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Cool off with these low-calorie frozen treats

As the temperature rises in the summer, people turn to a host of things to quench their thirst and cool the heat. Nutritionist Elizabeth Somer has some frozen treats that will bring on the chill without melting your diet.What’s summer without ice cream?! Obviously not much, considering that each of us downs about 23 pounds of ice cream a year! Reach for Ben & Jerry’s New York SuperFudge Chunk
/ Source: TODAY

As the temperature rises in the summer, people turn to a host of things to quench their thirst and cool the heat. Nutritionist Elizabeth Somer has some frozen treats that will bring on the chill without melting your diet.

What’s summer without ice cream?! Obviously not much, considering that each of us downs about 23 pounds of ice cream a year! Reach for Ben & Jerry’s New York SuperFudge Chunk or Haagen-Dazs Cookie Dough ice cream — with more than 300 calories, up to 58% fat, and three teaspoons of artery-clogging saturated fat — and you are likely to be spilling out of the cute little swimsuit and into a cardiac arrest.

You needn’t let that sweet tooth and craving for something cold and sweet undermine your waistline and your health. Not when there are so many good options on the market.

1. Is choosing a tasty, low-cal ice cream as simple as just heading for the ones with “low-fat” and “reduced carbs” on the label? 

There is no legal definition of “reduced carb” or “net carb,” although these terms are used frequently on frozen desserts. Typically, the product has used sugar alcohols to replace some of the sugar. Watch out for these, however, since eat too much and they can have a laxative effect. Also, some of these brands are swimming in fat. Breyer’s Carb Smart Rocky Road, for example, is 69% fat calories, with more than a teaspoon of bad fat per ½ cup serving.

Low-fat ice cream is required by law to contain no more than 3 grams total of fat in a half cup serving. Nonfat ice cream must contain less than 0.5 grams of total fat. “Light” ice cream must contain at least 50% less fat or 33% fewer calories than regular ice cream.

Some are good, some are calorie nightmares. For example, Skinny Cow’s Low-Fat Fudge bar has only 100 calories, while Haagen-Dazs Extra-Rich Light Vanilla Bean Flavor has 2.5 times the calories and eight times the fat. Breyer’s Free, Fat-Free Creamy Vanilla has even fewer calories, or 90 calories and no fat. The bottom line is you must read labels and not trust the front of the package!

2. Is frozen yogurt a better bet?

Not always. Ben & Jerry’s Lighten Up! Chocolate Fudge Brownie made with low-fat yogurt is lower in calories and fat than their plain Chocolate Fudge Brownie, but still has 170 calories per half cup and almost 6 teaspoons of sugar. Read labels and look for a frozen yogurt product that has no more than 150 calories per ½ cup serving and 2 grams of fat. Examples of frozen yogurts that meet this limit: Dreyer’s Fat-free Frozen (90 cal/0 fat) and TCBYs’ Fat-free yogurts (110 calories/0 fat). TCBY’s Low-fat frozen yogurts meet the calorie allotment (140 cal), but have a little too much fat (3 grams).

3. When it comes to sugar, are all ice creams the same?

Sugar content ranges from 4 to 30 grams per half cup serving. There are 4 grams per teaspoon, so that means from about 1 to 8 teaspoons a serving. Labels don’t tell you how much sugar comes from fruit and how much comes from plain old sugar so, for example, HaagenDazs fat-free Raspberry Sorbet has almost 7 tsp of sugar, but most of it comes from real fruit, while Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie has the same amount of sugar and almost all of it comes from added sugars. The most important factor really is calories (and saturated fat), so look for desserts with the best taste that fall below 150 calories/half cup. For that allotment, you’ll find products with as low as 4 grams (1 teaspoon) in Breyer’s Carb Smart Rocky Road to as high as 25 grams in that Fudge Brownie ice cream.

4. Do these desserts taste as good as homemade?

Yes and no. Many of these products use a mix of gums and stabilizers and ways to manipulate the fat, air and protein, to produce a product that is similar in taste and texture to that creamy texture we love so much in real ice cream. These tricks work to some degree, but seldom do they produce the same rich creaminess of the real thing. Since our tastebuds are disappointed, it is easy to eat more, consume the same or even more calories, and walk away unsatisfied.

However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. For example, Haagen Dazs Fat-Free Raspberry Sorbet, especially if you top it with fresh berries, is a refreshing tasty dessert at 120 calories. It even supplies a bit of fiber. But, if you’re looking for chocolate, it has been very difficult to get a fat-free item to taste like the real thing. That is until recently.

5. Are there any low-calorie ice creams that taste great?

A new process called cold-churned, slow-churned, or double-churned thoroughly disperses tiny globules of milk fat. Right after the ice cream is churned it is frozen to very low temperatures to keep that texture, so the ice cream has the feel of richness for fewer calories and fat. Examples of these freezer pleasers:

  • Breyers Double Churn Free Caramel Swirl (100 calories and 0 grams fat/ half cup serving).
  • Friendly’s Smooth Churned Light Vanilla or Light Forbidden Chocolate Ice Creams (100-110 calories and 3.5 grams fat/half cup).
  • Dreyer’s/Edy’s Slow Churned Light Mint Chocolate Chip (120 calories and 4.5 grams fat/half cup).
  • Starbucks Low-Fat Latte Ice Cream (170 calories and 3 grams fat/half cup) - this one is a bit too high in calories, so keep your serving size small!
  • Nonfat Breyer’s Double Churn free Cappuccino Chocolate Chunk (110 calories and 0 fat)

The real secret here is to really watch portion sizes. The suggested serving size for all ice-cream-like desserts is one half cup. That isn’t much! It is easy to serve more than that, and if you eat right out of the container you could be packing in two to three times the calories.

6. What about bars? Are they healthier?

There are lots of bars and pops to choose from that come with an added advantage over ice cream — portion control. Some people have a better shot at limiting themselves to a single serving when they have to unwrap each one. Also, most bars and pops weigh in at about 3 ounces. Open a pint or half gallon or ice cream and you’re likely to eat at least a half cup or 4 ounces (for most of us, it’s probably closer to a cup!). Granted, most pops and bars are loaded with sugar and calories, and some (even some frozen yogurt bars) pack in as much fat as a Big Mac.

The fruit and juice bars typically are more sugar than fruit. And don’t be fooled by the “all fruit” claim on the front of the box. Many are made with concentrated white grape or pear juice, which is just glorified sugar water. Tropicana Orange Juice Bar (first ingredient is OJ), Dole Strawberry Fruit’n Juice bars, and Dreyer’s Fruit Bars (Strawberry, Tangerine, and Raspberry) have as little as 30 calories. Of course, keep in mind that even the best fruit/juice bar is no substitute for real fruit. Every one has added water and sugar. Look for desserts that have real fruit or fruit puree as their first or second ingredient (after water, milk or yogurt).

Haagen Dazs Raspberry and Vanilla Bars combine nonfat vanilla frozen yogurt with a nonfat raspberry sorbet shell for only 100 calories and no fat. In contrast, Breyer’s Light Double-Churned Creamy Vanilla Bars and Dreyer’s Slow-Churned Rich ‘n Creamy Cookies and Cream bars are up to 48% fat, more than a teaspoon of bad fat, and are made from ingredients like coconut oil, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (think trans fat!), and cocoa butter. In general, look for items that contain no more than 1 gram of saturated fat per bar or per 100 calories.

Tasty frozen desserts are so easy to make and an excellent way to boost your vitamins, minerals, omega-3 healthy fats, and even fiber. Here are some homemade suggestions: