Yes, You Can Eat Ice Cream on a Healthy Diet. This Formula Will Show You How

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infographic showing formula for how to make healthy ice cream sundae on teal background
Stick to a moderate portion of ice cream and add good-for-you toppings to create an ice cream sundae that boasts nutrition benefits.
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You shouldn’t have to fit into a diet and fitness plan. The plan should have to fit you. Click here for all the details on our January challenge.

Even in January, there's always room for ice cream.

Yes, even when you're trying to "eat healthier." There's nothing wrong with ice cream and no food should be considered "bad," says Maya Feller, RD, CDN, owner of Brooklyn-based Maya Feller Nutrition.

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Instead of demonizing sweet treats, make ice cream (or any dessert) work in your eating plan by selecting tasty toppings that are also nutritious. With just a few modifications to ingredients and the size of your scoops, your upgraded sundae can be healthier ​and​ tastier.

"Have a reasonable portion and make it your own," Feller says. Here's how.

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Step 1: Select Your Ice Cream

Homemade ice cream is the best way to control the quality of the base of your sundae, but if that sounds like a project beyond you, stick with store-bought brands that use whole-food ingredients and have short ingredient lists or ice cream from local creameries.

"There are a number of ice creams with five ingredients or fewer, and those are good options," Feller says. "I steer away from low-fat varieties, because there are quite a few additives in there, and sometimes they tend to have more sodium."

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Because a traditional ice cream sundae combines a number of flavors, vanilla or strawberry ice cream may work best. Serving size and nutrition details per serving will vary between brands, but generally, stick to 1/2 cup total of any combination of these dairy or non-dairy flavors:

  • Vanilla
  • Chocolate
  • Strawberry

Try These Dietitian-Approved Ice Cream Brands

Step 2: Add Some Fruit

Fruity syrups are usually more sugar than fruit, so choose whole fruit instead for a boost of fiber, vitamins and natural sweetness that isn't overpowering. Toss it in fresh, roasted or freeze-dried.

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"I really like the tropical fruits, like mango and papaya, which pair really nicely with coconut flakes," Feller says.

Aim for 1/2 to 1 cup of fresh or roasted fruit or 1/2 cup of freeze-dried fruit. Choose from any of the following:

  • Cherries
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Banana
  • Pineapple
  • Mango
  • Peach
  • Apricot

Tip

If a fruit-based sauce is something you can't live without, make your own to cut down on added sugar: Place some fresh or frozen berries in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Add a small amount of water and orange juice, then simmer, stirring and breaking up chunks occasionally until the fruit cooks down to the consistency of syrup.

Step 3: Mix in Nuts

Skip the peanut butter sauce and opt for chopped nuts instead. They add flavor and texture as well as healthy fats and filling fiber.

"I tend to like cashews, walnuts and almonds together with a heaping portion of berries on top," Feller says.

Use up to 2 tablespoons of any of these options:

  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Pistachios
  • Cashews
  • Hazelnuts
  • Pecans
  • Peanuts (technically a legume, but our tastebuds don't care!)

Tip

To avoid any bitterness in raw nuts, try toasting them first, which can add depth of flavor and crisp up the flesh.

Step 4: Sprinkle on Toppings

Fudge is a sundae standard, but plain dark chocolate satisfies that cocoa craving with a good dose of antioxidants and without the sugar and artificial ingredients.

Sprinkle on 1 to 2 tablespoons of:

  • Dark-chocolate chips
  • Dark-chocolate shavings
  • Coconut flakes

Put It All Together in These Recipes

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