Ask a nutrition student: I scream for ice cream

Stacey Arnold

It’s finally summer (and bikini season)! For a post-pool snack, should I choose frozen yogurt or ice cream?  

—Searching for the scoop

Summer means no school, sunshine and sweet treats. Unfortunately, the season also brings a dilemma: Should you maintain a swimsuit physique or indulge in creamy poolside snacks?

Debate over the nutritional differences of frozen yogurt and ice cream has no doubt sprinkled your college career. Once and for all, let’s churn out the differences.

A half-cup portion of vanilla ice cream contains roughly 140 calories, 14 grams of sugar and 4.5 grams of saturated fat, according to the USDA National Nutrient Database. 

Compare this to half a cup of vanilla soft-serve frozen yogurt, which has 114 calories, 17 grams of sugar and about 2.5 grams of saturated fat.  

These are the stats for only four ounces, or a half-cup portion of frozen dessert — the size of a tennis ball. That’s why it’s easy to pack on the pounds. It’s nearly impossible to keep a serving to that size when you eat straight out of the carton or visit a self-serve frozen yogurt parlor. Trust me — I speak from experience.

Regardless of the quantity you consume, ice cream, per the USDA’s definition, must contain at least 10 percent milk fat. Milk fat puts the “cream” in ice cream, which ups the saturated fat content and therefore, the calories.

If you want to cut the fat, try light ice cream. It has either 50 percent less total fat, or 33 percent fewer calories, than the average brand, according to the International Dairy Foods Association. But this doesn’t come without a cost — low-fat ice cream has less fat, but manufacturers may increase the sugar content to produce the same taste.

Frozen yogurt may sound like the healthier choice — but beware. The FDA does not standardize or regulate the definition of fro-yo. So although the FDA requires that yogurt contain good-for-your-gut bacteria strains, such as – get ready for it — Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, frozen yogurt isn’t required to have these, according to Tufts Nutrition Magazine.

If you want to be certain that your frozen yogurt contains a significant amount of yogurt cultures, look for a National Yogurt Association Live and Active Cultures seal.

A final sweet suggestion: Be mindful of toppings. Candies and sauces can add lots of calories. If you want to keep your dessert slim, just choose one. Fruit is a light option — though not the type in the sweet syrup! Or, if you’re craving some crunch, ask for a tablespoon of nuts.

At the end of the day — or every meal —  my advice is to choose light ice cream over full-fat, and be wary of placing a health halo around fro-yo. There’s not much nutritional difference between light ice cream and frozen yogurt, so choose your favorite, but watch your portion sizes and toppings — pretty please, with a cherry on top!