There are many issues that can divide a nation: Do you cut your sandwich in half or diagonally? 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 it?
For those of you who savor frozen desserts to the same extent I do, you’ll likely justify how ice cream isn’t as awful a nutritional choice as many perceive it to be. 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. 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 points for pints that were low in calories and sugar but still had enough healthy fats and protein to keep you satiated.
The Worst Diet Ice Cream Is… Breyers CarbSmart Vanilla
Maltodextrin, the fourth ingredient, is a starch-derived thickener that’s been linked to digestive issues as well as decreasing your body’s antibacterial defenses, which may increase your risk of developing Crohn’s disease. This flavor also got docked for having artificial sweeteners and trans fat sources (mono and diglycerides).
Blue Bunny Sweet Freedom Vanilla
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. Although 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 off weight-inducing inflammation. Skip it.
Breyers No Sugar Added Vanilla
Although Breyers No Sugar Added has the average amount of calories for a diet ice cream, we’re disappointed by their use of artificial sweeteners like acesulfame potassium and sucralose.
Turkey Hill No Sugar Added Vanilla Bean
Lower in calories is a bonus for Turkey Hill but 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, colors, and sweeteners.
Edy’s Slow Churned No Sugar Added Vanilla
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. However, there are better options than this artificially-sweetened tub.
Thrive Creamy Vanilla
We like that Thrive has even more calcium than a serving size of typical ice cream (which is usually 15 percent) and more protein (which is typically 4 grams). We don’t like that 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. Plus, this sugar-sweetened tub is absurdly high in sugar for a “healthy” ice cream.
Turkey Hill Light Vanilla Bean
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
This brand sounds like the perfect diet solution, but after one spoonful, your cravings for the real thing will go into overdrive. Wink’s frozen desserts are low in calories, but they’re also low in all nutrients and flavor, so why bother?
Breyers Fat-Free Creamy Vanilla
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
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 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
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.
So Delicious Coconut Milk Vanilla Bean
For a lower calorie, lower fat treat, try So Delicious’ Coconut Milk Vanilla Bean ice cream. It’s nearly as creamy as regular ice cream and has the added benefit of prebiotic fiber inulin! 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
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
Rather than added sunflower oil like Almond Dream does, So Delicious adds coconut oil, which is good for upping your body’s energy expenditure and burning calories. It’s also lower in sugar and calories than other dairy-free options.
Sweet Habit Low Fat What the Caramel
Decadent, caramelly goodness for just 70 calories per serving? It seems like you really can’t go wrong. The only reason we won’t make a habit out of spooning into this pint is the inclusion of potassium sorbate, a preservative that has been shown to produce genotoxic effects.
Arctic Zero Vanilla Maple Frozen Dessert
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.
And Now, The Best Diet Ice Creams
Edy’s 1/2 the Fat Slow Churned Vanilla
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!
Yasso Party Animal
We love that Yasso crafts its creamy treat with protein-packed Greek yogurt that lends this pint its irresistible texture. However, we’re not to keen on the fattening palm oil added to the mix.
Nada Moo! Vanilla…ahhh
Don’t fret the fat! This vegan, gluten-free, and certified-organic pint is packed with medium chain triglycerides—fat-burning fats coming from coconut milk. If you’re going dairy-free, give this pint the green light.
So Delicious No Sugar Added Coconut Milk Vanilla Bean
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, to which we’ve given the green light.
Enlightened Frozen Hot Cocoa
The frozen hot cocoa 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. However, we bumped this pick down because it contains kidney-harming phosphates and titanium dioxide, a bleaching agent found in sunscreen.
Ben & Jerry’s Moo-phoria Light Ice Cream, Chocolate Milk & Cookies
If you’re Ben and Jerry’s biggest fan (who isn’t?!), you’re going to love their lightened-up pints. A half-cup serving packs in half the calories and more than half the sugar than the original Milk & Cookies pint—without compromising one bit of flavor.
Talenti Less Sugar Vanilla Cinnamon Gelato
You may have seen Talenti’s super decadent gelatos stocked in the freezer aisle, but refrained from buying a calorie-bomb tub. Luckily, Talenti came out with a lower sugar, lower calorie pint that’s still packed with loads of craveable flavor in addition to a clean ingredient list.
Skinny Cow Oh My! Vanilla Bean
Skinny Cow’s pint is sweetened with a combo of stevia and sugar, so you’re guaranteed zero artificial aftertaste. Not to mention, you’ll check off 15 percent of your DV of bone-building calcium with just a half-cup full.
Chilly Cow Cookies N’ Cream
Chilly Cow remains realistic with its serving sizes and knows that if you’re buying the half-pint tub, you’re planning to finish it all. Thankfully, the indulgence won’t do much damage.
Swell Vanilla Bean Low Fat Ice Cream
Swell gets its muscle-building protein from milk and whey protein concentrate, which bumps up the content to a whopping 10 grams per serving. However, don’t try sharing a scoop with your dog—Swell is sweetened with xylitol.
Breyers Delights Vanilla Ice Cream With Protein
With Eat This!-approved ingredients and a creamy-as-can-be texture, we’re deeming this pint nothing less than delightful.
Slim Twin Organic Vanilla
With fewer calories, sodium, carbs, and a gram more protein than Halo Top’s vanilla, spooning into this pint only feels indulgent.
Arctic Zero Vanilla Bean Light Ice Cream
If you’re not big on Arctic Zero’s infamously frozen texture, you’re gonna have to jot this pint on your grocery list. It’s creaminess rivals real ice cream’s yet one serving maintains a low 70 calories and only one gram of fat.
The Best Diet Ice Cream Is… Halo Top Vanilla
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… Breyers CarbSmart Vanilla Bar
With artificial sweeteners such as ace-K and sucralose, in addition to eight grams of scary saturated fat in one serving, we’re deeming this bar a total dietary disaster despite its high calcium content. In addition, this bar soared to our worst list because it also packs in maltodextrin and inflammatory soybean oil.
Skinny Cow Double Caramel Swirl Bar
This bar has 100 more calories than many of our other 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, Skinny Cow adds inflammatory palm oil and caramel color, which may be contaminated with carcinogens, to its recipe. 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?
Klondike No Sugar Added Vanilla Bar
Klondike may not add any sugar to its frozen treat, but it does inject the bars with three types of artificial sweeteners as well as artificial flavors. We’ll pass.
Weight Watchers Snack Size Salted Caramel Ice Cream Bars
Many of these scientifically-manipulated, artificial ingredients found in Weight Watchers’ bar have no place in your diet.
Arctic Zero Salted Caramel Bar
No, it’s not technically ice cream as there’s no actual cream 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
Enlightened 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. Unfortunately, it also contains phosphates and mono- and diglycerides.
The Best Diet Ice Cream Bar Is… Yasso Vanilla Bean Bar
Although this bar is made of Greek yogurt, we’re loving its high protein and low-fat contents as well as its squeaky-clean ingredient list that’s free of artificial sugars and preservatives. The best part? You’ll get real vanilla bean specks in every bite.
This article was originally published November 11, 2016, and has been updated to reflect changes in nutritional information.