Diabetes and Ice Cream: Yes, We Can!

 We're in the hottest time of summer now, when many of us have nice cold ice cream on the mind. July also happens to be National Ice Cream Month AND the third Sunday of each month marks National Ice Cream Day, so what a totally perfect time to revisit the topic of ice cream and diabetes -- and the universal questions it brings. 

Can People with Diabetes Eat Ice Cream?

The other day, after a casual dinner at home, my wife and I went out for ice cream.

We'd opted to leave the air-conditioned safety of our home on this 90+ degree day, to head for an ice cream parlor that's just a short stroll from our house.

As we stood there pondering the particular ice cream creations that sounded best, I glanced at my Dexcom CGM to see where my blood sugar happened to be and what that would mean for my carb counting and insulin dosing. Seeing a 97 mg/dL on my receiver, I smiled and rattled off the number to my wife who had already moved toward the counter to tell the clerk her decision. I rarely deviate from choosing either a plain scoop of vanilla, or an 'unfancy' single-scoop hot fudge sundae.

But in this moment, I decided to go with a single scoop of rocky road, full of chocolatey goodness and riddled with marshmallows and nuts. I was treating myself, after all.

A woman nearby had apparently overheard the first part of our conversation and realized I was talking about diabetes. She shot me a look before saying, "You can't eat that!"

Without more than a second's hesitation, I shot back a quick, decisive response: "Yes, I can!"

That started a back and forth that I would have preferred to avoid, about how this woman was nosing in on a private matter that didn't concern her -- one that she also had no personal insight into and no context as to who I was or how I was managing my diabetes and this particular food choice.

It wasn't any of her business in the first place of course, but still she insisted that she knows a lot about diabetes and what PWDs can or cannot eat, since she has family members who happen to live with it.


We in the Diabetes Community know this type of person well. They're referred to as the Diabetes Police, who think they know best and can't resist interjecting themselves into the middle of our D-decision-making no matter what the situation.

Of course, sweeter treats like ice cream are prime targets for the D-Police.

So, can we? Is ice cream taboo, or is it OK for the pancreatically-challenged to enjoy?

This is an age-old question and the debate gets even more heated (!) during these warmer summer months. We've covered this issue at the 'Mine before, as have others in the DOC:

Of course, there was the big Diabetes and Ice Cream Debate of 2011, and the whole brouhaha happened in my neck of the woods. Our DOC blogging friend Kelly Kunik over at Diabetesaliciousness was one of the first to raise the alarm.

The issue then was a newspaper columnist in Central Indiana who hammered a local diabetes organization that runs a camp for kids with type 1. This self-described health nut and TV chef criticized the Diabetes Youth Foundation of Indiana for holding a summertime ice cream social to raise money for kids to attend camp. As a result, the DOC took to arms to school him and point out that really, he didn't know what he was talking about.

That led to a virtual Diabetic Ice Cream Social on Facebook created by type 2 advocate Lizmari Collazo, which began in Summer 2011 and continued for a few years. Her focus: showing the D-Community and general public that PWDs CAN eat ice cream if we want.

"We can still enjoy every day things, in moderation... and it's a choice we make, versus a rule to break," she said. "I really want to help build awareness in people's minds — even some scared diabetics' minds — that we are not under dietary lock and key, all the time."

That online social continued for four years before fading away. Yet, even though the ice cream awareness and advocacy have melted away to some extent, it never truly disappears -- as witnessed by the woman in my neighborhood critizing me for ordering a scoop.

What people like her need to understand is that food choices are important, whether you have diabetes or not. Everyone has to make individual choices and manage them well.

I made the decision that day to enjoy rocky road, knowing I had my super-fast Afrezza inhaled insulin on hand so I could savor this treat without seeing much of a spike in blood sugars. That's a double treat right there!

Best Kind of Ice Cream for Diabetes?

OK, so is there a best kind of ice cream for diabetics? What about those heavily-marketed "no sugar added" varieties?

Personally, as a type 1, I find it best to look at the carb count and nutritional information on any ice cream -- whether it's labeled "diabetic friendly" or not -- and manage my dosing accordingly.

Many of us find that sugar-free ice creams upset our stomachs thanks to the sugar alcohols and sucralose. Plus, we know all too well that "sugar free" doesn't mean "carb free" -- you're still ingesting milk and other carbs that raise blood sugar. In most cases, eating a moderate portion of real ice cream is a better way to go.

Bottom line for those of us with any type of diabetes (type 1, type 2 or gestational diabetes):  

Of course, we can eat ice cream. Just like we can eat bread, macaroni and cheese, or watermelon. Whether we choose to, and how we manage to keep tabs on our blood sugar levels, is a personal approach that varies for everyone.

But rest assured that enjoying a single scoop of ice cream on a hot summer evening isn't going to hurt me. And it's not a crime against society. It might be a different story if it were a nightly occurrence, if I were downing an entire tub, or even if I were indulging in this kind of treat with already-sky-high blood sugars.

What I'm trying to say is that having diabetes doesn't mean treats are always off-limits, as long as we're mindful of what effect it has on our bodies.

Am I right, rocky road fans?


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