The Scoop on Ice Cream

July is National Ice Cream Month! We know you want to celebrate, but what about the calories? Dancers who are at the studio all summer can afford to treat themselves from time to time, but investigating alternatives is always smart. Low-fat or fat-free ice cream or frozen yogurt, sherbet and sorbet can help you beat the heat without making you feel weighed down. But how can you tell them apart? And are there secret calories lurking in unexpected places? Here's the ice cream breakdown:

Regular Ice Cream

Description: The cream of the crop with sugar on top. This dreamy concoction contains a combination of 10 percent butterfat and sugar, which results in that smooth, creamy texture we all adore.

Pros: Yum! Yum! Yum!

Cons: The calories and fat can add up: A half-cup serving contains approximately 140 calories and 8 grams of fat. Still, if you don't super-size your scoops, you can enjoy each and every luscious lick.

Cream of the Crop: Ben & Jerry's and Haagen-Dazs rank supreme in this category.

Gelato

Description: Italy's version of ice cream. Since gelato uses whole milk instead of cream, it has less butterfat. It also whips in less air, so it tends to be denser and creamier.

Pros: A little lower in fat than ice cream, but incredibly dense and creamy.

Cons: Although it contains less fat, it's still high in calories.

Cream of the Crop: Visit a tried and true Italian pastry shop and you'll be sure to find gelato in a variety of flavors. You can also order it online for home delivery at Palazzolo's Artisan Gelato and Sorbetto: 4gelato.com

Low-Fat and Fat-Free Ice Cream

Description: Air, low-fat milk or water, sugar and thickeners combine to create a creamy, reduced-fat product.

Pros: Say goodbye to all that nasty saturated fat and cholesterol.

Cons: Choosing a lower-fat version doesn't necessarily mean you're getting fewer calories: When fat content falls, sugar content often rises. Keep your antenna up for chilly options that keep the fat, sugar and calories under wraps.

Cream of the Crop: The Skinny Cow low fat ice cream sandwiches, bars and cones; Edy's/Dreyer's Slow-Churned Light Rich and Creamy Ice Cream

Low-Fat and Fat-Free Frozen Yogurt

Description: Frozen yogurt is typically made with low-fat or fat-free yogurt instead of cream or milk.

Pros: Just like low-fat or fat-free ice cream, yogurt tends to be lower in fat and cholesterol. Some frozen yogurts also have active yogurt cultures, which can help keep your digestive tract in order.

Cons: As with low-fat ice cream, watch the sugar content. (Sugar-free versions of frozen yogurt are available.)

Cream of the Crop: Turkey Hill and Blue Bunny Low-Fat and Fat-Free Frozen Yogurt

Sherbet and Sorbet

Description: Mixtures of sweetened iced juice or puree. Sherbet contains some combination of milk, egg whites and gelatin, making for a creamier product. Sorbet is dairy-free.

Pros: These two contain a trivial amount of fat, so when the sidewalk's sizzling and you're on the go, grab a frozen fruit bar.

Cons: Sugar often takes the place of fat in low-fat or fat-free fare. To avoid a sugar high, choose products that use whole fruit and few sugary additives or flavorings.

Cream of the Crop: Sherbet: Breyers All Natural Pure Fruit Sherbet; Sorbet: Whole Fruit No Sugar Added Sorbet and Whole Foods 365 Frozen Fruit Bars

Soy and Rice Non-Dairy Ice Cream

Description: Ice cream with a green thumb. Soy and rice are cooked, blended and mixed with a variety of flavorings, resulting in a smooth, creamy treat.

Pros: Say goodbye to butterfat and cholesterol, and hello to fabulous fiber. Soy- and rice-based frozen desserts tend to be lower in unhealthy saturated fat and cholesterol. If you're vegan or experience bloating or cramping when you drink cow's milk, this may be the frozen dessert for you.

Cons: To make up for bland flavor, sugar and sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup are often added to soy- and rice-based non-dairy products, causing the calories to jump higher than in regular ice cream.

Cream of the Crop: Soy-Based Frozen Desserts: It's Soy Delicious (all flavors) and Tofutti Low Fat Tofutti Cuties; Rice-Based Frozen Desserts: Rice Dream (all flavors)

The Bottom Line

Don't stop screaming for ice cream! You can have your ice cream and lick it, too. Just remember to practice moderation when you come face to face with this irresistible treat.

Karlyn Grimes, a registered dietician, holds a dual master's degree in nutrition and exercise physiology from Boston University, and is a faculty member in the Nutrition and Biology departments at Simmons College in Boston.

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