The most important tip to remember about shopping for ice cream is this: Read the nutrition facts panel. Don’t rely on the front label unless it states the exact number of calories. Some brands of ice cream may have less fat but more sugar, which means calories lost from fat are replaced with sugar. Beyond fat and sugar content, the calories in one scoop vary significantly depending on the variety of ice cream.
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The Virginia Department of Education states that one scoop of ice cream equals 1/2 cup, and the USDA Nutrient Database reports that 1/2 cup is a typical serving, so that portion is used to compare calories in various types of ice creams. One scoop of regular strawberry ice cream has 127 calories. The same portion of vanilla ice cream goes up to 137 calories, while chocolate ice cream has the most with 143 calories. The so-called rich varieties, which contain more milk fat, are in the range of 189 to 266 calories in one scoop. Soft-serve varieties also have more calories than regular ice cream, with 191 calories in one scoop.
Fat-Free Ice Cream
The amount of fat in your ice cream makes a significant difference to the total calories because fats have more than double the calories of carbohydrates. One scoop of fat-free vanilla ice cream only has 92 calories. The USDA Nutrient Database reports that fat-free and sugar-free ice cream has 88 calories in one scoop. Just like different types of milk, the amount of total fat in ice cream, which affects the cholesterol and saturated fat you'll consume, varies a lot from fat-free to full-fat varieties. Check the labels on the ice cream you buy if you're watching your fat intake.
Watch for Sugar
The sugar in one scoop of ice cream may be as low as 4 grams, or as high as 22 grams in a rich variety. This difference represents 72 calories you can eliminate if you normally choose higher-calorie ice cream. A scoop of regular vanilla ice cream without added sugar still has 4 grams of natural sugar and 115 calories. By comparison, the regular varieties have about 14 grams of sugar. Watch out for ice creams that reduce fat but increase sugar because you’ll end up with the same number of calories as regular ice cream.
Options to Consider
Frozen yogurt only has 110 calories in a scoop. Frozen yogurts are low in fat but not necessarily low in sugar. Generic frozen yogurt reported in the USDA Nutrient Database has 17 grams of sugar in 1/2 cup. Another option to consider is slow-churned ice cream. Nutrition information from a manufacturer’s website states that 1/2 cup of slow-churned French vanilla and chocolate ice creams contains 100 calories, 3.4 grams of fat, and 11 to 13 grams of sugar.
- USDA Nutrient Database: Ice Creams, Vanilla
- USDA Nutrient Database: Ice Creams, Chocolate
- USDA Nutrient Database: Ice Creams, Strawberry
- University of Illinois, McKinley Health Center: Macronutrients: The Importance of Carbohydrate, Protein and Fat
- Virginia Department of Education: The Scoop on Ice Cream