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I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream! We are a society of ice cream lovers, with the average American licking her way through almost 5 gallons of the creamy confection each year, according to the Canadian Dairy Info Centre. (Only New Zealanders, at 6 gallons a year, eat more!) With their bright packaging, catchy names and convenient pint-size containers, premium (full fat) brands are readily available in your grocer’s freezer. However there are plenty of reduced-fat and even dairy-free selections to satisfy your cravings. These diet-friendly varieties make it easier to enjoy the occasional scoop while still watching your waistline.
An Ice Cream Primer
Before we figure out which brands are best, let's get the scoop on ice cream, fro-yo and all those other icy treats you know and love.
Frozen yogurt is yogurt that is frozen using a technique similar to soft serve. While lower in calories and fat than ice cream, not all frozen yogurt is made with live and active cultures the way that standard yogurt is. To make sure that a frozen yogurt contains "yogurt" and a significant amount of live and active cultures, look for the National Yogurt Association (NYA) Live & Active Cultures seal. Without that seal, frozen yogurt does not contain any probiotics.
Gelato. This Italian ice cream doesn't have as much air as traditional ice cream, so it has a much denser texture.
Ice cream. As if you needed an explanation, this frozen treat is made from milk or cream, sugar and flavorings. The FDA requires that ice creams with solid additions (nuts, chocolate, fruit, etc.) contain at least 8 percent milk fat, while plain ice creams are required to have at least 10 percent milk fat. "French" ice cream is usually made with a cooked egg custard base.
Ice milk is made with lower-fat milk than ice cream, making it less creamy. However, it does contain fewer calories than ice cream.
Italian ice (also called Granita) is a mix of juice (or other liquid like coffee), water and sugar, usually in a 4:1 ratio of liquid to sugar. The ices are stirred frequently during freezing to give it a flaky texture. These are almost always fat-free, contain minimal additives and are the lowest in calories of all frozen desserts.
Sherbet has a fruit juice base but often contains some milk, egg whites or gelatin to thicken and richen it. It's a creamy version of sorbet (see below).
Slow-churned (double churned) ice cream is made through low-temperature extrusion, to make light ice cream taste richer, creamier, and more like the full-fat variety. Look for the terms "cold churned," "slow churned" or "double churned" on the label, which refers to the extrusion’s churning process. Extrusion distributes the milk fat evenly throughout the product for added richness and texture without adding extra calories. By law, "light" ice cream must contain at least 50% less fat or 33% fewer calories than regular full-fat varieties.
Soft-serve is a soft "ice cream" that contains double the amount of air as standard ice cream, which stretches the ingredients and creates a lighter texture. It's lower in fat and calories, but it often contains fillers and additives.
Sorbet, softer in consistency than a sherbet, is usually fruit and sugar that has been frozen. Its texture more "solid" and less flaky than Italian ice.
A former newspaper reporter, Stepfanie now writes about nutrition, health, fitness and cooking. She is a certified Ashtanga yoga teacher who enjoys running, international travel and all kinds of vegetables. See all of Stepfanie's articles.
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