What’s in your ice-cream?


I am a whole-foodie. I think that is the best way to describe me. I eat foods in their whole-form. I skip anything artificial, anything I can’t pronounce, anything my grandmother wouldn’t recognise, I don’t eat packaged foods, just real food, and my body loves me for it.

When others observe my eating habits (or they take a look in my fridge or pantry), many are left either concerned, curious or down-right confused. “But what about chocolate?” they ask. “I could never be like you, I just couldn’t give up (insert favourite food here)”. I have heard it all a million times and I can’t help but smile every time it comes about. What many people don’t realise is that whole-foodies can still enjoy tasty treats, but instead of popping down to the supermarket to grab them off the shelf, they will opt to make their own. To a lot of people, this seems all to hard, and if this sounds like you, I am more than certain I have lost you in a world of negativity: “I don’t have time”, “I can’t be bothered”, “I don’t have a Thermomix”… just take a breather. After I explain the ins and outs of what you are actually consuming, just like all those before you, you will stare back at me blankly…. before you start demanding recipes 😉

Ice-cream is one of those items people struggle to part with. It is also one of those foods where if I asked you to list the ingredients of your favourite tub, you wouldn’t even be able to guess anymore.

According to Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions Cookbook (get yourself a copy, if you haven’t already – link is in the column to the right). Traditional vanilla ice-cream contains 5 ingredients (6 if you want to change the flavour: strawberry, ginger, cacao, coconut). These are as follows:

  1. 3 egg yolks
  2. ½ cup maple syrup
  3. 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
  4. 1 tablespoon of arrowroot
  5. 3 cups of heavy cream, preferably raw, not ultrapasteurised

Compare this to your commercial varieties and you will be left shocked. To illustrate this point, I spent a good 15 minutes lurking in the freezer aisle of a supermarket, snapping pictures of various ice-cream tub ingredient lists. Once you get past the “Low-fat”, “No added X” claims, you will be surprised about what is lurking in the dark. There are a whole host of reasons to avoid these bad boys, and they are all found in the ingredients list.


XXX is a standard tub of ice-cream that has the same list of ingredients for all flavoured varieties… go figure? These are as follows:

Water, Cream (15%), Sugar, Milk Solids, Glucose Syrup (Wheat), Maltodextrin, Cocao, Vegetable Origin Emulsifiers (477,471, Soy), Flavours, Vegetable Gum (412), Colours (160b, 150d).

First things first, why is water the main ingredient in ice-cream?

The name ice-cream would suggest that the product consist of mainly cream am I right? According to this packaging, only 15% of the final product is made up of cream. This leads me to my next question, what else is there?

  • Glucose Syrup – a fancy name for High Fructose Corn Syrup or Sugar syrup derived from the hydrolysis of wheat, corn or maize. It is a highly processed syrup that has undergone enzymatic processing to convert some of its glucose into fructose, producing a sweeter compound that contains higher levels of fructose. High fructose corn syrup has been linked to diabetes, obesity heart disease and cancer 
  • Maltodextrin – also known as polysaccharide or artificial sugar. The consumption of maltodextrin has similar side effects and health risks as most food additives. These side effects include allergic reactions, unexplained weight gain, bloating and flatulence. Specific allergic reactions associated with the use of maltodextrin include rash, asthma, itching and difficulty breathing.
  • Emulsifier 477, otherwise known as propane-1 or 2-diol esters of fatty acids. Can be derived from petroleum.
  • Emulsifier 471, otherwise known as Glyceryl monostearate or glyceryl distearate. 471 is a  synthetic fat created in a laboratory.  
  • Emulsifier Soy: Soy lecithin is a common additive used in foods. It serves as an emulsifying agent, keeping ingredients from separating. Outside of food production, it is also used in animal feed, it serves as a cheap source of protein. It is used in the pharmaceutical industry to create medications. Lecithin can also be used in the manufacturing of paints, plastics, and other household items.
  • Flavours: According to FSANZ (Food Standards Australia and New Zealand), flavourings can be declared simply by the generic terms, flavour or flavouring, as there are thousands of individual flavouring substances, many of which have complex chemical names that the consumer won’t understand. According to the FSANZ this could be listed as:

Natural flavouring substances (CAC/GL 66-2008 item are flavouring substances obtained by physical processes that may result in unavoidable but unintentional changes in the chemical structure of the components of the flavouring (e.g. distillation and solvent extraction), or by enzymatic or microbiological processes, from material of plant or animal origin.


Synthetic flavouring substances (CAC/GL 66-2008 item are flavouring substances formed by chemical synthesis.

  • Vegetable Gum – 412 otherwise known as Guar Gum is fed to cattle in the US; can cause nausea, flatulence and cramps.
  • Colour 160b – Annatto, bixin or norbixin used to dye cheese, cereals, snack foods, soaps, textiles and varnishes; known to cause urticaria (nettle rash) and flare-ups of oedema. It is implicated in asthma (containing salicylic acid) and hyperactivity.
  • Colour 150d – Sulphite ammonia caramel. Dark brown colour made from sucrose in the presence of ammonia, ammonium sulphate, sulphur dioxide or sodium hydroxide. Some caramels may damage genes, slow down growth, cause enlargement of the intestines and kidneys and may destroy vitamin B.

And that’s just one tub of plain old ice-cream! I haven’t even delved into the world of the fancy flavored stuff but have included some more examples in the images below. Apologies for the quality – I felt pressure from prying eyes!

Some other common ice-cream additives to be aware of:

  • 471 – Ascorbic acid
  • 410 – Derived from Carob or Locust bean tree Ceratonia siliqua. As a thickener, vegetable gum, artificial sweetener base, modifying agent or stabiliser
  • 407 – Carrageenan ‘Irish Moss’ – a fibre extracted from seaweed, used as a setting agent.  It has recently been linked with cancer and other toxic hazards including ulcers
  • 120 –Red colour; made from insects, many recommend to avoid it, especially those suffering from  hyperactives, rhinitis sufferers, urticaria, asthmatics and aspirin sensitives.
  • 124 – Artificial red dye, synthetic coal tar and azo dye, carcinogen in animals. Typical products include packet desert mixes, toppings, tinned fruit, soups, salami. Banned in Canada, Norway, USA
  • 129 – Allura red AC – Artificial orange-red colour that has been linked to cancer. Prohibited throughout the European economic community.
  • 155 – Brown coloured coal tar – Banned in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, USA 
  • 211 – The sodium salt of benzoic acid, sodium benzoate fulfils an antibacterial and antifungal role, and to disguise taste, as of poor-quality food; known to causes nettle rash and aggravate asthma. Suspected to be a neurotoxic hazard.

As you can see, there is a simple and effective way to avoid these chemicals whilst still indulging in your favourite foods. More often than not your favourite food stemmed from a traditional favourite somewhere along the line. It’s time to get back into the kitchen.





  1. Leah

    Alyse Cocliff are their similar ingredients in frozen yoghurt? There are places poping up all over melbourne!

  2. Cathy Sheen

    Are there any companies that make an icecream that doesn’t contain all the crappy stuff??

  3. Alyse

    I haven’t found one, but I will keep an eye out and let you know. I think you will find that if they are using dairy to make the ice-cream, you will struggle. Cocolicious make an organic coconut icecream however all ingredients aren’t certified organic and it does contain guar gum.

  4. Cathy Sheen

    Hmmmm. that’s a shame but I will keep a lookout! Any suggestions on where I can get the recipe with instructions?

  5. Cathy Sheen

    Found a recipe and it’s cooling as I type! I have a question though about milk… What is your opinion on it?

  6. Nadia Rose

    Marcus Rose, looks like I’m making icecream!

  7. Caitlyn

    I can’t believe this. Thank you so much again for such great information

  8. Tania Wilson

    There is a company that makes a pretty honest ice cream called KOHU Road Ice cream. It is expensive… around $11 for 500 ml. It has no gluten (how I found it) and a very simple list of ingredients.
    Milk, cream, sugar, egg yolk, skim milk powder, vanilla pods, salt. Eat less of it and enjoy the good ingredients as a treat. Good theory!

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Meet Alyse

I’m a qualified Nutritionist who believes an evidence-based approach to modern nutrition is severely under-rated. Patients are so often left in the dark when it comes to health-care and as a firm believer in the old saying “knowledge is power”, my ultimate goal is to provide my readers, students and patients with clear and actionable advice that ultimately helps you reach your full potential.