Head Freeze: What is Going On in the Frozen Dessert Aisle

Ice cream, milkshakes, sorbet, and smoothies have been intermingling lately. Sometimes I can’t even tell what a food product is these days! The ice cream/frozen dessert aisle has also been expanding with everything from custard to gelato and dairy-free varieties of frozen desserts made of almond milk, coconut milk, and even avocado.

Making things even more confusing is the fact that serving sizes are all over the place – some restaurants will serve you a reasonably-sized 4 oz and others will happily present a 12 oz mountain of Fudge Rumble to you. This doesn’t just make it confusing for you, but also dietitians like me. Do I create the table of nutrition information so that it’s based on the same serving size for each dessert (i.e., each ounce) or in the portions that are served? Ultimately, I went with the nutrients in the portions that are served, because if I said four ounces of Caramel Crunch Delight contains 200 calories and then you went to the restaurant and found that the smallest size available is ten ounces, so 500 calories, you might be angry with me.

In general, this is what some of the terminology that might furrow your brow means:

Light/lite ice cream– 1/3 fewer calories compared to conventional

Low-fat– no more than three grams of fat per serving

Nonfat– no more than half a gram of fat per serving

Frozen custard– similar to ice cream in terms of milk fat, but with the addition of egg yolks

Gelato – more milk than cream compared to ice creams and also contains less air (this makes it taste creamier) and fewer egg yolks, which overall means that it has a lower percentage of fat than ice cream

Slow churned– this type of ice cream has more air incorporated into it, which makes it ½ the fat and 1/3 fewer calories compared to premium

How to Choose:

  • Ideally, your frozen dessert will contain fewer than 150 calories per serving, but if you absolutely need premium, try to pick one with less than 250 calories per scoop.
  • Your choice should contain three grams or less of saturated fat per serving whenever possible (keeping in mind that this is very difficult to attain unless you’re choosing frozen yogurt or sorbet). When it’s just not possible, keep it as low as possible (yes, even if the saturated fat comes from coconut milk).
  • Keep an eye on added sugar and choose a dessert with less than 20 grams of sugar per ½ cup. Sorbets and frozen yogurts can contain a lot of sugar, although they are low-fat or fat-free. Remember that there are four grams of sugar in a teaspoon, so if you’re eating ice cream with 36 grams of sugar in it, you can picture 9 teaspoons (3 Tablespoons) of sugar in your belly. Yum! The recommended daily limit for added sugar is six teaspoons for women and nine for men.
  • Choose desserts with simple ingredient lists and as few ingredients as possible. Some ice cream ingredient lists include gum, thickeners, protein concentrates, sugar substitutes, and isolated fibers (such as inulin or maltodextrin).
  • Unless you think adding powdered vitamins to hot fudge sauce and drinking it straight out of the jar sounds like a good idea, you should keep an eye on what ingredients your “healthy” dessert contains. Also, and I know this will garner nothing but hate, there is no substantial evidence that alternative kinds of milk are any better for you than cow’s milk unless you have a diagnosed milk allergy or lactose intolerance.
  • Try to get your treat in pre-portioned packages; it’s very easy to overeat out of a tub or carton.
  • Be careful of toppings! A tablespoon of caramel contains at least 45 calories, and a ¼ cup of M & M candy is 210 calories.

If you’re eating these desserts every night or several times a week, it’s obviously a bit more important to be more careful than if you only splurge a few times a year.

Comparing Frozen Desserts