It’s National Ice Cream Month, a great reason to celebrate the deliciousness of cold, creamy desserts that now come in a mind-boggling array of flavors and consistencies. And now there’s so many options on the market that you don’t have to choose the unhealthiest version to enjoy this treat.
“If you’d prefer not to eat regular ice cream, with so many healthy ice cream alternatives, choosing the right one for you can be confusing,” said Gillian Arathuzik, a registered dieitian and nutrition diabetes educator at Lahey Health locations in Danvers and Gloucester, Massachusetts.
Arathuzik has some pro tips for selecting the perfect, healthy frozen treat this summer.
Healthy Ice Cream Alternatives
Americans eat approximately 48 pints a year of this traditional favorite, but for some people trying to lose weight, regular ice cream may not be the best choice, said Arathuzik.
“In fact, too much of any kind of food may not necessarily be considered healthy,” she said.
Consider the basic ingredients of ice cream, which aren’t very healthy. “It’s made of milk of any type, along with cream, sugar and air,” she said. The high-fat content from the milk and cream may be what makes the ice cream taste so good, but it can spell disaster for someone who’s watching their figure.
These are the best-known alternatives to ice cream, according to Arathuzik:
- Frozen custard. It has the same ingredients as ice cream but must contain at least 1.4 percent egg yolks.
- Gelato. This glossy Italian delicacy doesn’t contain as much air as ice cream, has less butterfat, more milk, usually no egg yolks and isn’t served as cold as ice cream. Think of it as more dense and pliable.
- Frozen yogurt. Much of the fat comes out, but that needs to be replaced with sugar. And yes, it contains yogurt cultures. You want the label to say live and active cultures. Frozen yogurt may also have more sugar than ice cream since yogurt naturally tastes tart.
- Sorbet. Devoid of dairy, it’s purees and frozen juices that give sorbet its distinctive flavor. It’s often used between courses as a palate cleanser.
- Sherbet. This product usually comes in fruit flavors and has less milk fat than ice cream (usually 1 to 2 percent). Note that dairy differentiates sherbet from sorbet.
Is Low-Calorie Ice Cream Really Better for You?
Ice cream aficionados would love to find that one perfect product that tastes amazing, is low in calories and fat and is “good for them,” and retailers hear them.
“One brand, Halo Top, really jump-started this new wave of frozen desserts,” said Arathuzik. “The idea that you can eat an entire pint for that few calories is what really put this brand on the map.”
Arathuzik also pointed to new and notable nutrition labels with bolder type that focuses on “the real portion size” of what you’re eating, something that used to be more difficult to determine. It’s clearly visible on these cartons so you can’t kid yourself.
At 260 to 360 calories per pint, with 20 grams of protein for dairy flavors and 12 grams for nondairy, Halo Top uses organic stevia from a Paraguayan plant. It also contains a sugar alcohol called erythritol, found naturally in certain fruits including pears, grapes and watermelon. Other sugar alcohols include sorbitol and xylitol. The line’s dairy-free choices are vegan and soy-free, too.
“Just remember that erythritol may cause gastric distress, including diarrhea, in some people,” she said.
What to Know About Frozen Yogurt
Frozen yogurt has come a long way from its humble beginnings. The product is more sophisticated now, said Arathuzik, citing Yasso as an example. This frozen, strained Greek yogurt is thick and creamy and contains live Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus cultures, which can be considered more healthy.
“Yasso comes in bars or pints, but be aware that we’re talking between 100 and 150 calories in each of four servings in this pint — substantially higher than Halo Top, for example,” she said. “Bars clock in at 80 to 130 calories each. Protein counts for both range between 5 and 7 grams.”
You won’t find any high-intensity sweeteners here except sugar.
Weighing Light Ice Cream
Light ice cream, like Ben & Jerry’s Moo-phoria, contains between 140 and 160 calories per serving, but isn’t devoid of the brand’s penchant for chunks and other textural treats, said Arathuzik. All flavors are built on organic milk and cream, with fair-trade vanilla and sugar. There are no sugar alcohols or sugar substitutes, just fewer calories and less fat.
If You’re Wary of Dairy
In the dairy-free category, treats like NadaMoo are made with organic, gluten-free ingredients and a coconut milk base. NadaMoo contains no artificial colors, flavors or sweeteners. It’s also considered non-GMO, which means it’s made with nongenetically modified organisms.
“Calories add up in the 120 to 150 per serving range, so again, it’s probably no-go on an entire pint,” said Arathuzik. The company also offers bars and sandwiches, along with toppings.
Where’s That Spoon?
If you’re looking for ice cream to lift your spirits, choose carefully based upon those calorie counts.
“When you need to satisfy a binge craving, go buy Halo Top because it isn’t going to do a huge amount of caloric damage. If you’re eating a higher-calorie product, keep to a reasonable serving size, as always,” Arathuzik said.
She thinks it’s great that consumers have more choices in the dessert category. “That isn’t making us a healthier nation per se, but at least there are more options to help people make better decisions.”
With these options, you’ll be able to enjoy National Ice Cream Month without the guilt of cheating on your diet. To learn more about nutrition and a healthy diet, visit Lahey Hospital & Medical Center Food & Nutrition Services in Burlington.