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There are so many delicious choices in the ice cream aisle. Ice cream is traditionally made with heavy cream, laden with saturated fat and cholesterol, and some premium types still contain as much fat per serving as a few pats of butter. But today there are many brands that are happy to let you know, via their labels, that they are “double churned,” “slow churned,” “light,” and “fat and sugar free.” They don’t all taste the same, so you and your family will have to experiment (not a tough assignment) to see which one suits your needs and taste buds. Just don’t forget that no matter which frosty treat you choose, your calories will climb if you add toppings like crumbled cookies, granola, or hot fudge.

Be sure to check labels of frozen desserts carefully, as the numbers listed on their packages could differ dramatically.

What to Look for on the Label

Added sugars: Although ice cream contains some natural sugar from the milk it’s made with, check the ingredient list to see what other sugars are included, such as chocolate chips, candy, crunchy cookies, caramel, and sprinkles. A chocolate topping is usually high in fat and added sugar.

Artificial sweeteners: Frozen desserts that boast about not having as much sugar as their competitors have not come up with secret formulas to cut sugar without adding something else. Sugar substitutes like artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols are added to keep calories down and keep table sugar at bay.

Calories: Choose a frozen dessert that has about 120 calories per serving.

Saturated fat/trans fat/cholesterol: Even if the brand you select has a red-heart endorsement from the American Heart Association, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the product is in fact healthful. Check the label and steer clear of artery-clogging saturated fat and trans fat (partially hydrogenated fat). Zero grams of these fats would be best, but if your favorite brand has 1 to 2 grams of saturated fat, enjoy every smooth bite, but not every day. As with trans fats, zero is perfect.

Serving size: It’s hard to resist this creamy treat once you’ve sunk your spoon into the cup, so pay attention to the amount that’s listed as a serving size. Generally speaking, one-half cup, which is not very big, is considered to be one serving.

Slow-churned/double-churned: These terms refer to a process called “low-temperature extrusion,” which reduces the size of the fat globules and ice crystals in ice cream without compromising a creamy mouthfeel. This type of ice cream can be as low as half the calories of their full-fat frozen counterparts.

Here’s the Scoop on Frozen Desserts

Ice cream: It must have at least 10 percent milk fat by volume; it may or may not contain eggs.

Frozen yogurt: It doesn’t taste like the yogurt that comes in the dairy section—it can be as sweet and creamy as ice cream and can be fat-free or low in fat. It contains dairy that has been cultured, and some even contain active (good) bacterial cultures, but check the label and don’t assume it is low in calories.

Ice milk: It’s like an ice cream but contains milk instead of cream. It’s lighter and less creamy than ice cream and lower in fat content. It may or may not be high in sugar.

Nondairy dessert: Sorbet and ices contain little or no fat at all but may be loaded with sugar. Nondairy creamers used in some of these treats can be high in saturated and trans fats.

Sherbet: Similar to sorbet but also contains dairy (milk); it usually has a fruit component.

Sorbet: A frozen fruit dessert typically made with a sweetener (sugar or honey) and a fruit puree. Sorbet generally does not contain animal products and it is lower in fat (but just as high in sugar) as other frozen desserts. Known as sorbetto in Italian, this treat can be sweet (such as raspberry or mango) or savory (such as basil or sun-dried tomato) in flavor and is often served between courses as a way to cleanse the palate.

Gelato: A frozen dessert that contains a blend of milk and cream and sometimes eggs. It contains less air than ice cream and has a creamy yet dense texture.

 

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