“Ice cream. Sigh. Yeah, it’s a problem.” A sentiment expressed by countless nutrition clients over the years – and for many of us, it can be a problem.
We’re not talking about the occasional trip to the local ice cream shop. At least when we’re there – in public – there’s only so much damage that can be done, nutritionally-speaking.
We order a scoop, or a kid’s scoop if we’re feeling particularly noble. And even if we splurge on a double scoop, it’s still not completely out of control. Sure, it can pack an extra 500-plus calories into our day, but at least we’re not going to repeatedly return to the counter to ask for seconds. Or thirds.
But when it comes to the stuff in our freezers, let’s just say that portion control can be quite an issue.
Our plan for “just one” scoop can easily turn into two or three – or the entire pint.
Because, in the privacy of our own kitchens, there’s not the barrier of looking someone in the eye and ordering more and more ice cream. At home, no one is watching just how much we’re eating – and we can fake ourselves out, too.
So if ice cream is your thing, and you struggle to keep portions in check, it can be worth it to find a better-for-you alternative to keep on hand for when a craving strikes.
But let’s be honest, it’s not easy to find a decent substitute for our beloved pint of Ben & Jerry’s or Haagen Dazs.
So what makes certain types of ice cream just so… irresistible? What sets them apart from the other brands?
For starters, these “ultra-premium” varieties of ice cream are centered on cream, sugar, and egg yolks, with a fat content that can be 50 percent higher than regular ice cream.
So there’s that. Lots of goodness enticing our taste buds already.
Then, on top of this cream-sugar-yolk combo, these ultra-premium ice creams also have very little air whipped in during the churning process, which means they are about 80% denser than regular ice cream – and also that much richer, creamier, and – as we all know – irresistible.
High-fat, high-density ice cream also means high-calorie ice cream, with ultra-premium ice cream brands packing up to 360 calories and 26 grams of sugar into a single half-cup serving – about what fits into a cupcake wrapper.
If you’re looking to cut back on calories, even switching from ultra-premium ice cream to a “regular” brand like Blue Bell, Edy’s, Kemps, or Breyers can slash calories in half, to about 130 to 190 calories per half-cup.
And then there’s the “lightened-up” ice creams.
Nearly all ice creams that are light, low-fat, fat-free, or no-sugar-added tend to be lower in calories; some as low as 80 calories per serving.
It pays to check labels closely, though, as many “lighter” versions of ice cream still have 130 to 150 calories per serving – not much less than regular ice cream.
Of course many of these diet-friendly ice cream alternatives also taste diet-y. And if the calorie savings aren’t really that significant – and it doesn’t taste as good, it’s just not worth the sacrifice.
So if ice cream is only an occasional now-and-then indulgence – or if you’re one of those enviable types with folks with the willpower to have just a few spoonfuls at a time, then treat yourself to what you really love.
But if you’re looking for an everyday ice cream to keep in your freezer for a regular treat, here are three low-calorie, legitimately guilt-free brands.
Top 3 picks for store-bought ice cream
Halo Top Ice Cream: Per half-cup: 60 calories, 2 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 14 grams carbohydrates (4 grams net carbs), 4 grams sugar, 6 grams protein.
This is hands-down my top recommendation for a very-low-calorie ice cream swap that still feels super rich and decadent.
Halo Top does a great job of giving us a dense, creamy richness similar to ultra-premium ice cream, for about 75 percent fewer calories.
It starts with ingredients similar to the ultra-premium ice creams: milk, cream and eggs, then it’s sweetened mostly with zero-calorie sweeteners like erythritol and stevia (the sweeteners used in Truvia). There’s just a small amount of added sugar.
Of all the lightened-up brands on the market, Halo Top feels the least like a “compromise” ice cream.
Arctic Zero Fit Frozen Dessert: Per half-cup: 35 calories, 0 fat, 0 saturated fat, 7 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams sugar, 3 grams protein.
Arctic Zero has just 35 calories per serving – close to half the calories of even Halo Top, with ingredients like whey protein concentrate, fiber, and monk fruit concentrate (a zero-calorie plant-based sweetener).
But, unlike Halo Top, it’s not that surprising that Arctic Zero is so low in calories.
The taste and texture are noticeably “lighter” than regular ice cream; in fact, Arctic Zero is so light that it doesn’t contain the minimum 10 percent milkfat required to meet the FDA’s definition for ice cream – so it’s labeled as a “fit frozen dessert,” not “ice cream.”
But for the calorie savings – nearly 90 percent fewer calories than many of the ultra-premium ice creams – it can be worth the trade-off for those who don’t mind the lighter taste.
So Delicious Dairy Free No Sugar Added Coconut Milk Ice cream: Per half-cup: 100 calories, 8 grams fat, 7 grams saturated fat, 18 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram sugar, 1 gram protein.
So Delicious No Sugar Added is my top pick for a vegan, non-dairy ice cream. Made with coconut milk and coconut cream, and naturally sweetened with calorie-free monk fruit extract, So Delicious no-sugar-added ice cream is higher-calorie than Halo Top (and not quite as rich and creamy), but it’s still a good vegan option for a low-sugar, lower-calorie sweet treat.
DIY: Recipes for low-calorie ice cream that is legitimately good for you, no ice cream maker required.
Chef Leah Sarris uses this banana ice cream recipe in her community cooking classes at the Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine, and added the protein powder as part of a project we did with Mackie Shilstone’s GNC stores. Any flavor of protein powder will work in this protein-boosted ice cream recipe; we personally think that mango goes particularly well with the banana.
Protein-Boosted Banana Ice Cream
Makes 4 servings
4 bananas, overripe, peeled, and frozen
2 scoops protein powder (e.g. Mango, Strawberry, or Chocolate)
Remove bananas from freezer and allow them to sit at room temperature for 5-7 minutes. Place bananas in blender with protein powder. Blend until smooth and creamy. It takes a while, just keep blending! Enjoy immediately.
If not eating immediately, place in freezer for up to an hour, and allow to sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes before eating.
Per serving: 165 calories, 0 fat, 0 saturated fat, 40 mg sodium, 470 mg potassium, 30 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, 19 grams sugar, 14 grams protein.
This white bean ice cream was a collaboration of efforts: Darryl Holliday, assistant professor of Food Science at the University of Holy Cross, remembered this recipe from years ago, but not the exact measurements. Chef Leah Sarris, Program Director of the Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine at Tulane University, experimented to find the right measurements, and also cut the sugar. The result: a frozen yogurt-like texture with a slight bean-y taste, that’s still surprisingly good.
White Bean Berry Ice Cream
Makes 4 servings
1 large raw egg yolk
½ teaspoon coconut oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch Kosher salt
2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon Swerve Sweetener
1 cup, fresh strawberries, halved and frozen (can use any type of berries)
1/4 cup lowfat milk
1 cup canned white beans, drained and frozen on a sheet pan in a single layer.
This ice cream is super easy to make: just mix everything in a blender until smooth. It doesn’t freeze well, so best to enjoy immediately.
Per serving: 100 calories, 2 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 40 mg sodium, 338 mg potassium, 15 grams carbohydrate, 3.5 grams fiber, 3 grams sugar, 6 grams protein.
Molly Kimball is a registered dietitian in New Orleans. She can be reached at email@example.com. Comment and read more atNOLA.com/eat-drink. Follow her on Facebook: facebook.com/mollykimballrd and Twitter:twitter.com/mollykimballrd.
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