A Dieter's Guide to Cool Treats

Featured Article, News and Advice, Weight Loss
on August 2, 2011


It’s hot outside, you’re just a little hungry, and the idea of an icy cold treat sounds heavenly.  What’s the best choice for someone who wants to have her treat and stay healthy, too?

First, the guiding principle:  Select something that satisfies.  If you choose just because it’s lower in fat, calories, points, whatever, but it’s not what you really want, well, you probably know where that can take you:  To having more of the same, then ending up eating what you wanted in the first place.

Eating what we want in a way that feels great underlies the wisdom of selecting something that satisfies.  It follows, then, that understanding more about food can help us choose wisely among what we like.  So here’s a brief primer on some of the more popular frozen treats of summer.

Ice cream.  Advice to eat what satisfies may be most important when it comes to ice cream because variations can greatly affect taste.

  • Premium ice creams contain around twice as much fat as regular ice cream. While some people prefer the taste, others don’t. As premium ice cream does pack a calorie wallop, it’s worth being sure it’s your true preference.
  • “Light” ice creams are either lower in fat or lower in calories than the regular version. Some may use artificial sweeteners to cut calories, which can greatly affect taste, but they may have the same amount of fat as the regular version. Note that light versions of premium ice creams come close to regular ice cream nutritionally so may not represent a big savings in fat or sugar. 
  • Ice creams labeled “low fat” can’t contain more than 3 grams fat per serving and often contains less. That’s about 1/3 the amount in regular ice cream. The lack of fat can leave your palate uninspired, though.
  • “Churned” indicates a processing method that produces a lower-fat product that some say comes close to the taste and texture of regular ice cream.

Gelato.  Popping up in specialty stores nationwide, gelato comes to us via Italy, and is thought to be where the idea for ice cream originated.  Aficionados rate it higher on the pleasure scale than regular ice cream but nutrition-wise, it’s not much different. It’s a bit lower in fat but often contains a bit more sugar.

Soft serve.  A little lower in fat than regular ice cream but usually more than a light ice cream, soft serve populates many a summer memory.  Frozen custard is a richer variation that rivals regular ice cream in fat content.

Sherbet.  Sherbet generally contains much less fat than regular or low-fat ice cream but a lot more sugar.  Nutritionally, it offers no real advantages.

Sorbet. A good choice for someone who avoids milk products, sorbet is made from fruit with a good dose of added sugar.  Depending on the sorbet, the fruit may be in the form of juice, or it may be pureed.  Pureed varieties offer a few more nutrients but, again, not enough to really matter.

Frozen yogurt. Made from yogurt instead of milk or cream, frozen yogurt is one of those food products that enjoys a “health halo” that may not be completely deserved.  It’s generally lower in fat and calories than ice cream, but unless it specifies on the label that it contains “live and active cultures,” it won’t supply the beneficial bacteria found in regular yogurt.

Frozen fruit bars. These can rank as some of the best choices available nutritionally speaking; read the label to make sure.  Bars made from whole fruit top the list.

Ice pops.  Basically a mix of water, sweetener and flavorings, ice pops aren’t going to make it to any list of nutrition superstars.  But then again, not everything we eat has to. 


Marsha Hudnall, RD, MS, CD, is a nationally known nutritionist with more than 25 years experience as a weight management specialist. She is the owner and program director of Green Mountain at Fox Run, a women’s weight loss spa, that is dedicated to helping women learn how to eat what they love in a way that makes them feel great. She serves on several boards and has authored seven books on health and healthy weight loss.