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What is the Healthiest Ice Cream?

23 min read -

It seems like almost everyone is trying to watch what they eat. We all understand the damage that a poor diet can do. Everyone from food manufacturers to fast food companies to sit down restaurants are trying their best to accommodate the desire to eat healthier, putting forth their lightest offerings in an attempt to appeal to people looking to cut the calories, fats, and sugar.

Healthy ice cream is here. 

With more people looking to avoid unhealthy ingredients, even major ice cream manufacturers have expanded their offerings to include lighter options. The question is, which one of these offerings is actually the healthiest?

Traditional Ice Cream

Traditional ice cream’s nutrition facts don’t look all that awful until you really do that math to understand what’s going in your body.

Häagen-Dazs strawberry ice cream contains 260 calories, 17 grams of fat, 4 grams of protein, and 23 grams of added sugar in a single serving of a ½ cup. While it’s not entirely terrible, it’s weak on nutrients, like most ice cream. 

Ben & Jerry’s doesn’t even have a plain strawberry. The closest they get is Strawberry Cheesecake at 340 calories, 20 grams of fat, 25 grams of added sugar, and 5 grams of protein per serving. You’ll get some vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium from Ben & Jerry’s, but is it really worth all the added sugar?

These nutrition facts are standard for the most popular brands of strawberry ice cream. You won’t see too much variation. It’s easy to see that it’s mostly junk, and the meager protein content isn’t enough to overcompensate for the empty and void calories that make up the bulk of traditional ice cream.

Light Ice Cream

Light ice cream does a good job at removing some of the junk calories of ice cream and providing some extra protein. This tips the scales in the other direction, making it easier to justify dessert. 

Light ice cream substitutes sugar and heavy cream for sugar alcohols and lighter dairy, thickened with plant-based gums. On top of that, the pints are pumped with air so you’re not actually getting the same amount of ice cream as you would a normal pint, which contributes greatly to the lower calorie counts.

Overall, it isn’t necessarily that light ice cream is better for you, but rather that it’s kinda sorta less bad for you if your main focus is simply consuming fewer calories regardless of those calories being nutritionally empty.

Plant Milk Ice Cream

Plant milk-based ice cream isn’t necessarily marketed as a health product, but many people perceive it to be one. Something about the term “plant milk” has a health halo around it. Plant milks do generally have less calories than dairy milk, but they also have less protein and fewer nutrients. This is another case of less bad, rather than healthier.

So Delicious Dairy Free has a strawberry flavor in their coconut milk frozen dessert line. It weighs in at 200 calories for ⅔ of a cup, with less than one gram of protein and a meager 2% of your recommended daily iron. You’re also getting 11 grams of fat and a shocking 18 grams of added sugars. 

No Dairy Häagen-Dazs isn’t much better. Their Coconut Caramel Non-Dairy flavor has 330 kcal per ⅔ cup serving with one gram of protein and 4% of your daily iron. Fat comes in at a very slightly slower 15 grams, but added sugar is a whopping 23 grams.

Neither is really healthy. The nutrition facts aren’t anything to write home about. They may taste good, but in some cases, dairy ice cream is actually better for you in terms of calories, nutrients, and protein. 

If plant milk ice cream is the only non-dairy option you can find, you’ll have to make it work for you. Just don’t consider it a healthier alternative to dairy ice cream. It’s not actually better for you.

Fruit-Based Ice Cream

If you’re looking for something that’s actually healthier than ice cream, fruit-based frozen dessert is what’s going to fit the bill. 

Snow Monkey’s strawberry flavor contains 150 calories for ⅔ of a cup. You’ll enjoy 7 grams of protein, along with substantial amounts of calcium, iron, and potassium. You’ll get the added perk of 4 grams of dietary fiber. Fat comes in at a reasonable 3.5 grams and added sugars at modest 3 grams. 

So, what makes fruit-based ice cream so much healthier? The base is made of pureed fruits, like strawberries, apples, and bananas. Seed butter and hemp protein powder give the formula a little boost. It’s all in the design. Plus, if mother nature didn’t make it, we don’t use it, so you know that you’re getting the good stuff. 

Most alternatives to traditional ice cream were never designed to be health foods. They were designed to be lower in calories, and that’s as far as the companies went. They didn’t think about changing the overall nutritional profile of their products. They just wanted a lower calorie count. 

Snow Monkey is one of the only brands to add protein and consider the overall nutrient profile of their dessert. 

Who Wins?

Snow Monkey is the clear winner in the healthy frozen dessert wars when it comes to a nutritious sweet treat -- can you really be too surprised? 

But really, it seems that every other brand has a misconception of what healthy actually means. Your body needs the right fuel to keep going, and we wanted to make a dessert that people could eat as part of a balanced breakfast, lunch, or actual dessert.

Snow Monkey is healthy enough to eat every day, at any time. 

That’s why plant-based ice creams can be such a let down. Yes, they’re lower in calories. They’re also low in everything else you need for a healthy diet. You won’t be getting much protein from your dessert. You may be better off enjoying a plant-based protein shake instead of a scoop of your favorite frozen plant milk treat. 

At the end of the day, though, we always recommend going with a brand that uses natural, whole food ingredients as opposed to a bunch of crap you can’t even pronounce.

The Takeaway

It’s time to start taking a closer look at the nutrition facts. Don’t trust that a dessert is healthy just because the packaging is designed to suggest that it is. Calorie counts matter, but so does nutrient content. So do all those little percentages of your daily values of vitamins, minerals, and important nutrients. If something shows a bunch of zeros on that portion of the label, it can’t exactly claim to be healthy

While there’s nothing wrong with indulging in the occasional empty calorie, you don’t want to make a habit of it. You’ll feel better and be healthier if you choose useful calories infused with nutrients to supply your body with the energy it needs to heal, move, and function. 

There’s no reason that some of those calories can’t come from a healthy dessert!


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