Nutrition Articles

15 Diet-Friendly Ice Cream Choices

Get the Scoop on Picking a Healthier Ice Cream

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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.
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About The Author

Stepfanie Romine Stepfanie Romine
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.

Member Comments

  • My only thought was whether or not the Kiwis and the US were converted into the SAME gallon. The US gallon is NOT the same as the one the "rest" of the world uses (mainly Commonwealth countries) we use (or used to use) the Imperial gallon. - 9/1/2014 9:42:31 PM
  • Stepfanie's recipe for the frozen banana dessert is as good or better than ice cream - and much healthier!!! (and this is coming from a real ice cream lover who ran an ice cream business where we made our own wonderful ice creams) - 8/13/2014 10:46:29 PM
  • I love Artic Zero, So Delicious and Rice Dream!!!!! - 8/13/2014 12:10:52 PM
  • SJMONROE2
    So glad to know Italian ices are low in fat! I live near a Rita's Italian Ice store and when its hot.........need I day more :) - 6/17/2014 9:32:30 AM
  • I'm always cautious of low-fat or light things because they tend to put weird unnatural things in to make up for the texture/flavor change. I think I'd rather just eat regular ice cream in smaller quantities. As for toppings, I consider myself lucky that my favorite is cinnamon. - 6/7/2014 11:41:05 AM
  • 80SFARMGIRL
    Im gonna try the frozen banana and strawberry one! Im gonna try adding non fat yogurt. - 4/30/2014 8:49:58 PM
  • I didn't know I could have so many choices. I am interested in trying the frozen yogurt and slow turned. Sounds perfect for me. I am so excited! - 2/10/2014 12:15:51 PM
  • The healthiest diet-friendly "ice cream" I have had is not really ice cream, but tastes just as sinful! Just throw frozen bananas and frozen fresh strawberries into a blender (I use a high power vitamix) and blend! It is so good and makes you feel like you are cheating without the guilt!!! - 10/17/2013 4:40:24 PM
  • SHARSS
    Ice Cream topped with Hersey syrup is my weakness so I don't buy ice cream. However, maybe once a month I do treat myself to a small Dairy Queen Hot Fudge Sundae. I know. Bad me. - 7/28/2013 10:01:49 PM
  • I am a HUGE fan of Yasso's Greek yogurt pops (yasso.com). They are low-calorie (80 cals), non-fat (except the new coconut ones which are low-fat), have no artificial sweeteners (about 12g of sugar per pop), are high in protein (6g per pop - 7 for the vanilla ones! - THE SAME AS AN EGG), and contain only natural ingredients. The strawberry ones are my favorite, but you can get them in six different flavors. - 7/28/2013 8:13:05 PM
  • I like to take frozen bananas, chop them up and blend them with a little cocoa, a little stevia, maybe some almond milk. Very healthy and the texture is silky like ice cream. - 7/28/2013 4:48:06 PM
  • TRY ARCTIC ZERO!!!!! ONLY 150 calories per PINT!!! Yes, 16 OZ!!!! I get this at Wal*Mart because I have a hard time stopping when it comes to ice cream. I recommend the chocolate :)

    http://www.arct
    iczero.com/ - 7/28/2013 2:44:56 PM
  • Weight Watchers Toffee Crunch bars--vanilla ice cream with the chocolate crackle coating and little toffee dots. Delicious and 100 calories.

    I'm not much of an ice cream person, but during the hot summer months I sometimes feel the need...

    The Healthy Choice Fudge Bars they list are also very good. - 7/28/2013 4:58:55 AM
  • Living in Texas, we've been Blue Bell fans for years. However, I rarely buy ice cream. When I do, it lasts for months because we just don't indulge very often. I received a Cuisinart ice cream maker for Christmas and want to try making sorbet or granita with it. So far I've only made French vanilla but I don't use whole milk and since we don't eat it that often, I don't worry about the extra fat.
    Thank you for the detailed information about the different types of frozen deserts. - 7/19/2013 11:56:18 AM
  • BAMAJAM
    Country Club brand has an almond flavor with almond chunks which is low fat, and has no sugar added--------- It is wonderful wonderful for my taste buds- YUM! - 7/16/2013 4:32:52 PM

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