3 Simple Ways to Lighten Up Your Ice Cream

Who doesn’t love a refreshing bowl of sweet, soft ice cream on a hot summer day? Although ice cream is a summertime favorite, with an average of 28 grams of sugar per one cup serving (the equivalent of about two scoops), it may not be the most nutritious choice to eat every day. 

So, we turned to the experts to see if there’s a way to “lighten up” this favorite frozen treat. And luckily the answer is yes! You can even increase your intake of beneficial nutrients in the process. Here’s how to do it. 

Consider your portion size

Our nutrition experts are unanimous: it is perfectly fine to enjoy plain old ice cream. There’s no need to buy low sugar, low fat, or any other alternative unless you want to. But, if you want to lighten up the amount of added sugar you are eating, paying attention to the portion size of your next cup or cone is key. “One way to consume less added sugar from ice cream is to watch your portion size by sticking with eating 1/2 cup as your serving,” explains Brittany Crump, MPH, RD, LD of Savor Nutrition. 

And if that amount, which is equal to about one scoop of ice cream, doesn’t seem like enough, don’t panic. There are a few nutritious “tricks” that can help your portion go further. “I love to ‘stretch’ my ice cream portion by mixing 1/2 cup of frozen berries into 1/2 cup of slightly softened vanilla ice cream for a larger portion with some added nutrition and sweetness from the fruit,” shares culinary nutritionist Laura M. Ali, MS, RDN, LDN.

The best low sugar ice cream alternative

If you are in the market for a lower sugar or lower calorie ice cream, there are plenty of options to choose from. However, take a look at the ingredient list to make sure the brand you choose is the right fit for you. “Some lower sugar ice creams use sugar alcohols, like sorbitol and mannitol, to add sweetness, which can cause gastrointestinal discomfort for some people,” explains Ali. 

And sugar alcohols aren’t the only swap you may find on the label of these lower sugar ice cream alternatives. Some varieties add in more fat, often saturated fat, to enhance the creamy consistency when sugar is reduced. Although dietary fat doesn’t need to be avoided, large amounts of saturated fat in the diet have been linked with an increased risk of elevated cholesterol levels and heart disease, so it is recommended to limit this type of fat to ten percent of total daily calories or less.

To help identify if the lower sugar option is truly a more nutritious choice, use the Nutrition Facts panel on the ice cream packaging. Compare the labels to traditional ice cream and look for varieties with fewer grams of added sugars (standard ice cream contains about 12 to 24 grams of added sugar per ½ cup serving.) For saturated fat, look for varieties with fewer than 5 grams of saturated fat per serving when possible. 

If you are up for making nutritious ice cream at home, “nice” cream is always a fun option. “Nice cream is typically made from frozen bananas with other fruits and oftentimes unsweetened nut or coconut milk, which can provide a good source of potassium while containing much fewer calories, fat, and added sugar than traditional ice cream,” shares Ali.

Dietitian-recommended ice cream toppings

What’s ice cream without the sprinkles? As fun and colorful as toppings like sprinkles and candy are, they can also significantly drive up the amount of added sugar and calories in your bowl. Just one tablespoon of sprinkles contains 7 grams of sugar with little nutrition value. 

But that doesn’t mean you have to give up toppings all together. “Try incorporating healthy fats by topping your ice cream with slivered almonds, walnuts, or cocoa nibs,” shares Amanda Liptak, RDN, CA, who points out that the added plant-based fats may increase fullness, making it easier to stick with a smaller portion size. 

And nuts aren’t the only nutritious topping to consider. If you are in the mood to sweeten up your bowl, consider adding fruit. “Topping your bowl with fruit such as strawberries and blueberries are a great way to add additional nutrients and fiber,” shares Crump. 

If you love a drizzled topping, nix the chocolate syrup and consider a nut butter instead. “Warm up a little peanut or almond butter to drizzle over the top of your ice cream and sprinkle with unsweetened coconut or granola,” adds Ali.

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