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More “healthy” frozen treats are appearing in the supermarket freezer case. Some labels play up their low calorie and low sugar count. Others sport claims about protein or fiber. If you're watching your cholesterol, blood sugar, or weight, these products can take some of the cons out of having a cone—if you choose carefully.
Light Ice Creams
What they are: Light ice creams have either at least 50 percent less fat or 33 percent fewer calories than a company’s (or a competitor’s) regular brand.
Pros: They offer a significant savings in calories and fat. For example, Turkey Hill All Natural Vanilla Bean Ice Cream has 160 calories, 9 grams of fat, and 6 grams of saturated fat per half-cup. The same-size serving of the Turkey Hill light Vanilla Bean Ice Cream has 100 calories, 2 grams of fat, and 1½ grams of saturated fat.
Cons: Regular ice cream sometimes contains thickeners and gums such as carob bean, guar, and xanthan gums. But light ice cream almost always does—the additives give them a richer texture. (Some thickeners can cause digestive upset.) These products also usually have about the same amount of sugars as regular versions. And read labels carefully: Light premium ice cream can have almost as many calories as another brand’s standard ice cream.
Treats With ‘Benefits’
Pros: Vanilla flavors of Arctic Zero, Enlightened, and Halo Top frozen treats have 35 to 60 calories, 0 to 2 grams of fat, and 3 to 5 grams of sugars per half-cup.
Cons: Some have no more protein than regular ice cream (2 to 3 grams per half-cup). For example, Arctic Zero, which prominently notes protein on the carton lid, has just 3 grams in a half-cup. Enlightened has 6 grams, but that’s about just one-third of what you get in 6 ounces of a nonfat Greek yogurt.
As for fiber, it’s added in the form of chicory root, guar fiber, or “prebiotic” fiber. “It’s not clear whether added fiber has the same health benefits as fiber found naturally in foods,” says Consumer Reports' Amy Keating, a registered dietitian.
And don’t fall for the marketing hype encouraging you to eat the whole pint. “Eating big portions can crowd out space for other healthier foods,” Keating says. In addition, you can get up to 20 grams of fiber in one sitting, and that may cause bloating or diarrhea.
The products also contain thickeners and stabilizers, and calorie-free sweeteners such as erythritol, monk-fruit concentrate, and stevia in addition to cane sugar. Erythritol and other sugar alcohols can cause stomach upset in some people, says Brie Turner-McGrievy, R.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of health promotion, education, and behavior at the University of South Carolina.
Vegan 'Ice Creams'
What they are: These frozen desserts are made from almond, coconut, soy, or other plant milks, and sometimes pea protein.
Pros: They’re a boon for vegans. And being dairy-free makes the desserts a benefit to people who suffer from lactose intolerance.
Cons: “Many of the new plant-based frozen treats are not necessarily lower in calories or total fat than ice cream,” Turner-McGrievy says. “But since their fat comes from plants, they often are higher in the ‘healthier’ unsaturated fat.” But the ones made with coconut have saturated-fat levels similar to ice cream. And they all contain gums and other additives.
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