Summer is a classic time for ice cream, but many of us enjoy it year-round. Whether your lactose intolerant, diabetic, or a lover of good old-fashioned dairy sweetness, there is a sweet, creamy treat waiting in the frozen section of your grocery store.
But, you also want to keep trim and healthy for those beach-side days. So, how do you get both? Can you have your ice cream and eat it too? Is ice cream bad for you?
If you’re interested in reading more about healthy dairy products, see our “Is Dairy Bad for You?” article.
- Go for smaller sizes! Instead of having a jumbo cone, go for a single scoop. After the first few bites, it becomes mechanic and stops being as enjoyable. Believe me, you’ll get just as much enjoyment out of slowly eating a smaller serving than a truckload.
- Skip the toppings – gummy candies, sugary sauces, and cookie bits are delicious, and nobody disputes that. But, they add a lot of calories to your summer treat.
- Don’t binge. It makes no sense to starve yourself of your favorite treat, then break down and binge on an extra-large, sauce-covered, 1,500 calorie confection. Have a small cone now and then to satisfy your craving; know that it’s enough and skip the guilt trip.
- Skip the cone. Yes, I said the dreaded words. It isn’t wrong to skip the cone, and lots of people do it. You could easily cut 160 calories by skipping a cone and getting your sweet fix in a cup instead.
- Get active after treating yourself. If today is your day and you have some ice cream, get some activity afterward. This doesn’t mean having to run a marathon with a tummy full of ice cream (nobody wants to do that). Taking a gentle walk, playing some beach volleyball, or going for a short swim kick-starts your metabolism leaving your body to burn those ice-cream calories at a higher rate than before.
Some myths about low-fat, low-sugar ice cream and frozen yogurt: Busted.
- Frozen yogurt is better than ice cream, right?
It was a moment of excitement worldwide when sugar-free and low-fat ice creams came out, seen originally as a healthy alternative to ice cream. The next step along the process was the introduction of frozen yogurt.
Later studies found that frozen yogurt and ice cream were compatible in nutritional value (fats, sugars, and cholesterol), and both are less healthy than regular yogurt, frozen or not (1). This is partly because frozen yogurt dessert has so much sugar that it’s practically ice cream.
Try making your own by freezing small cups of fruit yogurt with a popsicle stick in it; it is a healthier alternative that is lower in sugar and higher in probiotics (to see the benefits of these, see our “The Best Time to Take Probiotics” article).
- Are low-fat or low-sugar options healthier than regular ice cream?
Representing one of the biggest hoaxes in the health food industry, this is actually 100% incorrect.
Think about sugar and fat like a weigh-scale. Ideally, for foods to be tasty, you’d have 50/50 fat and sugar, evenly balancing each other. But when you reduce the fat, you’ve taken away so much from that side that you even it out by adding more sugar.
If you reduce the sugar, you add more fat to keep things even. Unfortunately, this is the harsh truth about many low fat and sugar foods (3). The reduction in one inevitably leads to an increase in the other, and when it comes to fat and sugar, neither is better for you (4).
Don’t be fooled by “fat-free,” “sugar-free,” or other bright labels of foods enticing you to buy.
You should still be watching ingredients, calories and eating these foods in moderation. This also goes for “reduced size” foods, which do not reduce food intake. See our “Is Sugar-Free Ice Cream Healthy?” article to read more about sugar-free ice cream.
- Do coconut oil and sunflower oil make ice cream healthier?
The fact is that coconut and sunflower oils are better than palm oil and other highly unhealthy oil sources, but they’re still a source of dietary fat. Eating ice cream with coconut oil is better than palm oil, but skipping the oil altogether is the best option of all.
Treat yourself as always in moderation, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking you don’t need to count alternative oils as a fat source in your diet. Coconut and sunflower in clinical studies didn’t leave participants feeling any more satisfied or full (6).
Are there benefits to eating ice cream at all, then?
- Ice cream is great for people looking to boost their calcium or protein intake (make sure you read the package to get the best source for you). For those trying to gain weight, it can also be an easily digested source of calories (as long as you aren’t lactose intolerant).
- Some ice cream can contain antioxidants that can improve your health (7). Antioxidants reduce conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and much more (8).
- Try alternatives like Halo Top if you’re looking for a healthy frozen dessert choice. While not nutritionally equivalent to a salad, it’s healthier than traditional ice cream. Halo Top boasts lower calories and sugar and higher protein than regular ice cream (9).
- You can get some healthy natural ingredients in ice creams like herbs and fresh fruit (especially if you make it yourself).
In conclusion, life is short. Don’t deprive yourself of favorite foods like ice cream! But, some choices are healthier than others, and you should always read the label to make sure you stay with a low calorie (sugar-free and fat-free don’t mean calorie free!) frozen dessert with fresh fruit and herbs.
Skip the cone, skip the toppings, and have a small bowl now and then to keep your cravings at bay and reduce your feelings of guilt.
Nobody needs to feel bad about treating themselves now and then! Make informed choices, and enjoy.