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Studies Find That Ice Cream Has Health Benefits

There is nothing so refreshing as some cold ice cream on a hot summer day. But rather than viewing it as a guilty pleasure, research actually finds that it has health benefits!

Studies find that ice cream eaters have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This is the same level of protection as eating yogurt.

What? Yup, studies found this health benefit, but it doesn't fit the prevailing dietary view of ice cream being an unhealthy food that should be avoided. So... the  researchers of the studies didn't discuss the findings, and instead the results were hidden away. In other words, a case of bias.

By the way, cheese has had the same kind of bias against it for years (all that fat!), but finally the research finding health benefits is being discussed in the media (Consumer Reports).

Excerpts from The Atlantic: NUTRITION SCIENCE’S MOST PREPOSTEROUS RESULT Studies show a mysterious health benefit to ice cream. Scientists don’t want to talk about it.

Back in 2018, a Harvard doctoral student named Andres Ardisson Korat was presenting his research on the relationship between dairy foods and chronic disease to his thesis committee. One of his studies had led him to an unusual conclusion: Among diabetics, eating half a cup of ice cream a day was associated with a lower risk of heart problems. Needless to say, the idea that a dessert loaded with saturated fat and sugar might actually be good for you raised some eyebrows at the nation’s most influential department of nutrition.

Earlier, the department chair, Frank Hu, had instructed Ardisson Korat to do some further digging: Could his research have been led astray by an artifact of chance, or a hidden source of bias, or a computational error? As Ardisson Korat spelled out on the day of his defense, his debunking efforts had been largely futile. The ice-cream signal was robust.

... I wanted to know what happens when consensus makers are confronted with a finding that seems to contradict everything they’ve ever said before. (Harvard’s Nutrition Source website calls ice cream an “indulgent” dairy food that is considered an “every-so-often” treat.)

“There are few plausible biological explanations for these results,” Ardisson Korat wrote in the brief discussion of his “unexpected” finding in his thesis. Something else grabbed my attention, though: The dissertation explained that he’d hardly been the first to observe the shimmer of a health halo around ice cream. Several prior studies, he suggested, had come across a similar effect. Eager to learn more, I reached out to Ardisson Korat for an interview—I emailed him four times—but never heard back. When I contacted Tufts University, where he now works as a scientist, a press aide told me he was “not available for this.” Inevitably, my curiosity took on a different shade: Why wouldn’t a young scientist want to talk with me about his research? Just how much deeper could this bizarre ice-cream thing go?

“I still to this day don’t have an answer for it,” Mark A. Pereira, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, told me, speaking of the association he’d stumbled upon more than 20 years earlier. “We analyzed the hell out of the data.”

Just that morning, I’d been reading one of Pereira’s early papers, on the health effects of eating dairy, because it seemed to have inspired other research that was cited in Ardisson Korat’s dissertation. But when I scrolled to the bottom of Pereira’s article, down past the headline-making conclusions, I saw in Table 5 a set of numbers that made me gasp.

Back then, Pereira was a young assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. Hoping to address the newly labeled epidemics of obesity and diabetes, he initially focused his research on physical activity, but soon turned to the unsettled science of healthy eating. The status of dairy, in particular, was bogged down in simplistic and competing assumptions. “We just thought, Oh, you know, calcium and bones: It’s good for kids. But, oh, the saturated fat! Don’t eat too much dairy! 

Pereira and his co-authors tested these old ideas using data from a study, begun in 1985, that tracked the emergence of heart-disease risk factors in more than 5,000 young adults. After seeing the results, “we knew it was going to be very high-profile and controversial,” Pereira recalled. Pretty much across the board—low-fat, high-fat, milk, cheese—dairy foods appeared to help prevent overweight people from developing insulin-resistance syndrome, a precursor to diabetes. “I’ll tell you, this study surprised the heck out of me,” said one CNN correspondent, as Pereira’s study spiraled through the press.

But the international media coverage didn’t mention what I’d seen in Table 5. According to the numbers, tucking into a “dairy-based dessert”—a category that included foods such as pudding but consisted, according to Pereira, mainly of ice cream—was associated for overweight people with dramatically reduced odds of developing insulin-resistance syndrome. It was by far the biggest effect seen in the study, 2.5 times the size of what they’d found for milk. “It was pretty astounding,” Pereira told me. “We thought a lot about it, because we thought, Could this actually be the case? "

...In 2014, Harvard’s nutrition team brought another dozen years of diet-tracking data to bear on this question. In this new study, total dairy consumption now seemed to have no effect, but the ice-cream signal was impossible to miss. Visible across hundreds of thousands of subjects, it all but screamed for more attention.

Following a pattern of incredulousness that was by then more than a decade old, Frank Hu, the study’s senior author and the future chair of Harvard’s nutrition department, asked the graduate student who’d led the project, Mu Chen, to double-check the data. “We were very skeptical,” Hu told me. Chen, who is no longer in academia, did not respond to interview requests, but Hu recalled that no errors in the data could be found.

The Harvard researchers didn’t like the ice-cream finding: It seemed wrong. But the same paper had given them another result that they liked much better. The team was going all in on yogurt. With a growing reputation as a boon for microbiomes, yogurt was the anti-ice-cream—the healthy person’s dairy treat.

“Higher intake of yogurt is associated with a reduced risk” of type 2 diabetes, “whereas other dairy foods and consumption of total dairy are not,” the 2014 paper said. “The conclusions weren’t exactly accurately written,” acknowledged Dariush Mozaffarian, the dean of policy at Tufts’s nutrition school and a co-author of the paper, when he revisited the data with me in an interview. “Saying no foods were associated—ice cream was associated.

Regarding ice cream’s potential benefits, they had much less to say. I asked other experts to compare the 2014 yogurt and ice-cream findings. Kevin Klatt, a nutrition scientist at UC Berkeley, said the ice-cream effect was “more consistent” than yogurt’s across the studied cohorts. Deirdre Tobias, an epidemiologist at Harvard, the academic editor of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and a member of the advisory committee for the 2025 update to the U.S. dietary guidelines, agreed with that assessment. Even Dagfinn Aune, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London and a peer reviewer of the Chen and Hu paper, said that the ice-cream effect was “similar” in magnitude to, or “slightly stronger” than, the one for yogurt.

There’s a thing that happens when you start writing a story about how maybe, possibly, believe it or not, ice cream might be sort of good for you, and how some of the world’s top nutritionists gathered evidence supporting that hypothesis but found reasons to look past it. You begin to ask yourself: Am I high on my own ice-cream supply? I asked the experts for a gut check. Pereira, the first to hit upon the ice-cream effect, told me that it just wasn’t the kind of result that goes down well in the “closed-minded” world of elite nutrition. “They don’t want to see it. They might ponder it for a second and kind of chuckle and not believe it,” he said. “I think that’s related to how much the field of nutritional epidemiology in the modern era is steeped in dogma.” Tobias, the journal editor and member of the 2025 U.S. dietary-guidelines advisory committee, called it “totally fair criticism” to ask why yogurt was played up while ice cream was played down.

Could the idea that ice cream is metabolically protective be true? It would be pretty bonkers. Still, there are at least a few points in its favor. For one, ice cream’s glycemic index, a measure of how rapidly a food boosts blood sugar, is lower than that of brown rice. “There’s this perception that ice cream is unhealthy, but it’s got fat, it’s got protein, it’s got vitamins. It’s better for you than bread,” Mozaffarian said.

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