An unusual source of calcium?

Unilever research has shown that calcium in ice cream is as easily absorbed by the body as calcium in milk.

The science

lady with Solero ice cream

A team from our Colworth and Vlaardingen plants working alongside colleagues from the Institute of Food Research and the Medical Research Council Human Nutrition Research Centre carried out a study looking at how calcium in calcium-fortified ice cream is absorbed by the body.

Sixteen volunteers, on three separate days over a four week period, consumed a serving of milk and of two different ice creams under controlled conditions. The milk and ice creams (one made with butterfat, the other with coconut oil) contained the same amount of calcium, and were each labelled with the stable isotope 44Ca.

After consuming the products, the volunteers were given a solution containing the stable isotope 42Ca. Blood samples taken before and 24 hours after consumption were analysed by mass spectrometry to determine the fractional calcium absorption. In other words, the ratio of 44Ca to 42Ca given as a percentage of the overall dose.

The findings

Results showed no statistical difference between the fractional absorption of calcium from the ice creams and the milk, or between the two different ice cream formulations. And so the team concluded that calcium fortified ice cream provides a useful dietary source of the mineral that can contribute to our total daily intake.

The report was published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Its editor, a respected professor in Foods and Nutrition at Purdue University in the States, wrote, "Ice cream is an interesting concept for a calcium-fortified food. It has many of the nutrients provided by milk, yet can offer greater taste appeal."

Vital for health

Calcium is essential for healthy bones, teeth and muscles, both when we’re growing up and in later life. Despite this, many people fail to consume enough of the nutrient, putting them at risk of skeletal problems. The study's findings may help strengthen ice cream's credentials as a calcium-rich substitute for milk or indeed supplements.

"Dieticians often have misperceptions about ice cream, so this is a good start to change their views," says Category Nutritionist Mary Kearney. Efforts to address such misconceptions are underway. In Asia, for example, where drinking milk is not common, our Moo brand ice cream offers an appealing alternative for young children.

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