Your Health

Ice cool treats

Which one is healthiest for you?

Morgan Beveridge and brother, Darcy, enjoy ice cream and gelato cones on a warm summer evening
Morgan Beveridge and brother, Darcy, enjoy ice cream and gelato cones on a warm summer evening.

Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, Summer 2013

The ice cream cone is one of life's little pleasures.

That's especially true during the summer, when the long hot days make a nice cool cone even more satisfying.

These days of course, one has a choice of ice cool treats. In addition to the traditional ice cream cone, one can enjoy a scoop of gelato, yogurt, sorbet, or sherbet. And if a cone is not your thing, you can also have your treat in a dish or on a stick.

And so the question must be asked: Which treat is healthiest for you?

The answer is "it all depends." Frozen treats - whether purchased from a grocery store or at your favourite ice cream or gelato shop - tend to vary greatly in their ingredients and nutritional content, so making a definitive call is difficult.

But there are a few things you could consider when making a decision about what to choose, such as your preference for flavour, desire to limit saturated fat or added sugars, and food allergies or intolerances.

A look around your local grocery store's freezer section will provide some insight into what you might expect to find nutrition-wise in your favourite frozen treat. As the chart to the right suggests, ice cream has the most calories. And, of course, all four treats have varying amounts of sugar.

But that's not the whole story.

Milk-based products (ice cream, gelato, frozen yogurt) will have the nutrients found in milk such as calcium and protein. Likewise, fruit-based products will contain the nutrients found in fruit. Frozen treats of all variety are not a significant source of sodium (salt).

However, all of these frozen treats are just that - treats. All have a considerable amount of added sugar (each of the products featured in the table have between five to 7.5 teaspoons of sugar per half-cup portion), and none of the products fit into one of the four food groups in Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide. They should not be considered a source of anything else but enjoyment.

But it's also worth noting that the most unhealthy thing about any frozen treat is often the toppings. Flavourings like cacao butters, nuts, cookies and candies all add calories and fat.

For those who love chocolate (and there are many of us!) a serving of The ice cream cone is one of life's little pleasures. chocolate ice cream or gelato is a better choice than opting for the chocolate coating. The quick hardening chocolate coating that adheres to the ice cream might just adhere to your arteries with a whopping extra six grams of saturated fat for a small dipped cone (the ice cream plus topping is nine grams of saturated fat). Remember, the suggested intake of saturated fat is about seven per cent of all calories in a day, or about 15 grams for a whole day for the average adult.

The multitude of options for cool treats on warm days also includes the stuff on a stick that is stocked in glass-topped freezers. They range from milk to fruit to ice-based ingredients with an array of flavours and colour to satisfy every taste. These packaged options will have a Nutrition Facts panel on the wrapper so that the consumer can know what they are getting and compare it to other similar products.

If you're looking to make the healthiest choice possible, then a scoop of gelato, or a scoop of hard frozen yogurt could be your best choice because they have the least amount of saturated fat and added sugar. But just because they are better options doesn't meant you don't have to be mindful about the portion size.

Without the Nutrition Facts panel at the ice cream store or restaurant, the best way to make a reasonable choice is to practice moderation in portion size. While there is no universally accepted definition of "moderation," dietitians often suggest once a week. Like all things though, enjoy every lick of the choice you make and always let your best judgment be the guide.

Colleen Einarson Rand and Caitlin Zandstra are registered dietitians with the Winnipeg Health Region.

Wave: Summer 2013

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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