The Best Frozen Treats -- Without the Guilt
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The Best Frozen Treats -- Without the Guilt

Which low-fat, low-calorie frozen desserts are creamy, dreamy, and really deliver on taste?

How to Indulge, and Stay on Your Diet

Fat Free and Fabulous

Even if you're not planning to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Popsicle this year, you might want to consider the advantages of a fruity frozen treat. Naturally low calorie and nearly fat free, fruit is a healthy base for a delicious, cool dessert, because it freezes well without losing a lot of flavor. And there are many all-fruit bars available now in grown-up flavors, from raspberry to peach. With the exception of products containing coconut, practically all fruit pops have only skimpy amounts of calories and fat. Sharon's Raspberry Sorbet Bar (70 calories), Breyer's Raspberry Fruit Bar (50 calories), and Edy's Strawberry Whole Fruit Bar (80 calories) are all refreshing choices. Still, if you're watching your intake of sugar, be aware that most fruit-flavored bars are chock-full of the sweet stuff.

Savoring a fudge bar, ice pop or ice-cream sandwich: Few things conjure memories of carefree childhood summers quite as vividly -- or deliciously. If only you could still eat these treats with the same youthful abandon, with no worry about fat grams or watching your waistline!

Well, as anyone who has paid a recent visit to the frozen-food aisle can attest, there is a tempting variety of ice-cream-like goodies available that are satisfying without a sinful amount of calories and fat. To find these healthier alternatives, you have to study labels. There are considerable differences in serving sizes, calorie counts and fat content. And watch out for the saturated fat. Some low-fat frozen treats still have as many as 6 grams of saturated fat per serving, and 8 grams of total fat, which is certainly better than what's in premium ice-cream bars such as Häagen-Dazs (280 calories, 12 grams of saturated fat, and 20 grams of total fat), but is not negligible. Taste, of course, is a central concern. While these reduced-fat products never quite duplicate that rich "mouthfeel" of high-fat ice cream, many of them are, surprisingly, pretty darn good.

But more than merely tasty, these ice-cream bars and pops are actually good for dieters. "We all need a treat to look forward to," says Dawn Jackson, RD, a Chicago-based spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "Depriving yourself can lead to overeating later. Choosing a pre-portioned dessert of around 150 calories or less keeps you happy without going overboard."

We taste-tested many of the ice-cream bars and pops available to dieters today. All in all, if you're looking for diet-friendly frozen treats, our sampling found tasty picks in every category, including low-fat ice-cream bars, sandwiches, fudge bars, and sorbet and yogurt pops. Ranging from 80 to 160 calories, each and every one of these goodies offers cool, sweet satisfaction with no need to feel guilty -- and isn't that what summer's all about? Find out what we discovered by looking at our free comparison chart (Adobe Acrobat format).


How Do They Create the Taste?

How do the ice-cream manufacturers create a product that's lighter and still palatable?

Here's the Scoop

Sugar Swaps: A number of ice-cream bars or pops labeled "no sugar added" use low-calorie sweeteners, such as aspartame (NutraSweet) or sorbitol. This can be good news for diabetics or those who want to cut down on their sugar intake, but it doesn't reduce total calories much. Sugar substitutes can also give the ice cream a chemical aftertaste and less substantial feel in the mouth. The artificially sweetened chocolate used in ice-cream-bar coatings and sandwich wafers isn't bad, though.

Fat Traps: To cut calories and reduce saturated fat, lower-fat ice creams are made with low- or nonfat milk or yogurt instead of full-fat milk or cream. What also gets lost, unfortunately, is the rich, creamy texture that fat provides. To make up for this, manufacturers use plant-based gums, such as guar, to produce a similarly satisfying mouthfeel. Depending on the manufacturer's particular formula, this can create a decent facsimile of the real thing -- or a pale imitation.

The Soy Story: Some research suggests that soy protein (found in tofu, soy milk or edamame) will lower cholesterol and reduce symptoms of menopause. That's why believers flock to frozen treats made from soy instead of milk or cream. While soy is a great option for the lactose intolerant, you can't assume soy treats are all natural or automatically healthier. First, most have only a tiny 1 or 2 grams of soy protein, anyway. Also, many of them contain less-than-healthful ingredients to help boost the flavor and texture, such as coconut oil, sorbitol (which can cause diarrhea) and other additives. Still, some are surprisingly good. We like Tofutti Cuties snack-size sandwiches. They're creamy and satisfying, but relatively high in calories (130 for chocolate; 120 for vanilla) for their 1.5-ounce mini size -- so don't raid the whole box!