There are many issues that can divide a nation: Do you cut your sandwich in half or diagonally? Do you fold your pizza slice or eat it flat? Do you prefer Coke or Pepsi? Sure, we disagree on many things, but there is one thing that unites us as Americans: ice cream.
To me, this fact was so unquestionable, so undeniable, that I was blown away by what I saw in my shared freezer the other day. As I reached for a bag of frozen veggies, I uncovered a scary sight: my roommate's diet ice cream.
I couldn't believe my eyes. What was going on? Who would eat such a thing? You can't do that to ice cream! "Whose is this?!" I shouted to no one in particular.
For those of you who savor frozen desserts to the same extent I do, you likely also feel like diet ice creams are about as oxymoronic as veggie burgers—they just don't make any sense. Especially since ice cream isn't an awful nutritional choice; When eaten in moderation (which, yes, we understand is difficult), ice cream serves up a dose of muscle-building protein, satiating healthy fats, and health-boosting minerals like calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
And therein lies the issue: ice cream is so darn good, it's pretty hard to eat in moderation. In fact, one of the major changes the FDA made to its nutrition label guidelines was increasing the standard serving size of the frozen dessert from ½ cup to ⅔ cup. With this in mind, I started to understand why my calorie-cutting roommate opted for the diet option. Regular pints of ice cream can climb up to 1,480 calories and 104 grams of fat. That's not even the worst of it. Even Ben & Jerry's lowest sugar option, Pistachio Pistachio, still has 19 grams of inflammation-inducing sugar!
But thanks to the fact that many diet ice creams have lower calorie, fat, and sugar counts, indulging in these waistline-friendly treats doesn't have to be limited to a once-a-year excursion on a sweltering summer day. That said, not every tub on the market is "Eat This"-approved. Instead of deciphering confusing nutritionals yourself, we've done the work for you on this exclusive ranking. Treat yo'self with our picks and then keep on keeping on with these 42 Ways to Lose 5 Inches of Belly Fat.
From Worst To Best…
We gathered up all the "diet" ice cream pints in the supermarket and ranked them according to nutritional information and ingredients. (For consistency's sake, we only ranked the vanilla flavor for each brand.) Regarding ingredients, we deducted points for those who used: artificial flavors, colors, and sweeteners; sources of trans fats like mono and diglycerides; and harmful emulsifiers.
As for nutritionals? That's where it gets a little tricky. Because these ice creams are marketed as "diet" or "healthy alternatives" (such as vegan ice creams) we chose to interpret that in our standards—which are a little different from the companies who made them. So, rather than prioritizing ice creams that are as low in fat, calories, and sugar as possible, we awarded point for pints that were low in calories and sugar but still had enough healthy fats and protein to keep you satiated after having a treat.
The Worst Diet Ice Cream Is… Breyers CarbSmart Vanilla
Per 1/2 cup (66 g): 120 calories, 6 g fat (3.5 g saturated fat), 50 mg sodium, 14 g carbs (4 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 5 g sugar alcohol), 2 g protein; 6% DV calcium
Have you ever seen fiber in real ice cream? Neither have we. It doesn't belong there. So when you see a number next to fiber—like in this case with Breyers CarbSmart—it will typically come from a "functional fiber," such as polydextrose. According to a 2011 study published in Nutrition Review, polydextrose neither slows down the rate at which food is broken down in your gut nor does it have any effect on fasting glucose levels; translation: functional fiber doesn't keep you full like dietary fiber does. The only benefit it possesses is that your body will ferment it like fiber, which produces anti-inflammatory compounds and has beneficial effects on bowel function. Otherwise, this flavor got docked for being high in calories, having artificial sweeteners, trans fat sources (mono and diglycerides), and inflammatory carrageenan… more on that next.
Breyers No Sugar Added Vanilla
Per 1/2 cup (69 g): 90 calories, 4 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat), 45 mg sodium, 13 g carbs (3 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 3 g sugar alcohol), 2 g protein; 8% DV calcium
Although Breyers No Sugar Added has the average amount of calories for a diet ice cream—around 80—we're disappointed by their use of carrageenan. This thickening and emulsifying agent has been linked to ulcers, gastrointestinal problems, and inflammation.
Blue Bunny Sweet Freedom Vanilla
Per 1/2 cup (67 g): 90 calories, 3 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 50 mg sodium, 18 g carbs (4 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 4 g sugar alcohol), 2 g protein; 10% DV calcium
Sure it's free from added sugars, but that didn't keep Blue Bunny from piling on the artificial sweeteners: acesulfame potassium and sucralose are both used in this formula. That's not good news. Sure they don't add calories or raise your blood sugar, artificial sweeteners particularly sucralose, can cause your brain to recalibrate its association between sweetness and energy, according to a 2016 study published in the journal Cell Metabolism. As a result, the study suggests that if you constantly eat "diet," "no sugar added" foods, you could end up eating 30 percent more calories when you eat naturally-sweetened food. Other studies have found that artificial sweeteners promote hyperactivity, insomnia, and can even decrease your gut's ability to fend of weight-inducing inflammation. Skip it.
Turkey Hill No Sugar Added Vanilla Bean
Per 1/2 cup (68 g): 70 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 75 mg sodium, 20 g carbs (5 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 3 g sugar alcohols), 3 g protein; 15% DV calcium
Lower in calories is a bonus for Turkey Hill as well as that they're higher in bone-building calcium and protein than Blue Bunny. It finds itself so low on our list because of the presence of mono and diglycerides—a duo of man-made fats that have been found to contain traces of artery-clogging trans fats—as well as artificial flavors and colors.
Edy's Slow Churned No Sugar Added Vanilla
Per 1/2 cup: 100 calories, 3 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 30 mg sodium, 15 g carbs (2 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 3 g protein; 6% DV calcium
Lower in sugar than Turkey Hill and higher in fat‚ which is a good thing. Consuming more full-fat dairy products has actually been linked to lower rates of obesity and diabetes. Experts believe the connection is that full-fat foods take longer for your body to digest, which keeps you fuller longer.
Blue Bunny Sweet Freedom, Fat-Free Vanilla
Per 1/2 cup (71 g): 80 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 65 mg sodium, 20 g carbs (5 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 4 g sugar alcohol), 4 g protein; 15% DV calcium
You're probably wondering why we ranked Blue Bunny's fat-free option more favorably than their solely no sugar added option. It's because this ice cream serves up more protein and more calcium and is lower in calories.
Thrive No Sugar Added Creamy Vanilla
Per 1/2 cup (83 g): 150 calories, 8 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 70 mg sodium, 17 g carbs (4 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 10 g sugar alcohol), 6 g protein; 25% DV calcium
This is the last ice cream on our list that contains artificial sweeteners, so it's somewhat smooth sailing from here on out. We like that Thrive has even more calcium than a serving size of typical ice cream (which is usually 15%) and more protein (which is typically 4 g). We don't like that they're higher in calories or contain so many sugar alcohols — 10 grams! This amount of sugar alcohols may have a laxative effect for those with sensitivities. One of the sweeteners, maltitol, has been associated with stomach and abdominal pain, as well as excessive internal gas and flatulence, according to studies in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition and International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition.
Turkey Hill Light Vanilla Bean
Per 1/2 cup (61 g): 100 calories, 2 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 55 mg sodium, 17 g carbs (1 g fiber, 13 g sugar), 2 g protein; 25% DV calcium
We give Turkey Hill props for leaving out the artificial sweeteners, but we had to dock them for including the emulsifier polysorbate 80. A 2016 study published in the journal Cancer Research linked the additive to colon cancer in mice. The same team of Georgia State University researchers previously linked the emulsifier with low-grade inflammation in the intestine. Not good signs.
Wink Frozen Desserts Vanilla Bean
Per 1/2 cup (58 g): 25 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 45 mg sodium, 4 g carbs (1 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 2 g sugar alcohol), 2 g protein; 0% DV calcium
This brand sounds like the perfect diet solution, but upon closer examination of the ingredient list, you see it's just a bunch of molecular gastronomy suspended in water. Wink's frozen desserts are low in calories, but they're also low in all nutrients, so why bother?
Breyers Fat-Free Creamy Vanilla
Per 1/2 cup (63 g): 90 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 40 mg sodium, 20 g carbs (0 g fiber, 13 g sugar), 2 g protein; 8% DV calcium
There's more corn syrup than sugar in this fat-free concoction. And it isn't even fat-free! Although mono and diglycerides are considered to be emulsifiers, they're still a source of fat—albeit very small.
So Delicious Cashew Milk Very Vanilla
Per 1/2 cup (79 g): 150 calories, 7 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 95 mg sodium, 21 g carbs (1 g fiber, 18 g sugar), 2 g protein; 0% DV calcium
We included vegan ice creams on this list because many people perceive them to be healthier since they're dairy free. But that's not necessarily the case. Although this particular serving is lower in calories than the average milk-based dessert, it's still high in fat, high in sugar, lower in protein, and absent of any calcium, which is unfortunate if you're looking to lose 10 pounds. This mineral can help your body burn more and store less fat as well as help keep our insulin production—and thus blood sugar levels—in check. Having well-functioning insulin levels can help maintain more stable energy levels throughout the day.
Almond Dream Vanilla
Per 1/2 cup (78 g): 140 calories, 7 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 170 mg sodium, 18 g carbs (2 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 1 g protein; 0% DV calcium
There's not much protein in here and a significant amount of fat comes from added expeller pressed sunflower oil, which is high in inflammatory fatty acids.
Amy's Kitchen Cool Scoops Vanilla
Per 1/2 cup (92 g): 170 calories, 12 g fat (11 g saturated fat), 95 mg sodium, 14 g carbs (1 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 2 g protein; 0% DV calcium
We give Amy's Kitchen props for being lower in sugar, but it's higher-than-average in terms of calories to be considered diet. That's probably thanks to such a high fat content, which is full of medium chain triglycerides: a type of fat found in coconut meat and coconut oil that is good for upping your body's energy expenditure and burning calories.
So Delicious Coconutmilk Vanilla Bean
Per 1/2 cup (85 g): 120 calories, 6 g fat (6 g saturated fat), 10 mg sodium, 20 g carbs (7 g fiber, 13 g sugar), 1 g protein; 0% DV calcium
For a lower calorie, lower fat treat, try out So Delicious's Coconutmilk Vanilla Bean ice cream. It's nearly as creamy as regular ice cream and has the added benefit of prebiotic fiber inulin! by The bacteria that live in your gut ferment this fiber into anti-inflammatory fatty acids that help fend off weight gain.
So Delicious Organic Soymilk Creamy Vanilla
Per 1/2 cup (81 g): 120 calories, 3 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 5 mg sodium, 24 g carbs (3 g fiber, 14 g sugar), 2 g protein; 0% DV calcium
If you're going to go with a soy product, make sure it's organic—like it is in So Delicious's offering. That means you won't be consuming any genetically modified soybeans, which can often contain traces of carcinogenic pesticide residues. With that being said, this dairy-free option is still a little too high in sugar to be considered "diet."
So Delicious Almondmilk Vanilla
Per 1/2 cup (85 g): 120 calories, 7 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 45 mg sodium, 14 g carbs (1 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 1 g protein; 2% DV calcium
Rather than added sunflower oil like Almond Dream does, So Delicious adds coconut oil to its frozen dessert, which is full of fat-fighting medium chain triglycerides. It's also lower in sugar and calories than other dairy free options.
Breyers 1/2 the Fat Creamy Vanilla
Per 1/2 cup (57 g): 100 calories, 3 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 30 mg sodium, 17 g carbs (0 g fiber, 11 g sugar), 1 g protein; 6% DV calcium
We don't like that Breyers uses mono and diglycerides as well as inflammatory carrageenan, but other than that, this commonly-found offering has great nutritionals: it's low in calories, fat, and sugar, and contains some calcium thanks to being made with real milk.
Arctic Zero Creamy Vanilla Maple
Per 1/2 cup (60 g): 35 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 80 mg sodium, 7 g carbs (2 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 3 g protein; 0% DV calcium
Because it's so low in calories and sugar, it was hard not to rank Arctic Zero so favorably on our list of diet ice creams. And although there's no fat, it still boasts a fairly high protein count, which will help keep your tummy full after eating this frozen snack.
Edy's Light Slow Churned Vanilla
Per 1/2 cup: 100 calories, 3 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 30 mg sodium, 15 g carbs (0 g fiber, 13 g sugar), 3 g protein; 8% DV calcium
There's no funny business here. Simply made from non-fat milk and buttermilk, Edy's regular option is one of the best diet ice creams in disguise. Sure it's higher in sugar than we'd like to see, but it's made from all natural ingredients and is low in calories. We give this a double thumbs up!
So Delicious No Sugar Added Coconutmilk Vanilla Bean
Per 1/2 cup (85 g): 100 calories, 8 g fat (7 g saturated fat), 70 mg sodium, 18 g carbs (10 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 3 g sugar alcohol), 1 g protein; 0% DV calcium
This vegan food has a reasonable amount of satiating, healthy fats while being low in calories and sugar. And rather than using artificial sweeteners, So Delicious uses natural, zero-calorie sweeteners like monk fruit extract as well as sugar alcohols like erythritol, which we've given the green light to.
Enlightened Frozen Hot Chocolate
Per 1/2 cup (73 g): 90 calories, 2.5 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 50 mg sodium, 18 g carbs (5 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 6 g sugar alcohol), 7 g protein; 20% DV calcium
We know we've been doing only vanilla, but Enlightened doesn't offer the flavor but we couldn't pass up the opportunity to introduce you to this brand. Their frozen hot chocolate flavor is made with real skim milk and is full of as much protein as a serving of Ben & Jerry's Peanut Butter World, and that's because peanut butter is one of the best plant-based sources of the muscle-building macronutrient.
The Best Diet Ice Cream Is…Halo Top Vanilla
Per 1/2 cup serving (66 g): 60 calories, 2 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 115 mg sodium, 14 g carbs (5 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 5 g sugar alcohols), 6 g protein; 13% DV calcium
Made with real milk? Check. Free of artificial sweeteners? Check. Good source of protein and calcium? Check. Low in sugar? Check. Contains healthy fats? Check. Ladies and gentlemen, your winner. (Oh, and by the way, Halo Top pints also taste really, really good!) This healthified treat is perfect for adding a scoop to your post-dinner decaf coffee, topping off your baked apples, or even tossing a spoonful into your morning smoothie. The possibilities are endless!
BONUS! Ice Cream Bars
Here's one of our best weight loss tips: implement portion control. And that's exactly what these ice cream bars do. They help you stick to your weight loss goals by indulging in a single treat at a time. As a reprieve from plain old vanilla, we decided to go with the caramel swirl flavor for these four bonus ice cream bars.
The Worst Diet Ice Cream Bar Is… SkinnyCow Double Caramel Swirl Bar
Per 1 bar (67 g): 180 calories, 10 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 75 mg sodium, 21 g carbs (2 g fiber, 16 g sugar), 3 g protein; 8% DV calcium
This bar soared to the worst primarily because it has 100 more calories than our other three diet options. Another reason it fell to the bottom of the pack was because of the 16 grams of sugar—more than triple of our first pick. And finally, many of the ingredients used in SkinnyCow are those that have been found to contain artery-clogging trans fats, such as monoglycerides, as well as those that may be contaminated with carcinogens, such as caramel color. Although you could've guessed caramel color would be found in caramel-flavored ice cream, would you have known it was in these 17 Surprising Foods That Contain Chemicals & Food Dyes?
Weight Watchers Snack Size Salted Caramel Ice Cream Bars
Per 1 bar (42 g): 80 calories, 3 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 50 mg sodium, 14 g carbs (1 g fiber, 10 g sugar), 2 g protein; 6% DV calcium
It's lower in calories, fat, and sugar than SkinnyCow's offering, but has many of the same scientifically-manipulated, artificial ingredients that have no place in your diet.
Arctic Zero Salted Caramel Bar
Per 1 bar (59 g): 80 calories, 5 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 100 mg sodium, 7 g carbs (2 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 3 g protein; 0% DV calcium
No, it's not technically ice cream as there's no cream ingredient in Arctic Zero's offering, but we ranked this bar better than the ones preceding it because it's significantly lower in sugar and eschews any artificial, complicated ingredients.
Enlightened Sea Salt Caramel Bar
Per 1 bar (70 g): 80 calories, 1.5 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 120 mg sodium, 17 g carbs (5 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 6 g sugar alcohol), 7 g protein; 20% DV calcium
Enlightened takes the cake in that it rings in at the same number of calories and sugar as the bar above it, but it's higher in protein—the muscle-building macronutrient that helps boost your body's basal calorie-burning furnace—thanks to being made with real milk as well as milk protein isolate.