Few things hit the spot like a creamy cone on a hot summer day. But should you go for a double scoop of mint chip — or the more virtuous-sounding fro-yo? Market research shows that frozen yogurt sales have risen an average of 21% each year since 2008, while the number of yogurt shops has doubled within the last seven years. And if you think frozen yogurt is healthier, you’re not alone. According to a survey conducted by Menchies, a frozen yogurt chain, roughly 95% of Americans believe the softer stuff is better for them than ice cream.
Dig into the nutrition facts, though, and the swirl of smooth and creamy self-serve dessert isn’t always the superior option. Here’s the scoop on why you may want to reconsider your next 16-flavor “16 Handles” bender.
The cold truth: frozen yogurt vs. ice cream
Fro-yo might remind you of your favorite probiotic-rich morning Chobani — but not all “yogurts” are created equal. The freezing process used to make your dessert may kill some of the healthy gut bacteria found in regular yogurt. To compensate, some manufacturers of fro-yo (and standard yogurt, too) add extra probiotics after production.
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“Look for the ‘Live and Active Cultures’ seal” when browsing the dessert aisle, says Alissa Rumsey, R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This seal, created by the National Yogurt Association, confirms that a product has 100 million cultures per gram, which, among other health benefits, can help lactose intolerant people digest milk-based products. Chains like Pinkberry and RedMango and prepackaged pints from Haagen-Dazs and Cold Stone Creamery all carry the seal.
But probiotics alone don’t make fro-yo a health food. “People don’t realize that it often has more sugar than ice cream,” says Dana Kofsky, a California-based nutritionist. Per each half-cup serving, frozen yogurt contains roughly 17 grams of sugar. Meanwhile, ice cream only has about 14 grams of the sweet stuff for the same serving size. “In order to get rid of the tart taste, [fro-yo companies often] add sugar,” says Kofky.
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However, ice cream boasts more fat (there are roughly seven grams per serving in the frozen dessert compared to four grams in fro-yo, according to the USDA). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. Fat can slow the body’s digestion of sugar, meaning you’ll feel more satisfied and won’t experience a blood sugar spike like you might with a swirl of sweetened yogurt, says Rumsey. She notes that many fro-yo brands also add sugar substitutes that could cause digestive issues like bloating or cramping.
Portion control can also be common problem with frozen yogurt, says Rumsey. “People trick themselves into thinking they can eat more,” she says. “The smallest cup still tends to be pretty big. You’ll get something that’s 300 to 400 calories-worth.” (In comparison, a half-cup serving of vanilla ice cream is roughly 140 calories.) And if you’re making it rain toppings on your Pinkberry cup, you’ll likely add on another few hundred calories. Rumsey recommends sticking to one or two spoonfuls of nuts or fruit if you want a little crunch.
Frozen dessert dos and don’ts
Whether you love ice cream or fro-yo, there’s no wrong choice as long as you keep your serving sizes in check. According to Kofsky and Rumsey, your portion should be a half a cup, which will be roughly the size of a baseball or your closed fist.
“Eat it slowly. Savor it,” says Kofsky. Your best bet is to choose a dessert that will actually satisfy your taste buds, so you won’t be tempted to double down on the scoops or swirls, or scrounge for more food later on. Both experts recommend seeking out reputable products that have real ingredients, and not a laundry list of preservatives or thickening agents.
For a DIY dessert fix, Kofsky suggests making your own ice cream by blending up frozen bananas, cocoa powder milk and almond butter. You won’t even need an ice cream machine to whip up this healthy mint chocolate chip protein ice cream recipe.
The next time you need to get your fix, simply swirl (or scoop) responsibly!