Ice cream has surprising health benefits. Experts told us so — we swear!

Everything you need to know about enjoying ice cream this summer. (Getty Creative)
Everything you need to know about enjoying ice cream this summer. (Getty Creative)

Hot chocolate may be the ideal winter treat, but when the temperatures rise, it’s all about desserts that keep you cool. That’s why ice cream reigns supreme over the summer season: The sweet, creamy concoction is ideal for enjoying in the sweltering heat, even if you risk a brain freeze.

Like many desserts, of course, ice cream has something of a bad rap — something that should be enjoyed only on occasion due to its high sugar and fat content. However, experts say that ice cream’s not quite the villain in your summer story … and it actually may have some surprising health benefits. Here’s what to know.

Dietitian Shelley Balls tells Yahoo Life that a serving of two-thirds of a cup of dairy ice cream is a good source of calcium — about 12% of the daily recommended amount.

While the exact amount of calcium varies from brand to brand, Balls says that “calcium is typically a nutrient that is underconsumed in the American eating pattern, so it’s great news that when we decide to enjoy a sweet treat, it can also provide some nutritional benefits.”

Another ice cream win? Balls says ice cream can also provide about six grams of protein per serving, depending on the brand — that's the same amount of protein found in a single hardboiled egg or 1 oz. serving of almonds.

Dietitian Stephanie Van't Zelfden tells Yahoo Life that she often recommends ice cream as a dessert option for her clients with diabetes or blood sugar concerns because it contains fat and protein. Combining fat and protein with sugar “reduces blood sugar spikes that you might see when eating lower fat desserts like sorbet,” she explains.

For the record: You don’t need to “max out the nutrition of every food,” Zelfden says. “Ice cream is one of those foods that we don’t eat because of the nutrition, and that’s OK,” she says. “The ‘healthiest’ ice cream is the one that fills your heart and your stomach.”

Instead of having the healthiest ice cream that you may not enjoy so much, focus on enjoying the ice cream you love the most in moderation. That might mean having your favorite sundae just on Fridays, instead of having a sub-par “healthified” version more often during the week.

That said, there are ways you can make ice cream a little bit more nutritious — if that’s something you crave. For example: You can boost the nutritional profile of ice cream by making it at home, such as with a traditional bowl ice cream maker or a tool like the Ninja Creami.

(Many people are now making “protein ice cream” in their Ninja Creami, using frozen ingredients typically found in a protein shake. It isn’t ever going to taste exactly like a McFlurry, but it can be a tastier substitute for a shake.)

More traditional homemade ice cream (that’s made more for joy than hitting your macros) still allows you to control the amount of sugar, type of milk and other base ingredients. Balls notes you can “add in fruits, nuts, peanut butter, etc., to make [your ice cream] unique and more nutrient-dense.”

Dietitian Kylie Bensley, founder of the surgical nutrition program Sulinu, tells Yahoo Life that ice cream is naturally filling because of its fat content. However, you can play around by adding things like toppings to increase its fiber, protein and healthy fat content. That might look like adding almonds to your sundae, chopping up strawberries or bananas or even making a milkshake with a handful of frozen berries.

If you enjoy the taste, you can also get extra creative and add in things like chia seeds, hemp seeds or even oats to your ice cream, which can add a unique flavor and an additional nutritional boost of fiber and protein.

You may have heard stories about soft serve machines containing mold or never being cleaned in the first place. It’s true that soft serve machines can develop dangerous bacteria or mold if they aren’t cleaned properly every 10 to 24 hours.

Food scientist Bryan Quoc Le tells Yahoo Life that the majority of soft serve ice cream machines have “acceptable microbiological safety profiles,” meaning they didn’t have concerning levels of bacteria. In a study conducted on soft serve ice cream machines, researchers found that 74% of machines in retail locations delivered soft serve ice cream without issues, Le says.

However, Le says, the remaining 26% were of unsatisfactory quality, producing soft serve that contained high levels of bacteria. The microorganisms found in these soft serve machines may “cause some upset stomach or diarrhea, but are unlikely to pose a serious health issue with long-term complications,” Le says.

If you don’t want to risk getting sick, there are ways to get that soft service consistency at home, such as with no-churn ice cream recipes. You can also use an at-home ice cream maker to whip up ice cream and other frozen treats with a soft serve consistency.