Ice Cream Substitutes and Frozen Desserts

Ice cream is my biggest guilty pleasure. I am cursed with a considerable sweet tooth and so I love pies, tarts, cakes, and other desserts. That being said, ice cream is definitely my go-to choice. I’m lucky that it usually accompanies other desserts, but I find that nothing can really replace the joy that frozen desserts give me.

My favorite ice cream is anything of  the Häagen-Dazs® variety, while coffee, butter pecan, cookies & cream, and mint chocolate chip reign at the top of my list. Häagen-Dazs® is so deliciously creamy, thick, and smooth, and also offers a large range of options. However, with each flavor giving around a whooping 300 calories per serving (and 4 servings per pint), indulging is not the healthiest habit. Even Vanilla, which is typically the lightest flavor, contains 250 calories, 50% DV saturated fat, 26% DV total fat, and 19g of sugar. Furthermore, when I eat ice cream, a serving is more like the whole pint rather than half a cup–and so began my search for healthier substitutes to my favorite dessert. Below are my findings, in order from least favorite to preferred.

1. Modified ice cream

For those who do not want to give up traditional, dairy ice cream, many brands have come up with lighter versions of the original thing. Slow-churned ice cream is made using a different process and requires less freezing than the original version. Thus, it becomes unnecessary to add high-fat dairy products to eliminate the ice crystals that form. Dreyer’s advertises that its varieties contain 1/2 the fat and 2/3 the calories of traditional ice cream. In addition, Dreyer’s offers over 30 flavors, making it easy and enjoyable to make the switch. You can check out Dreyer’s flavors and nutrition facts here. Typically, they contain a little more than 100 calories per serving.

Similarly, some companies have ventured to create fat-free ice cream. Breyer’s offers three flavors of this, including chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla. Each serving contains merely 90 calories, which is a huge improvement to the 300 of Häagen-Dazs®.

Although modified ice cream reduces caloric intake and makes enjoying ice cream slightly less harmful, there are also drawbacks. Many of these varieties simply don’t taste satisfying. For example, Skinny Cow ice cream is so airy and fluffy that it tastes more like marshmallow cream than ice cream. The caramel swirls in the Caramel Cone flavor simply taste like corn syrup. I have had the most success with the two types that I mentioned above, slow-churned and fat-free, simply because they are most natural. However, beware of the “no sugar added” flavors that have sprung up with almost all major brands. Although sugar intake should be watched, I prefer to avoid artificial sweeteners and the like, as they come with other side effects.

2. Sorbet, Sherbet, and Almond/Rice/Soy/Coconut Frozen Dessert

In the ice cream and “frozen novelties” section of a grocery store, you’ll often find various replacements for ice cream. Sorbet cuts back the calories by not having any dairy in it, and thus having little to no fat. Sherbet has less dairy than ice cream as well, and mostly exists in fruity flavors. Finally, Almond/Rice/Soy/Coconut frozen desserts are also dairy-free, but they use other sources of fat to get the creamy texture. They can have high caloric content, but the fats used are healthier than dairy fat. This is one reason that many people have chosen to switch from cow’s milk to almond, rice, soy, or hemp milk.

3. Frozen Fruit

The only reason that frozen fruit is not further down in my list is that it has neither the variety nor the same feeling as ice cream. However, that being said, I love frozen fruit and it effectively curbs my cravings. In addition, it is accessible; whereas not all grocery stores stock other ice cream substitutes, fruit is always available. I prefer buying my own fresh fruit and freezing it, but if you want a quick fix, most grocery stores sell frozen fruits as well.

I have tried freezing many fruits from mangoes to peaches to berries. However, my all-time favorite is frozen grapes. It may sound strange, but frozen grapes are absolutely delicious. When frozen, they stay exactly the same shape, whereas many other fruits shrivel or morph. They have a satisfying texture, one that is firm but not as ice-hard as many other frozen fruits. I typically buy black grapes, as they are the sweetest and I prefer them to green, and stick them in a freezer bag. It takes around half a day for them to freeze completely, and you get a perfect snack that leaves no mess!

I also know many people who rave about frozen bananas. They are good as well, especially because they have a creamy texture–one that is more reminiscent of ice cream. So if you want to obtain a closer substitute, just stick a frozen banana in a blender with some milk and nut butter.

4. Arctic Zone

Arctic Zone probably belongs to the earlier frozen dessert category, but it is so amazing that it deserves its own number. It truly is a miracle dessert. Whereas most ice creams average at about 1200 calories a pint, Arctic Zone gives only 150 calories per pint. That’s fewer calories than others have per serving! When one of my friends first told me about this, I was dubious. Firstly, how is 150 calories per serving possible, and secondly, how many harmful chemicals must have been used to obtain that number? However, upon researching the brand a little more and trying it out for myself, my mind was blown.

How does Arctic Zone work? It uses whey protein powder for its creamy texture, making the dessert more like a protein shake. This tidbit of knowledge made me regard it even higher; not only was I getting a low-calorie ice cream fix, but I was also getting in some protein!

Arctic Zone isn’t quite as rich and creamy as  traditional ice cream, but the nutritional content makes up for it. My favorite flavor is mint chocolate chip, as it has the most authentic taste. You can find it at most QFC and Whole Foods stores, but the website also has a store locator here.

5. Frozen Greek Yogurt

Finally, my favorite ice cream substitute: frozen greek yogurt. It may not have as few calories as Arctic Zone, but it has the closest texture to traditional ice cream. The right texture is the most important quality for me, and frozen greek yogurt is thick and creamy (with low fat content due to its straining process!). Furthermore, it contains protein and calcium.

My favorite brand at the moment is Healthy Choice Frozen Greek Yogurt. It has all the richness of normal ice cream, and is made up of healthy ingredients. The best part of Healthy Choice is that it is in serving-sized cups. It helps me with portion control, giving just 100 calories per cup, but is also simply convenient. When I compared it to a normal low-fat yogurt in my refrigerator, I found that Healthy Choice had fewer calories, less sugar, and more protein.

Healthy Choice comes in strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, dark fudge, honey, and vanilla. I prefer plain vanilla(boring, but yummy!), but the fruit flavors are satisfying as well. The website contains a store locator as well here, and they are available at most Safeways. Stonyfield Organics also makes frozen greek yogurt, and the taste is comparable.