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food for thought

For many of us, summer isn’t summer without ice cream. But if you’re controlling your weight or managing your blood cholesterol, regularly splurging on premium ice cream isn’t recommended.

Consider, for example, that most Haagen-Dazs ice cream flavours deliver 270 calories per one half-cup serving and some even more – white chocolate raspberry truffle and chocolate peanut butter serve up 300 and 380 calories per serving, respectively. That’s quite a splurge.

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A woman eats an ice cream, during a sunny day in Mont-Saint-Michel, in northwestern France, on May 7, 2018.CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/Getty Images

Consider also that half of a cup of premium ice cream contains 9 to 11 grams of cholesterol-raising saturated fat, roughly the same amount found in a McDonald’s Big Mac (10 g saturated fat), about half a day’s worth for healthy adults.

(One half-cup of ice cream, stated on nutrition labels, is the size of half a baseball, one-quarter of an ice cream pint.)

Fortunately, if ice cream is a regular part of your summer diet, there are more moderate indulgences in the freezer aisle. Newer “healthier” products boast less sugar and fat (and, in some cases, more protein and fibre) and prominently display calories per pint on the front package.

Despite their lower calorie content, though, there are reasons why you shouldn’t indulge in the whole tub.

Lower calorie ice cream alternatives

Halo Top’s website claims you can enjoy the whole pint (280 to 360 calories depending on flavour) as a regular part of your diet.

One pint does have considerably fewer calories than a pint of Haagen-Dazs’s cookies and cream (1,080 calories), Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey (960) or Breyer’s maple walnut (640). Its first ingredient is skim milk (versus cream), so it’s much lower in fat than regular ice cream.

It also contains very little sugar. To keep calories low, Halo Top is sweetened with stevia, a zero-calorie sweetener derived from a plant, and erythritol, a sugar alcohol that has virtually no calories.

Eating an extra-large portion of sugar alcohols – also found in lookalike frozen dessert products such as Coolway, Enlightened and Breyer’s Delights – can cause diarrhea. While erythritol is the least laxative sugar alcohol, it may cause symptoms in people with irritable bowel syndrome.

Brands such as Halo Top and Arctic Zero also contain a prebiotic fibre; downing the whole pint could cause bloating and gas.

These low-fat, low-sugar treats get their creamy texture from thickeners (e.g., maltodextrin, corn fibre, xanthan gum, guar gum). So if you’re into natural foods with simple ingredient lists, these products might not be for you.

Frozen yogurt vs. ice cream

Choosing frozen yogurt, made with low-fat milk, allows you to dodge fat, especially saturated fat. That’s a good thing if you’re trying to lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol level.

But thanks to its added sugar content, many brands of frozen yogurt have the same sugar and calorie content as regular ice cream.

Compliments wild blueberry Greek frozen yogurt, for instance, has 16 grams of sugar (four teaspoons’ worth) per one half-cup. That’s one teaspoon more than a serving of Breyer’s chocolate ice cream contains.

Frozen yogurt may contain active bacterial cultures, but don’t consider it a good source of probiotic bacteria. The amount of live bacteria in frozen yogurt depends on the quantity that was in the yogurt it was made from and on the ability of the bacteria strain to survive the freezing process (and the acidity of your stomach).

Non-dairy versions

Haagen-Dazs, Ben and Jerry’s and Breyer’s offer dairy-free frozen desserts for plant-based eaters. They’re made with ingredients such as almond milk, ground almonds, pea protein, and/or coconut cream.

Dairy-free doesn’t mean calorie-free, though. Haagen-Dazs and Ben and Jerry’s non-dairy flavours serve up 260 to 300 calories per one half-cup (along with plenty of sugar). Breyer’s dairy-free ice cream is more reasonable, at 150 calories per serving.

Bottom line

Eating a whole pint of low-calorie ice cream or frozen dessert in one sitting isn’t mindful eating.

Instead, take time to savour the creaminess and flavour of a small portion of ice cream, be it low-calorie, plant-based or the real thing. Doing so will promote satiety and curb your calorie intake.

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is Director of Food and Nutrition at Medcan.

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