With warmer temperatures comes the craving for cooler foods, including that favorite summer standby, ice cream.
Whether you like it in a cone or a bowl, this sweet treat can seem like the perfect way to top off a barbecue or day at the beach. It’s no secret that ice cream isn’t always the healthiest choice. Ice cream tends to be high in sugar and fat, for starters.
So are there smarter options?
In recent years, “healthy” ice cream brands have popped up in supermarkets. These products claim to be low in sugar and calories and high in protein, making them popular among people who are trying to lose weight or get fit. But are these ice creams good for you — or just a gimmick?
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The Good News About ‘Healthy’ Ice Cream Brands
So-called healthy ice creams claim to be lower in calories than traditional ice cream, and that’s true.
Depending on the brand, low-calorie ice creams tend to contain between 35 and 60 calories per half-cup serving. That compares to about 130 calories per half-cup serving of regular ice cream.
Healthy ice cream products are also lower in fat and sugar: One serving typically contains less than 2 grams of fat and 4 to 5 grams of sugar, while a serving of regular ice cream can have upwards of 7 grams of fat and 14 grams of sugar.
Some “healthy” ice creams boast that they contain a higher amount of protein — which can appeal to bodybuilders and others trying to increase their muscle mass — but they actually have just a gram or two more per serving than regular brands.
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The Questionable News About ‘Healthy’ Ice Cream
“Healthy” ice cream brands keep their calorie content low in a couple of ways.
First, they tend to contain more air and less actual food: According to one estimate, a half-cup of low-calorie ice cream product only weighs about two-thirds as much as its regular counterpart. This suggests that the product has been made fluffier and less dense — but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better for you.
Some healthy brands list fiber on their labels, an ingredient that’s usually not found in standard ice cream. But this frozen treat is hardly the best source of fiber.
You’re better off getting it from wholesome foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds because they also contain more vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients.
The Bad News About ‘Healthy’ Ice Cream
Healthy ice cream often contains sugar substitutes rather than pure sugar. Although this helps keep calories at a minimum, these alternative sweeteners may carry their own risks.
For example, erythritol is a sugar alcohol that is low in calories but can cause unpleasant side effects, including bloating, gas, and other digestive woes.
Plus, “healthy” ice cream products are highly processed and can contain various additives, such as glycerin, carob gum, and guar gum, which are used to mimic the feel of real ice cream.
The Bottom Line on This Sweet Treat
Healthy ice cream may be a decent substitute for standard varieties, especially if you’re counting calories. But that shouldn’t give you license to consume higher amounts of it, and it certainly isn’t a health food. Limit yourself to an occasional serving — not the whole pint.
Based in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and more than 700 doctor’s offices and outpatient centers. Our expert physicians are among the leaders in their fields, and we are leaders in groundbreaking research and treatment breakthroughs. UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside ranks as “One of America’s Best Hospitals” and No. 1 in Pennsylvania in U.S. News & World Report’s listings.