We’re often told that you should never eat anything (or put anything on your body) if you don’t recognize everything on the ingredients list. But since most of us have no idea what xanthan gum or potassium benzoate are — or more importantly, what they’re doing to our bodies — we’re decoding the ingredients in the many things Americans put in (and on, or near) themselves.
2) Sugar: One of these ice cream sandwiches contains 17 grams of sugar, which is a substantial amount. For reference, the American Heart Association recommends men consume no more than 36 grams and women consume no more than 25 grams of added sugar a day. As such, man or woman, one ice cream sandwich delivers nearly half or more than half of your recommended daily sugar intake.
3) Bleached Wheat Flour: Serving as a base for the “bread” component of these ice cream sandwiches, bleached wheat flour goes through a bleaching process — to lighten the color — that produces an unfortunate byproduct: A chemical called alloxan, which has been found to induce diabetes in lab-animal test subjects by destroying their pancreas.
4) Corn Syrup: Corn syrup is a liquid sweetener made of glucose, a sugar found in many foods. It doesn’t get as much negative publicity as high-fructose corn syrup — which has been linked to obesity and diabetes by many, many studies (more on that here) — but regular corn syrup can also be debilitating, considering it’s basically liquid sugar.
5) Cream: Cream is the layer of fat that rises to the top of milk before it undergoes homogenization, a process that breaks down the fat molecules in milk to prevent them from separating. While not so healthy, the high fat content in cream reverses the many flavor-and-texture-related negatives that come from using nonfat milk. It acts as a lubricant between ice crystals, promoting a smoother texture, and traps air while the mixture is blended and frozen, which gives the ice cream more body.
6) Corn Syrup Solids: Corn syrup solids are exactly what they sound like: Dried and solidified corn syrup. In addition to enhancing the flavor, corn syrup solids help reduce ice crystals from forming while these ice cream sandwiches are in the freezer, which extends their shelf life.
7) Whey: Whey is essentially the liquid leftovers after milk has been curdled and strained. It adds bulk and protein — there are three grams of protein per ice cream sandwich — without contributing too many extra calories or too much excessive fat. It also gives the ice cream a creamier texture.
8) Palm Oil: Like many of these ingredients, palm oil makes ice cream smoother and creamier. Consumed in large amounts, however, palm oil can cause all sorts of problems, including fatty liver disease, insulin resistance and migraines. Plus, the sourcing of palm oil is terrible for the environment.
9) Caramel Color: Caramel color contributes to the chocolate hue of the outer layers of these ice cream sandwiches. Unfortunately, as we discovered in our exploration of the ingredients that make up Diet Coke, caramel coloring has an incredibly controversial byproduct called 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI). A 2007 study found that mice fed a diet of 4-MEI developed cancerous lung tumors as a result. The FDA quickly pushed back, noting that a human would have to consume more than 1,000 cans of soft drinks (which are notoriously high in caramel coloring) every day for two years to reach comparable levels of 4-MEI.
Who’s right is still unclear. More recent studies argue that levels of 4-MEI are, in fact, high enough in soda and consumed in sufficient quantities by Americans to increase the risk of developing cancer. Even more recent studies say that caramel coloring is just fine. So, do you really have to worry about this in your ice cream sandwiches? Probably not.
10) Dextrose: Dextrose is a sugar derived from starches, like corn. Besides providing some sweetness, it lowers the freezing point of water, which contributes to a softer, less crystalized ice cream.
Fun fact: Dextrose has a high glycemic index, meaning it quickly raises blood sugar levels, so it’s used in IV solutions to treat low blood sugar and dehydration. People with diabetes might also consume dextrose tablets to raise their blood sugar if they become dangerously low. Because of this blood-sugar-boosting effect, consuming dextrose also provides an almost immediate jolt of energy — followed by an inevitable crash.
11) Baking Soda: Baking soda is a leavening agent, and it helps the “bread” components of these sandwiches rise.
12) Cocoa: Cocoa beans are used to make chocolate, and they lend a chocolate-y flavor to these sandwiches.
14) Modified Corn Starch: Modified corn starch is (obviously) extracted from corn, then treated physically, enzymatically or chemically to partially break down the starch. It gives foods a light, crispy texture — something you may experience when you bite into the outer layers of these sandwiches.
15) Salt: This enhances the overall flavor.
16) Soy Lecithin: Soy lecithin is a component of fat found in, you guessed it, soy. It’s typically added to food products as an emulsifier, which means it helps the numerous ingredients found in these sandwiches mix together. In some cases, soy lecithin can also help foods stay fresh while they sit on the shelves (or the freezer, in this case).
17) Mono and Diglycerides: Like soy lecithin, mono and diglycerides are typically added to food products as emulsifiers. But as we learned in our exploration of the ingredients in the Dodger Dog, mono and diglycerides are oftentimes packed with trans fats that aren’t listed on the nutrition facts label, which is incredibly problematic. That’s because trans fats are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, and consuming more than you think you are (because they weren’t listed on the label) could do serious damage to your body.
18) Locust Bean Gum: Derived from carob seeds, this acts as a stabilizer and thickener to improve texture.
19) Guar Gum: Guar Gum is derived from guar beans, and like locust bean gum, it acts as a stabilizer and thickener.
20) Natural and Artificial Flavor: While natural flavors are literally flavors derived from an actual food source — i.e., vanilla flavoring taken from real vanilla bean plants — artificial flavors are chemical compounds created in a lab that mimic a natural flavor in some way. While that may sound unhealthy, as physician and biochemist Cate Shanahan, author of Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food, told us during our exploration of the ingredients in nacho-flavored Doritos, these flavorings are added in such small quantities that they shouldn’t cause you any harm.
21) Vitamin A Palmitate: Vitamin A palmitate is simply a compound that acts as a source of vitamin A, which supports vision and the immune system. It’s often added to low-fat milk and other dairy products to replace the vitamin content lost through the removal of milk fat.
22) Carrageenan: Like locust bean and guar gum, carrageenan is added to foods for its thickening and stabilizing properties. Some animal studies argue that there’s a connection between carrageenan ingestion and inflammatory bowel disease; however, the FDA lists the ingredient as a Generally Recognized as Safe Substance. And more recent human studies take the FDA’s side on this one.
While there are certainly a few potentially precarious ingredients in these ice cream sandwiches — mono and diglycerides, caramel color and carrageenan, just to name a few — the sugar in them is probably your biggest concern. If ice cream sandwiches are an occasional treat, you should be just fine. But if you find yourself taking them down with any regularity, watch out for diabetes.