What considerations are necessary when formulating “better-for-you” frozen desserts? In many respects, the answers are much the same as for formulating standard ice creams verses general dietary guidelines. These include formulations we already know, such as ice cream modified relative to fat (including reduced, low and fat-free; low/no cholesterol; and low/no trans-fat), carbohydrate (lactose-free, no sugar added, sugar-free, low carbohydrate and low glycemic index) and other nutrition-related hot topics (reduced calories, antioxidants, omega-3 oils, flavoring with “superfruits,” vitamin/mineral supplementation, probiotic-friendly dietary fibers, probiotics and others).

Add to these, classic sherbet, water ice, sorbet and hybrid frozen desserts (for example, frozen yogurt and frozen cultured buttermilk), soft serve and other handheld formats (novelties). As with other foods, portion control can play a key role in fitting into any diet plan. Variety can be both good and bad. In doing good, what do you do?

It is only possible here to cover a few general aspects of what needs to be taken into account when formulating healthy eating ice creams in the context of an overall wellness eating plan or diet.

When formulating “better-for-you” ice cream, key considerations are what you wish to accomplish and what you want to promote about the finished food. These are determined by balancing marketing and other business-related objectives with regulatory limitations and allowances. That is, when considering a specific “better-for-you” claim, it is always good to consider (in addition to the health-related objectives) the practicality of achieving the necessary finished product weight per serving and to be aware of any compositional impact associated with achieving the targeted healthful properties, including their influence on flavor and structure. 

Working backward from a target finished weight per serving can help fix levels of certain compositional factors such as total fat, total saturated fat, total sugars, total carbohydrates, calories, etc. Further, if nutritionally efficacious ingredients (that is, “nutraceuticals”) are to be added, their use rates need to be worked into the basic ice cream mix and be at a level compatible with the predominance of scientific peer-reviewed literature for that specific nutrient or ingredient and the physical performance needs of the mix.

Nutrient content targets are critical when considering nutrient content claims. Such claims are based on specific nutrients provided in specific amounts by specific serving sizes. In most instances, nutrient content claims can directly affect the nature of the mix composition to be used. 

They are also critical when health claims are involved. True health claims are claims that associate the intake of a nutrient (or nutrients) with the mitigation of one or more disease conditions. These claims are highly regulated and only allowed when approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Specific wording of such claims are also regulated. Qualified health claims may be allowed but, again, only as pre-approved. Sufficient scientific evidence must be available that supports the claim, and package terminology must be pre-approved by the FDA. Many times, health claims require one or more nutrient content claims or targets and general dietary restrictions in order to apply the claim.

Be cautious in making health claims

Structure/function claims are nutrition claims associated with some facet of healthfulness. Specific diseases affected may not be referenced and specific nutrient contents required can vary, depending on amount and type of supporting clinical research. Typically, the utility of such claims is up to the manufacturer and the manufacturer’s ability to justify the sound scientific basis of the claim. Approval of FDA is not necessary, but the scientific validity and truthfulness of the structure/function claim must be defensible. Sometimes these type claims fall into the “truth in advertising” type regulatory environment. Thus, structure/function claims are less restrictive than other health claims. As always, it is advisable to seek the council of an appropriate scientific and regulatory authority when considering product claims of any type.

Ingredients and nutrition targets

Other factors also need to be taken into account. Flavors and flavorings can add significant amounts of total fat and sugars. The addition of particulate and variegated inclusions can make or break any nutrient-content target and, thus, any claim being sought. Economics becomes important as any given “better-for-you” ice cream may or may not meet financial objectives of the business. Direct or indirect claims, such as “natural” (for which no formal definition exists in the United States) or “organic” (which is defined via the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program), can also effect what can or cannot be done and can or cannot be claimed.

How all this fits in to general dietary needs, consumer demands for wellness foods with sensory appeal and the very essence of business remains an evolving art, but certainly an art worth pursuing.  n

For more on radically innovative frozen desserts, including “better-for-you” products, attend the “Tharp & Young On Ice Cream: Technical Short Course, Clinics and Workshops,” Nov. 30-Dec. 2 in Las Vegas. Register at  www.onicecream.com or call 610-975-4424 or 281-596-9603.

Bruce Tharp and Steven Young wrote “Tharp & Young On Ice Cream: An Encyclopedic Guide to Ice Cream Science & Technology,” available this fall from DesTech Publications, www.destechpub.com.