Nobody loves a good frozen treat more than I do, which is why it bugs me when I see store shelves overflowing with “diet” offerings that fool folks into thinking they’re better than good old ice cream. The next time you’ve got a hankering for a frozen treat, here are some useful tips.
Low-Fat Ice Cream
Light and low-fat ice creams make up for the removal of fat by adding thickeners like guar gum, locust bean gum and carrageenan (just to name a few). Since fat also provides flavor, some lightened varieties include more sugar to make up for it, which means the calories can wind up being similar to regular ice cream. More sugar, less fat, same calories – not exactly healthier. And don’t be fooled by the term slow churned; some brands may be using new technology to alter the consistency, while others may simply have more thickeners added in.
Reaching for frozen yogurt as a healthier alternative to ice cream? You’ll be gaining the benefit of tummy-pleasing probiotics, but be aware that some fro-yos have two times more sugar than ice cream. There are many good options available with moderate amounts of sugar and fat, just don’t automatically assume that every variety of yogurt will be lower in calories than ice cream.
Sugar-Free Ice Cream
Ice creams labeled “no sugar added” will still have a small amount of naturally existing sugars from milk. Since ice cream without sweetness just wouldn’t be a treat, these options rely on artificial sweeteners (and a lot of them!). Folks who suffer from conditions such as diabetes may find no-sugar-added options useful but should keep in mind they can’t eat the entire container.
There’s no fat to be found in this frozen goodie but the sugar is through the roof, making the calories comparable to some kinds of ice cream. There’s no worry about cholesterol either, but an average 6-ounce cup has about 5 teaspoons of sugar, plus thickeners and artificial colors.
Bottom Line: Ingredient list reading is a MUST. Make sure you know what’s in your low-fat or low-cal frozen treat of choice. And consider whether you might be better off with a small portion of the real thing!
Tell Us: What’s your top choice for a healthy frozen treat?
Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. See Dana’s full bio »