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Summer is the season of ice cream. There’s nothing more enjoyable than hitting the freezer section to check out the latest flavors and treats to keep you cool in the hot weather.
But despite its refreshing, indulgent taste, traditional ice cream isn’t the most health-conscious dessert. In fact, it’s almost the opposite: ice cream is notorious for its high calorie, fat, and sugar content. But thankfully, that doesn’t mean this classic frozen dessert can’t fit into a healthy diet.
Now, there are plenty of lower-calorie, lower-sugar ice cream options available for a healthier treat when you want something sweet.
Here are some of the best health benefits of choosing a lower-calorie ice cream instead of your standard pint of ice cream.
Benefit #1: Low-calorie ice cream typically comes with less sugar, which can lead to fewer health issues.
It’s no surprise that ice cream is high in sugar, but did you know that a 1/2-cup serving of vanilla ice cream contains an average of 14 grams of sugar? That’s 56 empty calories right there. “Overconsumption of added sugars in the diet is linked to obesity, hypertension, diabetes and heart disease,” says Amber Pankonin, MS, RD, registered dietitian and owner of Stirlist. “Tasty treats like ice cream can be a source of added sugar, which is why low-sugar ice cream can be a great alternative for people wanting to lower their sugar intake.”
Enlightened Ice Cream, for example, only averages between 4 and 6 grams of sugar per serving. To keep the sugar count so low, Enlightened uses monk fruit and erythritol, which are all-natural, zero-carb sweeteners.
Benefit #2: Low-calorie ice cream has less saturated fat.
It’s ok to consume saturated fats in moderation, but the issue is when you consume too much. “Saturated fat is associated with an increased risk for heart disease and certain cancers (including breast cancer and lung cancer),” says Keri Gans, MS, RDN, CDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and author of The Small Change Diet. The FDA recommends limiting saturated fat to just 20 grams per day; however, the average American adult man consumes 31 grams of saturated fat while the average adult woman consumes 23 grams, according to the USDA. Because dairy products account for a significant 13 percent of your saturated fat intake, any amount of fat you can knock off your favorite dairy-based dessert can make a big difference.6254a4d1642c605c54bf1cab17d50f1e
Regular vanilla ice cream averages around 4.5 grams of saturated fat, which is nearly a quarter of the maximum recommended intake for most adults. Contrast that with low-calorie ice cream, like Enlightened. Their ice cream bars and pints save on saturated fat — they have just 2 grams per serving, which is less than 10% your daily value — by substituting skim milk for some of the fatty cream content. The result of cutting back on saturated fat? You save yourself over 22 calories.
Benefit #3: Low-calorie ice cream may help build muscle.
“Depending on the brand and variety, some lower-calorie ice creams might contain more protein than others,” says Pankonin. While regular ice cream may only contain 2 or 3 grams of protein, low-calorie ice cream oftentimes contains much more. Most of Enlightened’s ice cream bars have almost double that — between 7 to 8 grams of protein per serving or 28 to 32 grams in each pint of ice cream, thanks to the combination of low-calorie skim milk and high-protein milk protein isolate.
Benefit #4: Low-calorie ice cream’s fiber content helps with digestion.
While fiber isn’t a traditional ingredient in ice cream, it has plenty of functional benefits when added to this frozen dessert. “The benefit of added fiber is that fiber improves digestion and fullness,” says Pankonin. Fiber can also help to prevent your blood sugar from spiking after eating a high-carb meal, which will make sure you don’t suffer from a sugar high and crash. The fiber found in Enlightened Ice Cream is soluble corn fiber, considered a true fiber by the FDA. According to the latest peer-reviewed data, soluble corn fiber is a great option for adding digestion-slowing fiber to low-carb diets.
Benefit #5: Low-calorie ice cream won’t spike blood sugar.
Since many lower-sugar ice creams are sweetened with alternative sweeteners, these can also be a great benefit for those with blood sugar issues or diabetes. Look for brands that use erythritol, a zero-calorie sugar alcohol that doesn’t affect blood glucose or spike blood sugar. It is lower in net carbs and sugar than traditional ice creams and is a low GI (glycemic index) food.
Benefit #6: Low-calorie ice cream has built-in portion control.
“For individuals who are trying to lose weight and have a hard time with portion control, a lower calorie ice cream may be a better choice for them than regular ice cream,” says Gans. “The main thing I stress when enjoying any ice cream, even if lower in fat and/or sugar, is to follow the recommended serving size; just because it might have fewer calories doesn’t mean you should eat more of it.” If you struggle with portion sizes with ice cream (let’s all agree that we’re not measuring out 1/2 a cup every time we serve ourselves), it might be better for you to opt for a pre-portioned frozen dessert. Enlightened’s low-sugar ice cream bars are one serving each, with each containing between 70-150 calories.
Benefit #7: Low-calorie ice cream may help you lose weight.
“Switching from regular to lower calorie ice cream is beneficial to those watching calories,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Brittany Michels, MS, RDN, LD. “It may help with weight loss or maintenance efforts by providing an alternate means of enjoyment that supports health goals.”
Benefit #8: Low-calorie ice cream may be keto-friendly.
If you’re following the keto diet, you’re probably well aware of the importance of reducing your carb and sugar intake. For that reason, many keto dieters can’t have high-sugar ice cream. Many of Enlightened bars are “keto-friendly” thanks to being so low in sugar and carbs. Plus, “several brands that produce low-sugar ice cream might also offer a ‘keto’ version,” says Pankonin. For example, Enlightened also has a dairy-based Keto Collection that boasts just 1 gram of net carbs per serving while still having a lower calorie count than regular. high-sugar ice cream.