and Nutrition Research found that the more refined carbohydrates (such as sugar) that someone ate, the more weight they tended to gain.
Similarly, the researchers behind a large review of 68 studies published in the British Medical Journal found that the more sugar someone consumed, the more they weighed.
In other words, the amount of sugar in a participant's diet could be used to roughly predict their weight.
That link becomes clearer when we look at the way our bodies process simple carbohydrates and sugar.
Eat sugar, crave more
When we eat carbs or sugar, the digestion process involves the pancreas. That small, sweet-potato-shaped organ pumps out insulin, a hormone that mops up some of the sugar floating around in our blood stream.
Yet, when we consume large quantities of either ingredient, the pancreas goes into overdrive and pumps out so much insulin that we wind up craving more carbs or sugar.
Edward Damiano, a diabetes researcher and professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University, calls this “the insulin effect”.
You eat sugar, then you crave more.
This could happen easily when consuming a low-fat ice cream that is devoid of other filling nutrients such as protein and fibre.
When you eat foods that are high in sugar or highly processed, your body and brain have trouble telling you that you have had enough.
Instead of getting cues that your stomach is full, these foods can send signals to tell the brain to continue eating, even when you have had too much.
While sugar does not fill us up, the body responds to ingredients such as fat, protein, and fibre by eventually signalling to the brain that we have had enough.
In addition to making our stomachs feel fuller, those components also help keep our blood sugar levels steady, which makes it easier to maintain energy levels and stop cravings before they start.
This is why foods such doughnuts and cereal often only fill us up for a few hours and leave us hungry soon after.
They are all low in the ingredients that keep us satiated – fat and protein – and high in the ones that make us hungrier – sugar and carbs.
Low-fat ice cream tends to function in the same way.
That said, some newer “light” ice cream brands appear to have recognised the problem.
Halo Top, for example, tends to contain hefty amounts of fibre and protein, making it a bit more filling and less likely to induce craving than other light ice creams.
The best way to evaluate your ice cream choice is to check the nutrition label.
If your sweet treat is low in protein, fat, and fibre, but very high in sugar and carbs, it may be time to find a new dessert.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider.