What’s the Deal With Healthy Ice Cream “Alternatives”?

Lately, I’ve noticed when strolling happily through the frozen desserts section of the store that there are TONS of different ice cream “alternatives.” Are they worth the hype? I conducted a bunch of … um, “scientific” research to find the answers. Here’s what I discovered.


Are Nondairy Desserts or Alternative Ice Creams Right for You?

First, let’s talk about the different options available for frozen treats. There are vegan alternatives, high-protein “keto” versions, Italian gelato, sorbet, frozen yogurt, frozen kefir and shaved ice. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Vegan desserts: These are nondairy desserts, meaning they don’t have any kind of cow’s milk, goat’s milk, etc. Instead, they use tasty coconut, almond, cashew or soy milk. If you’re lactose intolerant, these alternatives can be amazing. However, they also tend to be high in sugar and saturated fat.
  • Sorbet: This is whipped and frozen fruit puree. On the upside, it has zero saturated fat. On the downside, many varieties are packed with sugar.
  • Gelato: This is Italian ice cream. It’s thicker than traditional ice cream, and it has a heavenly texture (you can trust me on this). Ounce for ounce, gelato has significantly less calories, sugar and fat than ice cream. There’s a catch, however: One serving of gelato is quite a bit smaller than a serving of ice cream.
  • Frozen yogurt: This is a joke when it comes to losing weight. Frozen yogurt (and kefir) is tasty, and includes probiotics, but it usually has as much sugar and fat as regular ice cream.
  • Shaved ice: Bao bing, kakigori, Italian lemon ice — these are all types of shaved ice. Low in calories, gluten free and fat free, shaved ice sounds like the perfect alternative to ice cream. And, if you choose options with actual fruit juice and zero added sugar, it can be.

What about flavor? All of the healthy ice cream options I tried tasted great, though not quite as creamy as full-fat ice cream.

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Is Your Favorite Healthy Ice Cream Really Low in Fat?

At around 300–400 calories per pint compared to 1,200 calories in traditional ice cream, there’s no doubt that some varieties of healthy ice cream can help you skip the fat. To really benefit, however, you need to read the label. Some low-calorie desserts are full of added sugar (even more than full-fat ice cream) that adds to your waistline.

Ice cream bars

Are Ice Cream Alternatives Actually Healthy?

Can you benefit from choosing low-calorie alternatives to regular ice cream? Yes … and no. It honestly depends a lot on the specific ingredients. Some brands of healthy ice cream focus on natural ingredients (mint, dark chocolate, real fruit puree). Others use fillers, emulsifiers, sugar alcohols and a bunch of other things I can’t even pronounce.
After trying them over many weeks (purely out of scientific curiosity), my opinion is this: Choose healthy or vegan ice cream if you like it or need it, not as a weight-loss help. Many of these alternatives simply aren’t filling enough, which makes you want to eat more than you should.

Gelato store

Don’t fall for the “go for it!” trap. Even ice cream alternatives that are genuinely healthy can quickly add pounds if you eat the entire pint. Look at the serving size and compare it with what you normally eat. For some people, it’s better to indulge in a few scoops of normal ice cream on special occasions instead of demolishing an entire container of healthy ice cream regularly.

3 Replies to “What’s the Deal With Healthy Ice Cream “Alternatives”?”

  1. I am a diabetic and I have been buying the low sugar ice cream from Breyers where it has only four grams of sugar. It dosn’t taste like regular ice cream but it is a good alternative.

  2. My go to ice cream substitute is Nice cream I can make at home with frozen bananas and flavorings – mango, strawberries, chocolate. It satisfies that ice cream craving for a sweet treat.

  3. I’ve been eating some Nature’s Promise Cashewmilk/Salted Caramel ice cream substitute for quite a while. Love the taste–no milk & 14 grams of sugar {cane & Tapioca syrup} for the whole container.

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