Even though I’m a dietitian, I still long for ice cream, gelato, and other refreshing frozen treats—especially on sweltering summer days. I’ve always noticed that eating a scoop of ice cream, fro-yo, or my favorite novelty (ice cream sandwiches, anyone?) instantly takes me back to my childhood, yet this connection is not surprising since researchers have found that food has the ability to trigger powerful memories.
However, the problem with this common craving is that ice cream and other frozen desserts can put a dent in your daily calorie, saturated fat and sugar budget. To avoid the pitfalls of sweet summertime treats. use these tricks from registered dietitians to enjoy frosty delights without putting your diet on the deep freeze.
Find the Healthiest Ice Creams
Some super-premium and premium ice creams pack in more than 250 calories and 44 grams (11 teaspoons) of sugar per 1/2-cup serving. The reason: They have more butterfat and less air whipped into them, so they contain the most calories (not to mention they’re the most expensive cartons you can buy).
The healthiest ice creams and frozen treats have less than 200 calories and 16 grams of sugars (4 tsp) per ½-cup serving. In fact, frozen yogurt is almost always lower in calories, fat, and added sugar than ice cream. Plus, the “light,” “reduced fat,” or “slow-churned” versions will have fewer calories than regular ice cream, as well. Some of the healthiest licks nutritionists recommend: Edy’s/Dreyer’s Slow Churned, Breyer’s Light, and Menchie’s frozen yogurt.
Eat Like a Kid Again
The key to eating ice cream is to keep the portion in check. Dietitians suggest that if you’re at an ice cream shop, ask for the smallest size cone—even the kid’s cone—to keep your serving to about a ½ cup. And it’s important to note that the “small” size cups sold at ice cream and yogurt shops today are closer to a cup rather than a half-cup. Need proof? Here’s the scoop: A DQ Kid’s Cone has 170 calories and 18 grams of sugar while a DQ Small Cone has 60 more calories and seven additional grams of sugar. Also, avoid candy or nut toppings as each can add (at least) 50 to 100 calories to your dessert.
Opt for High-Pro, Low-Sugar Ice Cream
Halo Top may be the answer to your prayers if you’re been hoping to find an ice cream that won’t derail your diet. Registered dietitians gush about its creaminess, high protein, and fiber counts, along with its minimal amount of added sugar. “A half-cup has five to six grams protein, three grams fiber, and around a half teaspoon of sugar,” according to registered dietitian Katherine Brooking. “The combination of protein and fiber makes it a satisfying dessert, rather than simply empty calories.” A pint of Halo Top will set you back 240 to 360 calories compared to 1,000 calories in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s or Haagen-Dazs. Grab your spoon!
Freeze Your Own Fro-Yo
Frozen yogurt usually has less unhealthy saturated fat, fewer calories, more protein and calcium than ice cream, but all are not created equal. A half-cup of store-bought fro-yo generally has about 100 to 120 calories and four to six grams of protein while soft-serve brands, like Pinkberry or Red Mango, range from about 80 to 200 calories per half-cup serving. Rule of thumb: Be sure to read the nutrition facts to know what you’re getting.
But keep in mind that it’s easy to whip up healthy, homemade fro-yo—all you’ll need is nonfat or low-fat Greek yogurt and your favorite fresh or frozen fruit (honey or agave optional). Process the ingredients in a blender until smooth, then freeze for 30 to 45 minutes before serving. Not only will your DIY fro-yo pack in more protein, calcium, and potassium, it will be lower in added sugars compared to the store-bought options. For inspiration, try Chicago-based registered dietitian Deborah Davis’ Strawberry Banana Frozen Yogurt.
Create a One-Ingredient Soft-Serve Ice Cream in Seconds
“My family’s favorite healthy frozen dessert is banana ‘soft serve’ using the Yonanas device,” says registered dietitian Sandy Livingston of Palm Beach, FL. “You simply put peeled frozen bananas in the top of the machine, press the plunger down, and you get delicious banana soft serve out the other end.” Yes, it’s that simple—100% of frozen fruit is instantly transformed into a family-friendly frozen treat. Now that’s sweet!
Indulge in a Greek Yogurt Bar
Greek yogurt bars are perfectly portioned to keep calories in check and are made with protein-rich Greek yogurt containing live and active yogurt cultures. The best licks: Atlanta-based registered dietitian Cheryl Orlansky recommends Yasso Greek Frozen Yogurt Bars that have five grams of protein 80-130 calories per bar. Just steer clear of the most decadent flavors, like peanut butter cup or coffee chocolate chip, to keep calorie counts down.
Suck on Fruit & Veggie Pops
Perfectly-portioned frozen veggie and/or fruit pops are the most calorie-conscious frozen treats—and that’s because they weigh in at less than 100 calories each and most are made with lots of real fruit and vegetable juice with little or no added sugars. And since they’re made with real juices, most of these pops can serve as a good source of vitamins A and C. For the best licks, check out options from Outshine and Fruttare.
Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth With Skinny (Ice Cream) Sandwiches
Ice cream sandwiches are in! Not only are they taking up more real estate in the cases at your local supermarket, food trucks in LA and other metro areas are selling gourmet ice cream sandwiches made with fresh-baked cookies and local creamery ice cream. While a handcrafted sammie can set you back 500 calories or more, portion-controlled supermarket options can be delicious calorie bargains. Best store-bought ice cream sandwiches include Skinny Cow (with 150 calories) and non-dairy Tofutti Cutties (with 130 calories and nine grams sugar).