Dairy products including ice cream have been linked to early death from heart disease and cancer, among other health problems. So this July—National Ice Cream Month—ditch the disease-causing dairy, and try these vegan recipes for ice cream, sorbet, popsicles, and smoothies.
About 6.4 billion pounds of ice cream and frozen yogurt were produced in the United States in 2019, and the average American consumes more than 22 pounds of ice cream and related frozen desserts per year, according to the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), which promotes dangerous dairy products.
In 2019, IDFA served more than 1,500 gallons of ice cream at its annual Capitol Hill Ice Cream Party for members of Congress—some of whom might be co-sponsors of the DAIRY PRIDE Act, which aims to get Americans to consume more dairy products by banning plant-based products from being labeled with terms like ice cream.
That’s bad news for heart health. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend foods with little or no saturated fat and say that one of the main sources of saturated fat in the U.S. diet is desserts and sweet snacks, noting that saturated fat is commonly found in higher amounts in full-fat dairy products like ice cream.
In fact, a single high-fat milkshake made with ice cream can actually trigger bodily responses that may lead to heart disease, according to a study published in Laboratory Investigation. Researchers compared blood labs and blood cells in 10 healthy men before and after each consumed one high-fat milkshake. The milkshake significantly increased total cholesterol, triglycerides, and fatty acid levels four hours after consumption.
Adults who consume the most dairy, including ice cream, compared with the least, are also at the highest risk for early death, including from heart disease, according to a study published in the BMJ. Among 217,755 participants from three large studies, those who consumed the most dairy products had the highest risk for total mortality, cardiovascular mortality, and cancer mortality.
Ice cream and other high-fat dairy products have been specifically linked to breast cancer mortality. The Life After Cancer Epidemiology study found that, among women previously diagnosed with breast cancer, those consuming one or more servings of high-fat dairy products (e.g., ice cream, cheese, whole milk) daily had a 49% higher breast cancer mortality, compared with those consuming less than one-half serving daily.
But replacing dairy products with plant-based foods can help improve heart health and fight cancer.
Researchers followed 222,234 participants from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study and the Nurses’ Health Study I and II and monitored dietary fat intake and cardiovascular disease incidence rates. The results showed that replacing 5% of dairy fat with an equal amount of vegetable and polyunsaturated fats decreased heart disease risk by 10% and 24%, respectively. Of course, opting for low-fat or fat-free plant-based options is even better.
People following vegan diets are also less likely to develop cancer, compared with other dietary groups, according to a study funded by the NIH/National Cancer Institute. Researchers analyzed the diets of those following vegan, lacto-ovo-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian, and non-vegetarian eating patterns and tracked several health biomarkers. Based on those biomarkers, the vegan group had the lowest risk for cancer, heart disease, and hypertension, compared with the other groups.