It's no wonder that ice cream is everyone's favorite summer treat—the combination of fat and sugar is cool and satisfying—and unhealthy. "Not only is ice cream high in fat, but it's high in saturated fat," warns nutritionist Leslie Bonci, M.P.H., R.D., director of the Sports Medicine Nutrition Program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. While the occasional cone won't hurt you, there are some healthier desserts in the freezer section. Bonci gave us the scoop on our favorite summer treats:
We All Scream for Ice Cream
High quality isn't always a good thing; while regular ice cream has about 160 calories and 9 grams of fat in a 1/2 cup serving, the same serving size of premium ice cream (like HSagen-Dazs) can have 290 calories and 19 grams of fat. The Italian version of ice cream, gelato, incorporates less air than its American cousins, making it denser—and more caloric—than regular ice cream."
Keep in mind, though, that a serving size of ice cream or other frozen dessert is 1/2 cup. Some people think you can eat a whole pint," says Bonci. "At an ice cream parlor, a scoop of ice cream is usually about 3/4 of a cup." Wondering if it makes sense to go for the low-sugar versions found in many ice cream parlors? Each 1/2 cup has140 to190 calories and an average of seven grams of fat. A better alternative, if you don't mind the texture, is ice milk. It's lower in calories (about 90 per serving) and fat (about 3 grams) than ice cream, but at a price: "Some people find it gummy, and it doesn't tend to keep as well as ice cream in the freezer," notes Bonci. Or you can try Tasti D-Lite, which is a sort of soft-serve ice milk. Four ounces of vanilla has only 40 calories and less than one gram of fat.
Think you're being healthy by choosing fro-yo instead of ice cream? It depends on the brand; frozen yogurt comes in all different levels of healthfulness. "Some are comparable to ice cream in terms of fat and calorie content," says Bonci. As for calcium, it's only a good source if it has added calcium.
The lactose intolerant and vegan population may have to pass on ice cream, but it doesn't mean they have to give up creamy treats for good. Soy-based Tofutti has 100 to 220 calories per 1/2 cup, with 1 to 13 grams of fat depending on the flavor. But if you're trying to increase your soy intake, don't expect to find much here. "It's not a major source of soy, with only 2 grams at the most," says Bonci. Another dairy-free alternative treat: Rice Dream. Made from rice "milk," it contains 130 to 180 calories per half cup with 5 to 9 grams of fat.
Okay, they won't quench your ice cream cravings, but sherbet and sorbet are delicious desserts in their own right, with intense fruity flavors. Sherbet is a frozen mixture of sweetened fruit juice and water, which may also contain, milk, egg whites or gelatin. Half a cup has about 130 calories and 2 grams of fat. Though similar to sherbet, sorbet never contains milk. One serving contains 110 to 130 calories and can have 0 to 1.5 grams of fat, though coconut flavors can be more fattening. "Even though it's low fat, portion size is still an issue. Try to keep it to half a cup," says Bonci.
Though FrozFruit bars have similar nutritional value to sorbet (one strawberry pop has 90 calories, 0 grams of fat), the added fruit gives it a fun texture—watermelon even contains watermelon seeds--and the flavors are particularly realistic. "The bars are a good choice for someone who has trouble stopping at a half a cup of dessert since each is a self-contained portion," says Bonci. Similarly, you're not going to do too much damage with Italian ices, which are usually made from just water, sugar and flavoring. One serving also contains 90 calories and no fat. "Italian ices are a great summer treat," says Bonci. "The ones you get in a paper cup in the freezer section usually take a while to eat as well, since you have to scrape the ice a little at a time."
The bottom line, says Bonci, is portion control. "It's okay to have the frozen sweets; it's just the size that's the issue." Her advice: "Go out and order a small kiddie cone without the toppings, enjoy it, and don't feel guilty."