A warm-weather holiday weekend just wouldn't feel complete without a sweet treat to top off that barbecue.
But if you're not careful, those icy calories -- not to mention the fat -- can add up to more than just a refreshing snack.
To help you navigate the frozen treats you're likely to encounter this Memorial Day weekend and beyond, we asked Elisa Zied R.D., C.D.N, author of "Nutrition At Your Fingertips" and Samantha Heller, R.D., C.D.N., author of "Get Smart," to offer their tips for how to make that splurge a little smarter.
It's easy to go overboard when you're serving yourself from a party-size tub of ice cream at a cookout, but aim for about half a cup, or roughly the size of half of your fist, says Samantha Heller, R.D., C.D.N., author of "Get Smart," which could still run you nearly <a href="http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/205" target="_hplink">200 calories and 11 grams of fat</a>, according to the USDA. If you're ordering at an ice cream shop, beware the generous server who extends your swirl well above the brim of the cup, she warns. "You think, 'Awesome, I'm getting extra!' But you're also getting extra calories." When buying your own ice cream, compare the labels of a few different brands for fat, calories and sugar recommends Elisa Zied R.D., C.D.N, author of "Nutrition At Your Fingertips". Keep in mind the amount of sugar listed does include sugar that occurs naturally in milk. If nothing but your favorite full-fat flavor will do, just shrink the portion size even more. Zied says she serves ice cream to her young son in a three to four ounce Dixie cup. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/preppybyday/5076899310/" target="_hplink">TheCulinaryGeek</a></em>
It's true that the probiotics in fro-yo <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/15/probiotic-remedies_n_1507166.html" target="_hplink">can provide some health benefits</a> in comparison to ice creams, but be aware that that Pinkberry isn't always that much lower in calories than regular ice cream. It's easy to get caught up in the idea that frozen yogurt is good for you, but portion sizes still apply. Nutrition information is often based on a half-cup serving, says Heller, but then the stores don't even stock a half-cup-sized dish, and you really have no idea what you're getting, she says. Eyeball a half-fist-size portion and only add a teaspoon or two of toppings. Also, keep in mind that not all products labeled "frozen yogurt" contain any live active cultures, according to the <a href="http://www.aboutyogurt.com/index.asp?bid=28" target="_hplink">National Yogurt Association</a>. Some manufacturing procedures actually kill off these good bacteria, so look for the <a href="http://www.cookinglight.com/cooking-101/essential-ingredients/yogurt-nutrition-00412000067780/page3.html" target="_hplink">Live & Active Cultures seal</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pamlau/5711485771/" target="_hplink">pamlau</a></em>
Frozen Kefir Or Greek Yogurt
These healthy buzzwords have acquired a bit of a health halo -- you might think they're better for you than they really are. Both Zied and Heller recommend comparing the ingredients, fat and sugar content before automatically grabbing a pint of frozen Greek. For example, the new <a href="http://www.benjerry.com/flavors/our-flavors/" target="_hplink">Ben and Jerry's Greek flavors</a> have around 200 calories per half-cup serving, 7 to 8 grams of fat and 23 to 26 grams of sugar. But you can make your own, says Heller. Start off with some fat-free plain Greek or regular yogurt, and add layers of your favorite fruit or a little honey into an ice pop mold and freeze. Roll the finished product in granola or chopped nuts for some crunch, or dip it in dark chocolate, she suggests. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/slgc/6887394552/" target="_hplink">slgckgc</a></em>
Frozen Fruit Bars
When comparing store-bought brands, look for a bar that's no more than 100 or 150 calories, says Zied. There are some 100 percent fruit juice bars out there, she says, but plenty also brag that they're "made with real fruit" or "contain half a serving of fruit" that, upon closer, inspection list sugar before any real fruit on the nutrition label. And don't forget that any pops with coconut will be higher in calories and fat than other fruit bars. You can also make your own, by freezing 100 percent fruit juice in an ice pop mold, says Heller. That way, you control what goes into the mix. Dilute high-calorie juice with water or add chunks of your favorite fruit (or veggies!). <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jessicafm/733954371/" target="_hplink">jessicafm</a></em>
Often fat-free, this fruit-based frozen treat can be a slimmer option than ice cream or yogurt, but will still contain plenty of sugar, both naturally occurring in fruit and sometimes added. "Look for fruit on the label," says Zied, and for as few ingredients as possible, "because that makes it closer to being somewhat of a real food," she says. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/arandall/3138859555/" target="_hplink">Angela Schmeidel Randall</a></em>
The 100 to 150 calorie rule of thumb applies here as well. And beware of lengthy ingredients lists. "The shorter the list probably the less harmful the product is," says Zied. A number of brands now make <a href="http://www.freshdirect.com/category.jsp?catId=fro_icecr_pops&prodCatId=fro_icecr_pops&productId=fro_sil_ftfrfdge&trk=srch" target="_hplink">low-calorie chocolately treats</a> and even some that are fat-free.
Flavored Ice Pops
The childhood favorite is <a href="http://www.jelsert.com/Products/detail.aspx?casecode=92100" target="_hplink">low in calories</a>, thanks to its relatively small size. But prominent ingredients include high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors and food colorings. It's best to skip sweets like these, says Zied. "I'd much rather someone have ice cream or frozen yogurt, actual real foods," she says. "If you can't identify where it comes from, it's not the greatest thing to have." <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pakaloeff/3750307064/" target="_hplink">PakaLoeff</a></em>
Slush is guilty of many of the same problems as flavored ice pops, and it usually comes in a larger serving, so beware of too many <a href="http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/6125" target="_hplink">empty calories</a> and artificial flavors. However, Heller suggests a fun way to make your own and serve at cookouts. All it takes is some partially-frozen, 100 percent fruit juice, she says. Throw it in a blender and toss in your favorite chopped fruit. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/benimoto/2815642697/" target="_hplink">Benimoto</a></em>
Ice Cream Sandwich
Depending on the brand, especially if that sandwich is made with cookies, this treat can run high in fat and added sugar. Zied suggests having just a small piece of one, if it's really what you're craving. "Just because you're given a whole ice cream sandwich doesn't mean you have to have the whole thing," she says. "Cut it up into little pieces and share," she suggests. "You can savor it a little bit more that way." Heller points out that many brands will also contain trans fats in the wafers. If you're able to examine the package, keep an eye out for any partially hydrogenated oils or palm oil, she says, which many manufacturers are using now instead of trans fats. They have been <a href="http://www.ajcn.org/content/23/9/1184" target="_hplink">linked to heart disease in some research</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/roland/195210420/" target="_hplink">roland</a></em>
Non-Dairy Frozen Treats
"Organic, all-natural, gluten-free, vegan -- we assume these mean healthy, and that's absolutely not always the case," says Heller. Still, if you're opting to forgo dairy for health or diet reasons, there are more choices than ever before. "If you can't have dairy, there are other options that are equivalent in many ways," says Zied, "but they may not be lower in calories, they may have just as much added sugar. Don't be under a delusion that you're saving much unless you look at the packages and compare them," she says. The fun-sized Tofutti Cuties are a perfect example, she says. They provide a tasty, dairy-free option for those who need it, but at 130 calories, and with sugar and corn syrup as the second and third ingredients, these bites are still comparable, health-wise, to a dairy ice cream sandwich. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/joebehr/2417005588/" target="_hplink">JoeInSouthernCA</a></em>
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