Ice cream can definitely be part of your diet if you have diabetes. Here are some things to consider.

Ice cream is a delicious treat that many people like to enjoy after a meal, but if you have diabetes, you may wonder if you should avoid it. People with diabetes are advised to limit sweets like ice cream to help keep blood sugar levels in a healthy range. But cutting out all sweets usually isn't feasible.

Diabetes is a very common condition in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 37 million people live with diabetes, and nearly 100 million Americans have prediabetes. While people with diabetes need to watch their sugar and carbohydrate intake, there is still a safe and healthy way to enjoy ice cream.

Pictured Recipe: Pink Lemonade Nice Cream

pink lemonade nice cream

How Ice Cream May Affect Your Blood Sugar Levels

Eating carbohydrate-rich foods, like ice cream, can be challenging for people with diabetes because these foods can cause blood sugar spikes. Carbs are broken down into glucose, or sugar, in your body, and normally the hormone insulin keeps blood sugar levels healthy.

People with type 2 diabetes become "resistant" to their insulin's effects. Over time, high blood sugar can cause damage to the body. According to the CDC, diabetes-related complications include heart disease, nerve damage, kidney disease and vision problems.

Can You Eat Ice Cream If You Have Diabetes?

Eating too many simple carbs and too much added sugar isn't healthy for anyone. And it's especially important for people with diabetes to focus on eating complex carbohydrates that include higher levels of fiber, vitamins and minerals. While foods with simple added sugars, like ice cream, can still be enjoyed occasionally, choosing them thoughtfully can help with blood sugar management.

Ice cream can be part of an overall healthy meal plan for people with diabetes, though a few considerations should be made. Josten Fish, RD, a registered dietitian who has worked with patients with diabetes complications, says, "Ice cream can certainly be included in a healthy diet, including for someone with diabetes, by practicing good portion control and making smart choices on the type of ice cream you consume."

Choosing the Best Ice Cream for Diabetes

If you have diabetes, there are a few things to keep in mind when choosing ice cream. People with diabetes are twice as likely to have a stroke or develop heart disease than those without diabetes, per the CDC. Making healthy lifestyle changes, including eating in ways that help you maintain stable blood sugar levels, can help. Here's what to consider:

What to Look For

Choose an ice cream lower in added sugar and carbs, since these impact blood sugar. Some brands sweeten their products with nonnutritive sweeteners, like erythritol, monk fruit or stevia. While these alternative sweeteners won't raise your blood sugar levels like regular sugar does, they can cause digestive issues in some people—so keep that in mind. Another good idea is to choose ice cream with additions like nuts, which are rich in protein, fiber and healthy fats, all of which can slow down the absorption time and reduce blood sugar spikes.

Our diabetes-appropriate nutrition parameters for desserts recommend sticking to a serving size with under 225 calories and no more than 2 grams of saturated fat, 360 milligrams of sodium and 30 grams of carbohydrates. However, since ice cream is higher in saturated fat, you can look for one with 3 grams or less per serving.

What to Limit

Limit ice cream flavors with extra sources of added sugar, such as caramel and marshmallows. But if salted caramel is one of your favorite flavors, stick to a small size.

Tips to Include Ice Cream in a Healthy Diabetes-Appropriate Diet

If you've been diagnosed with diabetes, you need to focus on lower-carb and low-added-sugar foods, but that doesn't mean you have to give up ice cream. Here are some dietitian-approved tips for including ice cream in a diabetes-appropriate diet:

  • Pair your ice cream with protein: Though ice cream contains some protein, increasing its protein content slows down your digestion and sugar absorption. "It would be best for someone with diabetes to consume ice cream along with a good source of protein," says Fish. "Whether this is part of a meal or a high-protein snack, the blood sugar levels will be more stabilized if the ice cream is eaten along with other foods that contain protein and fiber, rather than simply eating the ice cream on its own." Nuts and seeds are your best choice.
  • Enjoy a single serving: Scoop a portion of ice cream, usually ½ cup, into a small bowl instead of trying to make yourself stop partway through the pint.
  • Watch other carbs: Eat fewer carbs at dinnertime if you're going to enjoy ice cream afterward. Fish says, "When eating it as part of a meal, be sure to factor in the carbohydrate content of the ice cream to keep your total meal count at your recommended level."
  • Make your own ice cream: If you're into cooking and baking, Fish recommends making a low-sugar ice cream at home where you can control the added sugar or sweetener source.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How much ice cream can you eat if you have diabetes?

Sticking to a ½-cup portion size and eating it soon after a meal is a smart way of including ice cream in your diet.

2. What kind of ice cream is best for diabetes?

Look for ice cream with fewer calories, less saturated fat and carbs, and no or low added sugars.

3. Can you eat an ice cream sandwich if you have diabetes?

Having an occasional ice cream sandwich is OK if you have diabetes. However, check the nutrition labels to make sure you choose a healthier option.

The Bottom Line

While there are some extra things to consider, ice cream can be included in a healthy meal pattern even if you have diabetes. It's best to eat ice cream in moderation and to choose an option with lower saturated fat, lower carbs and no or low added sugar.

It's important to remember that a healthy eating pattern is also an enjoyable eating pattern. Fish says, "Cutting out all desserts (including ice cream) could lead to actually craving more desserts and possibly bingeing." If you love ice cream, it's OK to enjoy a bowl every now and then. Eat a diet that is good for diabetes and follow other recommendations from your doctor, like getting enough exercise and sleep.