But I Just Want Some Ice Cream!?!

It is okay to indulge in ice cream every once in a while -- just keep these healthy tips in mind.
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It may seem like it's “bad for business,” but I’m a dietitian who absolutely loves ice cream! Working at an ice cream shop for years not only helped pay for my education, it made me a connoisseur of the creamy cold stuff. Since I’m a firm believer that no food should be completely off limits, it’s okay to indulge in ice cream -- just keep these tips in mind.

The Cold, Hard Nutrition Facts

A half-cup serving of vanilla ice cream can range from 140 to 230 calories and 7 to 14 grams of fat per serving. This isn’t so bad if you can keep that portion to just a half cup. This is why I always urge my clients to order the smallest size available (usually a kid’s size) or to measure out portions and then put the container out of sight. If cookie and candy-filled ice cream is more your style, be especially careful as a half cup of cookies and cream or cookie dough might go as high as 270 to 300 calories and 17 to 20 grams of fat. Calorie and fat content varies significantly from brand to brand, so check the labels on your favorites to get the most accurate info.

Ice cream does contain calcium (about 10 to 15% of your daily needs per serving). But you're better off getting the majority of your calcium from lower-fat, less sugary options like skim milk and non-fat yogurt -- they have closer to 30% per serving.

Shop Around

Rather than just buying from the grocery store, find a local ice cream shop where they make their own (this will help you indulge less often). I was shocked to see how much junk and preservatives go in to many store-bought ice creams, too. There are some decent brands out there, but they are few and far between so check ingredient labels carefully. I like some of Ben & Jerry’s flavors, and Häagen-Dazs just came out with a line called "Five" -- it only contains five simple ingredients (and you'll recognize everyone of them).

If you really want to control what's in your ice cream, try making your own. Electric ice cream makers make it easy, and they don't cost much more than a few family trips to an ice cream parlor. All machines operate a little differently, so check the directions on your machine. Choosing vanilla or fruit flavors and going light on the "mix-ins" will help keep the calories on the lower end of the range -- check your machine manual for recipes, too.

Tips for Ice Cream Bliss

Frozen yogurt and light ice creams are a reasonable option. They are often lower in fat but do still contain a decent amount of sugar and calories. Amazingly, some flavors may have a similar calorie count to regular ice cream. Soft-serve varieties also tend to be lower in fat and calories because they aren’t as creamy. What about gelato? This Italian version of ice cream has gotten trendy in the States recently. It's made a bit differently and has less air churned into it. Gelato has amazing flavor and super-creamy texture (and there are so many flavor options), but the calories and fat are very similar to regular ice cream so don't overdo it.

Of course, there are times when only the real thing will do. But if a half-cup portion just isn’t going to cut it, look to the yummy add-ons. Trade high-calorie, high-sugar toppers -- cookies, fudge and whipped cream -- for a small amount sprinkles (a.k.a. “jimmies” or “shots”), nuts or fresh fruit. A refreshing and fizzy ice cream soda made with sparkling water is another great option, too.

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