Nutrition Articles

15 Diet-Friendly Ice Cream Choices

Get the Scoop on Picking a Healthier Ice Cream

By Leanne Beattie, Health Writer and Stepfanie Romine, Staff Writer         
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Nutrition Facts
A little research (and label reading) is in order if you want to keep ice cream as a regular part of your diet. Here's what you need to know.
  • While ice cream does contain bone-building calcium, you're better off getting calcium from other food sources since ice cream contains about half the calcium as an equal serving of milk, which is lower in fat and calories. Don't fool yourself into thinking you're eating healthy by getting calcium from Haagen-Dazs or Ben and Jerry’s—both of which can pack more fat per serving than a fast food hamburger!
  • Some ice creams, especially "light" varieties are sweetened with artificial sweeteners instead. Using artificial sweetener in place of some or all of the traditional sugar can reduce calories, but these sweeteners aren't for everyone and may cause stomach upset when eaten in high quantities.
  • In general, regular (full-fat) ice cream contains about 140 calories and 6 grams of fat per 1/2 cup serving. Besides the fat content, premium brands pack more ice cream into each serving because they contain less air—they are denser and harder to scoop than regular brands—meaning more calories, fat and sugar per serving. Low fat or "light" ice creams weigh in at about half the fat of premium brands but they still contain their fair share of calories thanks to the extra sugar added to make them more palatable.
  • Toppings such as chocolate chips, candies and sprinkles send the calorie count even higher, and don't offer any nutritional benefits. Choose vitamin-packed fruit purée (not fruit "syrup"), fresh fruit, or nuts, which contain healthy fat, protein and fiber. While chocolate does have some health benefits, most choices like chips and syrup are usually full of fillers with very little actual chocolate. If you want extra chocolate, use a vegetable peeler to shave dark chocolate over the top of your serving.
  • If animal-based products aren’t part of your diet or you can't stomach dairy, you can choose from a wide variety of non-dairy frozen desserts such as soy, coconut or rice "cream." These desserts cut the saturated fat because they don’t contain milk or cream, but can derive around 50% of their calories from fat (usually by adding oil to the product for smoothness or “mouth feel”).
Indulge in a Better Ice Cream
So what should you look for when you want to indulge in a creamy dessert but not go overboard? SparkPeople dietitian, Becky Hand, recommends checking the nutrition label and choosing a frozen dessert that meets these guidelines per 1/2 cup serving:
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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

  • I care more about limiting added sugars and I don't worry about healthy fats. A lot of the ice cream substitutes given here are really high in added sugar.

    I make a really nice coconut milk ice cream with two cans of full fat coconut milk, 1/3 cup cocoa powder and 1/4 cup honey. Mix and pour into an ice cream maker.

    Or I make an "ice cream" with frozen strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. Maybe half a ripe banana but no added sugar. - 3/13/2016 4:35:45 PM
  • When I have desert generally only have a piece of fruit for desert and its really helping me (GROAN),. - 1/18/2016 8:49:22 PM
  • I always keep overripe bananas and freeze them to make ice cream at home quick! I love So Delicious, but to save money and time I keep the frozen bananas and then add strawberries or chocolate almond milk (just a splash) and maybe some vegan chocolate protein powder. No it's not as fatty as ice cream, but it's definitely delicious and MUCH better for your body! - 11/11/2015 1:26:30 PM
  • Article states, "If you want total control over what goes into your ice cream, consider buying your own ice cream maker."

    The only way I have "total control" over ice cream is by not having it in my house. ;) - 9/28/2015 8:15:31 AM
    Frozen bananas taste like frozen bananas, not satisfying at all. We keep Skinny Cow bars at home at all times! It's our daily 7:00 PM treat, keeps us sticking to our diet plan. Healthy food is really not that tasty, why do you think people feel the need to indulge ourselves often, truth be told, having some daily ice cream helps a lot. - 9/3/2015 7:37:33 AM
  • You don't need to get frozen yogurt with live bacterial cultures, because freezing the yogurt will kill the bacteria. Don't bother. If you really need probiotics in your diet and you're short of funds, skip the frozen yogurt and go for the kind in the refrigerator case. - 5/25/2015 12:57:16 PM
  • 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
  • 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
    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
    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

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