13 healthy ice creams under 250 calories to satisfy sweet cravings all summer long

It's OK to scream for this better-for-you ice cream!
by Jackie London, RD / / Source: TODAY

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Jackie London, nutrition director for Good Housekeeping magazine, is stopping by TODAY to share her top, better-for-you ice cream picks. She explains how to select healthier, yet delicious treats and shares her top choices in multiple categories of frozen treats.

There’s nothing that says summer quite like ice cream! That’s why the Good Housekeeping Institute’s Nutrition Lab tested hundreds of pints, bars, pops, sandwiches — and other icy treats — to find the best-of-the best. All of the top ice cream picks were chosen for their taste, quality of ingredients, packaging claims and nutritional value — because consciously indulging is key to a healthy diet. Plus, the ice creams are all under 250 calories per serving.

Traditional ice cream is made from a few standard ingredients (milk, cream and sugar) plus extra flavors, and often eggs, depending on the product. Believe it or not, ice cream has an actual definition. In order for a frozen treat to be considered ice cream, it has to be 20 percent cream, 10 percent milk and have at least 10 percent total fat per serving. When products are made with more milk than cream (making the product lower in fat), or if it contains non-dairy milk alternatives (like almond milk) or other types of animal-milk (even goat!), they should be labeled as a “frozen dessert.”

What's the best way to stop yourself from indulging in an entire pint in one sitting? There's an easy solution: Go out for ice cream! It’s an automatic win because you’ll get to indulge without being tempted to beeline for seconds in the freezer. But of course, sometimes it's more economical (and easier) to stock up at home. Here are tips for savvy ice cream shopping at the supermarket.

How to choose the best healthier ice cream

1. Look for ice creams that are about 150-250 calories per serving.

Too low in calories? That’s sometimes a good indicator that it won’t be as filling, which means there's a high risk for whole-pint consumption! Choose simple flavors with uncomplicated ingredients like pistachio, vanilla, strawberry or chocolate.

2. Choose single-serve indulgences.

The best way for an ice cream fanatic to indulge is to avoid “diet” ice creams and opt for single-servings of the most delicious and satisfying classic treats.

3. Ignore over-the-top product claims.

Ice cream that sounds a little too good to be true is often marketing fluff or may not be worth the cost — they’re often much more expensive than regular ice cream. Vegan ice creams are great for people who are vegan or lactose-intolerant, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re better for everyone else. They’re often much higher in sugar, and even saturated fat, than the real thing!

4. Fruit flavors aren’t always the healthiest option.

For ice pops and bars, the first ingredients should be water and fruit. Many on the market today are made from concentrated forms of sugar, like juice, which can be a little tricky to spot — and actually make people thirstier when they were really looking for something refreshing. So check labels to be sure.

5. Hydrate before diving in for seconds.

Temperatures soar in the summertime, so many people are likely to confuse thirst for hunger — and ice cream is often craved when people feel like they’re parched. Before making a beeline back to the freezer, have a large glass of water ( 8 to 16 ounces) to make sure you’re not just thirsty.

6. Want something extra creamy? Don't shy away from gelato.

When choosing between gelato, slow-churned ice cream or frozen yogurt, going for the gelato may sometimes be the best bet. Gelato is typically made in smaller batches, with less cream and more milk than regular ice cream, which creates bigger air pockets and allows for a creamier, more dense flavor. Just be sure to check the ingredients list for calories and sugar, too.

When gelato is not an option, slow-churned is a great alternative to higher-calorie picks. It’s made at a lower temperature and contains smaller fat particles than regular ice cream. Low-fat ice creams and frozen yogurts tend to be higher in sugar, making the difference in fat null and void.

7. Think twice before going for the frozen yogurt.

Frozen yogurt is made with nonfat milk and often contains live and active cultures (probiotics), but it shouldn't exactly be called a health food. In fact, frozen yogurt is often much higher in sugar (but lower in fat) than traditional ice cream, so it's often the same calorie-wise — but much less satisfying!

And now, drumroll, please ... here are the top picks for savoring summer to the last bite:

Best classic ice creams indulgences

These are classic picks are made from simple ingredients that maximize flavor and are all under 200 calories (or less) per serving. They're creamy, packed with flavor and won't leave you feeling deprived.

Best healthy ice cream: Ciao Bella Pistachio Ice Cream
Amazon

Breyer’s Naturally Vanilla Ice Creams, $3 for 48 ounces, Walmart

Breyer’s Chocolate Ice Cream Snack Cups, $7 for 10 cups, Amazon

Ciao Bella Gelato in Pistachio, $59 for eight pints, Amazon

Mini Klondike Bars, $4.50 for 12 bars, Walmart

Best ice creams with mix-ins or toppings

We’re asked about healthy ice creams all of the time, so here’s the deal: Some of these products are a great choice when you’re really in the mood for lots of toppings. Having more ingredients mixed in may be more satisfying than the simpler varieties. But since traditional ice creams with wild flavors can add up in calories from saturated fat and sugar, these newer ice creams are a great choice for maximizing flavor without feeling like you’ve blown it.

One word to the wise: Despite the savvy marketing, resist the urge to eat the whole pint! These can be rough on the gastrointestinal tract and cause unnecessary symptoms (from sugar alcohols, like erythritol, maltitol) when consumed in large amounts, so the best bet is to mix them with a scoop of vanilla or chocolate, or add a tablespoon of peanut butter, yogurt, or extra fruit for a more satisfying snack.

Best healthy ice cream: Halo Top Peanut Butter and Jelly
Halo Top

Edy's/Dreyer’s Slow-Churned Ice Cream in Mint Chocolate Chip, $1.29 for 5.8 ounces, Amazon

Enlightened Movie Theatre Popcorn, Instacart

Halo Top in Peanut Butter and Jelly, visit HaloTop.com for store locations

Best non dairy ice creams

Vegan ice creams can be a great option for people who can't tolerate dairy but one size does not fit all as they’re often much higher in sugar and even saturated fat than the real thing. These tasty, vegan finds were so delicious that even our milk-loving testers were going back for seconds. Since some dairy-free alternatives make pretty significant health claims, you’ll want to check labels for ones with as little sugar as possible (around 15 grams or less) and try to limit saturated fat to around 6 grams per serving.

When companies make creamier flavors using condensed and sweetened coconut milk that can drive up the calories (from saturated fat and sugar), so you’re often better off with unsweetened cashew, soy, or almond milk as the base. Or, look for varieties that use coconut milk in an unsweetened form.

For fruit-based options: Look for treats with water, real fruit or even veggies as the first ingredients. That’s a good indicator of both the quality of the ingredients and the amount of added sugar or fruit juice that each serving will provide.

Best healthy ice cream: Cado Avocado Ice Cream
Cado Avocado Ice Cream

Chloe's Fruit in Dark Chocolate, $5 for four pops, Jet

So Delicious Almond Milk Cookies and Cream, $4 for one pint, Walmart

Cado Avocado Ice Cream, Instacart

Best ice cream bars

Bars can be the perfect way to indulge in something cool and creamy since they’re pre-portioned and are very convenient for summer’s many active outdoor activities! Aim for versions around 200 calories or less per pop for a great dessert that won’t make you feel like you’ve totally overdone it.

Best healthy ice cream: Goodpop Coldbrew Coffee
Goodpop

Good Humor Strawberry Shortcake Bar, $4.39 for six bars, Jet

Skinny Cow Greek Yogurt Bars in Salt-Kissed Caramel, $5.49 for four bars, Amazon

GoodPop in Cold Brew Coffee, $6 for four pops, Fresh Direct

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