In this scorching heat, everyone’s looking for just about any way to cool off. Ice cream trucks beckon from every corner, but the health-conscious among us are more likely to turn to frozen yogurt. While the lighter-than-ice-cream treat does have some health benefits, it's not entirely guilt-free.
"Frozen yogurt should be thought of as a treat," says Rachel Berman, director of nutrition for CalorieCount.com, "not necessarily as an everyday thing -- and not as a healthy lunch!"
If there’s one thing that can derail your best nutrition intentions faster than that fro yo can melt in the summer, it's the toppings. Loading up your cup can lead to a surprisingly high amount of sugar, carbs and calories, she says, a combo that will leave you looking for more. "Having a balance of fat, carbs and protein is what's going to keep you fuller, longer,” she says. No wonder we're sad when it's over!
If you're ordering off a menu, chances are you're getting about one tablespoon of any given topping, she says. It's the self-serve joints that really pose a problem. Take a look next time at the utensil that top-it-yourself bar is equipped with, and stick to just one small scoop, and you can't really do too much damage, she says.
That said, there are definitely some toppings that are better than others. To get a sense of which should make the cut, we combed the menus of Pinkberry, Red Mango, TCBY, 16 Handles and Yogurt Land -- okay, fine, we've tasted our fair share and didn't really need to consult any menus -- to find some of the toppings they all have in common. Then we asked Berman to break it down for us.
It's no surprise that fresh fruit is your best bet at the fro-yo shop, and with mangoes, pineapple, kiwi, berries and more on most menus, there's something for everyone. In one-tablespoon servings, none will run you much more than 10 calories, says Berman.
Berries are a particularly healthy bet, she says, since they have the most surface area of skin, which means more filling and satisfying fiber. Watch out for fruit that's served in syrup, though, since it adds nothing but extra sugar and calories, she warns. "Dried fruit can actually pack a lot more calories in a smaller amount," she says. Coconut, for example, packs more calories than fresh fruit, thanks to its naturally-occurring saturated fat.
From Snickers to Reese's Pieces to M&M's to Butterfingers, there is often a wide range of bite-size candies and candy bar pieces to pick from. Butterfingers, Heath bars and anything like peanut brittle are the ones to avoid, says Berman; they're dense -- and not in a good way -- with fat and sugar.
But as anyone with a sweet tooth knows, dark chocolate (in small amounts) can actually be good for you, so if you're craving a sweet topping, opt for dark chocolate chips. Carob chips, which many stores offer now, are similar nutritionally but may pack a tiny bit more fiber and protein, explains Berman. "I'm talking maybe a gram, here," she says, "but that could be significant" if the rest of your cup is fat-free (i.e., not filling).
"I personally will add a sprinkle of cookie crumble," says Berman. "It's probably going to cost you 30 to 50 calories. But keep in mind that it's only offering you sugar, so you might want to also try a tablespoon of sliced almonds for a little fat and protein."
Or, splurge for a cookie with a little fat, like an Oreo. "I'm going to get a little controversial here, but typically you're getting fat-free or low-fat frozen yogurt, you're not getting the balance of fat, carbs and protein. Even if it's a tiny bit from an Oreo cookie, I'd almost rather you have that," she says. In moderation, of course. "Don't make it like a whole Blizzard from Dairy Queen!" she adds.
"It adds some crunch," admits Berman, and as long as you pile on only a tablespoon, it shouldn't do too much damage. Granola may be a healthier option for crispy texture, though. Just pick a low-fat option (if one is offered) and look for something without clusters. "Usually it has more sugar to make it a cluster," she says.
Hot fudge, whipped topping, caramel sauce -- they're sugar "in its simplest form," says Berman, and better off avoided. Even honey, which does contain small amounts of vitamins and minerals, "is just providing you sugar" in this case, she says.
By now you probably know that while nuts deliver a punch of healthy fats, it's important to snack on them smartly -- those fats and calories still add up, and fast!
That said, they are a great way to add some filling fat to your non-fat dish, and deliver a satisfying crunch. Look for almonds, cashews or pistachios, which are the lowest in calories, Health.com reported.
Sprinkles may look harmless, and while they won't add hundreds of calories, they're far from natural. "It's not like frozen yogurt is all that natural, but there are all these artificial dyes," Berman says. And no, the dark sprinkles are not any healthier because they are "chocolate."
Gummies and marshmallows aren't much better. "Straight sugar," she says.