“You should enjoy your food and there’s a place for everything in your diet — in moderation,” says Jessica Patrick, MS, RD, LDN, a clinical dietitian at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital.
That includes ice cream. There’s no sweeter way to celebrate summer than a cold cone, so long as you’re mindful of your portion size and the ingredients in your scoop.
“There are a lot of great ice cream options out there if you want to be more conscious about fat or carbohydrate intake,” says Patrick. “You can still have what you love as long as you don’t lose track of your lifestyle and goals.”
Before you indulge, here are some things to keep in mind.
Not all fats are bad.
“People are quick to condemn saturated fats for their contribution to high cholesterol, but research shows that in dairy form, saturated fats don’t have this link to elevating cholesterol,” says Patrick. “Saturated fats also help with satiety. When you eat a rich food like ice cream, you likely don’t need to eat in excess to feel satisfied.”
However, fat of any kind is rich in calories. To balance a healthy weight, be mindful of your portion size.
You can DI(C)Y (do ice cream yourself).
“If you’re watching your weight and counting calories, you can create ice cream with your favorite frozen fruit and your milk of choice,” says Patrick.
Blend your favorite frozen fruit — from berries to bananas — with a non-dairy milk or cow’s milk and your sweetener of choice — agave, honey or sugar — for a sweet and icy treat. Freeze the mixture in popsicle form or even in an ice cube tray for smaller portion sizes. Get creative — and get your kids involved.
You can have more than 31 flavors, but stick to one serving.
“In the frozen treat aisle at the grocery store, you’ll find a multitude of ice cream alternatives, from Greek yogurt-based treats, which can offer protein, to coconut milk-based treats, which are great for people with allergies,” says Patrick. “Know your diet goals and take your pick, making sure you stick to one recommended serving.”
Screen your ice cream.
“It’s imperative to read the labels on your ice cream,” says Patrick. “Brands that tout ‘healthier’ ingredients often contain excess sugar or sugar alcohols, which contribute to bloating or gastrointestinal distress.”
Much like classic dairy ice cream, ice cream with a coconut milk base can be high in calories and fat, which is something to be wary of if you are tracking calories and trying to balance macronutrient (protein, fat and carbohydrate) intake.
“Remember that ‘no sugar added’ doesn’t mean no sugar, and ‘low carb’ doesn’t mean carb-free,” adds Patrick. “Don’t believe the marketing on some of these frozen treat products. Take ownership of your indulgence by carefully reading food labels.”