Oh, ice cream, you sweet, creamy, melt-in-your-mouth, perfect-for-summer cold treat. Everyone loves you. According to the International Dairy Association about 1.54 billion gallons of ice cream and related frozen desserts were produced in the U.S. in 2015, and the average American consumes more than 23 pounds of ice cream per year. Alas, there’s also a sobering statistic: More than 70% of Americans are overweight or obese, thanks in part to our adoration for foods that bring so much happiness—like ice cream. Paulette Lambert, Nutrition Director at the Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village and California Health & Longevity Institute, shares the health and wellness skinny on ice cream and its alternatives.
You know the rom-com trope of gorging on ice cream after a breakup? Now it’s easier than ever to do, without packing on the pounds. Halo Top, for example, has only 70 or so calories per ½-cup serving, compared to premium brands such as Ben & Jerry’s or Häagen Dazs, which have a whopping 250 calories in half a cup. But Halo Top uses Stevia, cane sugar and erythritol, a type of sugar alcohol that gives some people gas and diarrhea, says Paulette.
And drowning your sorrows in a pint of sweetness isn’t a great way to deal with feelings. “It can lead to bad habits of wanting dessert all of the time and that’s a big risk. I see that with my clients who binge. It feeds into America’s need to be excessive. You don’t get used to moderation,” explains Paulette. If you’re set on eating a whole pint, a low-calorie version is a viable option, but try sticking to one serving.
What about a little kale in your cold treat? There’s a whole new generation of frozen non-dairy, high-protein, paleo, plant-based, high-nutrient, vegan treats marketed to come across as healthy, frozen smoothies. Still, stay mindful of calories vis-à-vis your daily plan, and look for whole fruit in the ingredient list rather than fruit juice, meaning you get more fiber. “Healthy indulgence” brands include Snow Monkey, Frill and Hakuna Banana, which have low or no added sugar, plus added protein and other virtuous properties, so you can feel good about eating them.
While it’s always better to avoid chemicals, antibiotics and hormones, keep in mind that natural-ingredient ice creams from Ben & Jerry, Häagen-Dazs, and their organic, full-fat cousins should be considered more of a “fling” than your main squeeze, because of their ridiculously high saturated-fat content. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends consuming less than 10% of calories per day from saturated fat, which contributes to chronic diseases.
If you love the creamy texture of ice cream but want less fat, Paulette suggests Dreyer’s slow-churned ice cream or individually portioned treats such as Skinny Cow, which offers ice cream bars weighing in at 100 to 120 calories.
Or how about creating your own guilt-free treat? Get out the food processor and whirl up frozen fruit, a squeeze of lemon, a dollop or two of Greek yogurt, a splash of coconut cream or nut milk, and sweeten, if necessary, with maple syrup. It’s a simple and fun way to cool off in summer.