by Marion Nestle
Apr 8 2009

Great news: probiotic ice cream!

Now here’s news we’ve all been waiting for: Brazilian food scientists have invented probiotic ice cream.  Probiotics, as you no doubt have heard, are bacteria like the ones that ferment milk into yogurt.  These are supposed to do great things for your health.  As I discuss in What to Eat, there is some – but not terribly compelling – evidence to back up this claim.

This product apparently looks and tastes like ice cream, but supposedly replaces nasty bacteria in your intestines with friendlier types.    But wait!  I thought freezing killed off most of those friendly bacteria.  Frozen yogurt has less fat than ice cream, but it also has way fewer bacteria than regular yogurt.

If this stuff ever gets onto the market, I’ll bet its makers advertise the number of bacteria they put into the ice cream, but don’t say a word about how few survived freezing and storage.

Functional foods (those designed to have some nutritional benefit beyond the nutrients in the food) are about marketing, not health.   They are supposed to make you feel good while eating lots of ice cream.

I don’t need probiotics to feel good about eating ice cream.  Especially ginger ice cream.  Or peach.

Added comment, April 9: Does freezing kill probiotic bacteria?  Yes it does, although “most” is an exaggeration.  As I discuss is What to Eat, the National Yogurt Association standards for regular yogurt require 100 million live bacteria per gram; its standard for frozen yogurt is 10 million bacteria per gram – a ten-fold decrease.   In bacterial terms, both are small numbers.  In any case, these bacteria may be good for you (and I emphasize the uncertainty), but watch out for the calories!

  • Love the blog.

    I’m getting my undergrad in Food Science at Brigham Young University. If I understand correctly, freezing doesn’t actually kill many bacteria. The formation of ice crystals may lyse some cells. And freezing locks up water so the microbes can’t use it, and slows metabolism. But once reheated, the majority of bacteria would survive and be good to go.

    I naturally mistrust all “healthy” foods that are processed and wrapped in a box. But this might be an honest gimmick.

  • Jon

    What’s next. But I mistrust all health claims. I never even believed in “no cholesterol” margarine.

  • Carolyn

    For Mr. West: What happens if you never reheat the food? I personally prefer to eat my ice cream while it’s still frozen, so I wonder whether the bacteria would ever regain their probiotic activity.

  • Oh, marketing. Sigh. Next there will be probiotic cigarettes. ‘Cause THAT will make them healthy.

  • Brad

    I would be grateful if you could substantiate the “freezing, killing the bacteria theory.”

    I love to freeze my yogurts, and have read on numerous sites on the web that counts are not impacted, or minimally.

    What gives?

    Either way, I am not running to get my buggies through ice cream. I will take the churrascaria, hold the franken-vanilla.


  • Cathy Richards

    Carolyn — the frozen yogurt will definitely reheat as soon as it goes into your mouth. Yum!

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