The Scoop on Ice Cream and Diabetes

ice-cream-coneFor many people, summertime and ice cream often go hand in hand. But if you have diabetes, you might be thinking that ice cream, frozen yogurt, gelato and sorbet are all off-limits. While ice cream isn’t exactly a health food, it’s not necessarily a food that you have to avoid, either. The key is knowing how to fit it into your eating plan.

First, let’s review some of the tasty frozen treats that are out there:

  • Ice cream: A sweet, frozen treat made from cream or milk that contains flavorings and sweeteners. Regular ice cream must contain at least 10% milk fat; ice cream that contains “additions,” such as chocolate, fruit or nuts must contain at least 8% milk fat.
  • Ice milk: Ice milk is similar to ice cream. But, because it’s made with milk instead of cream, it’s lower in fat.
  • Soft-serve ice cream: Ice cream that has double the amount of air as regular ice cream, giving it a lighter texture.
  • Slow-churned ice cream:  A frozen treat made with a combination of whole milk and low fat milk, sugar and flavorings. The ice cream is churned in a special way to give it a thicker texture.   It has 1/3 the calories of regular ice cream.
  • Frozen yogurt: Frozen yogurt is made with nonfat milk, sweeteners and, sometimes, active cultures like those found in regular yogurt.
  • Gelato: Similar to ice cream, this Italian-style dessert has less air than regular ice cream so it has a denser texture.
  • Sherbet: A sweetened, frozen dessert made with milk or cream and fruit juice.
  • Sorbet: Sorbet is made with pureed fruit, sugar and water. It does not contain any dairy products.
  • Italian ice: A frozen dessert made with fruit, water, sugar and, sometimes, egg white. Italian ice is very low in calories.

What’s the best choice?

All of the above frozen delights contain carbohydrate, and some contain a fair amount of calories and fat, as well. However, if you use carb counting as a way to help plan your meals and manage your blood glucose, you probably already know how to fit foods (even those that contain sugar) into your eating plan. To help you pick ice cream that won’t blow your carb budget or your waistline, follow these tips:

  1. Watch your serving sizes. One portion of ice cream or frozen yogurt is one-half cup. If you choose sorbet, the serving size is just one-quarter of a cup. Make it easier on yourself by eating your frozen treat out of a small dish instead of a big bowl (and definitely not out of the ice cream container!).
  2. Choose a frozen treat with no more than about 140 calories per serving, and no more than 4 grams of fat per serving.
  3. Read the label for grams of total carbohydrate. Remember that 15 grams of carb is equal to one carb choice (equal to eating a slice of bread or a small piece of fruit).
  4. Don’t be fooled by no-sugar-added ice cream. It still contains carbs–sometimes more than the regular version!
  5. If watching your serving sizes is hard for you, try a frozen fruit juice bar, an ice cream sandwich or a fudgesicle, which are portion-controlled for you.
(97 Articles)

Amy Campbell MS, RD, LDN, CDE is an experienced health, nutrition and diabetes educator and communicator with more than 25 years of experience within the healthcare sector. Amy has extensive expertise in editing and writing for patients, consumers and healthcare professionals; public speaking, teaching and group facilitation; project and account management; and content and curriculum development.


She is currently the Director for Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures LLC, a Health Professional Advisor at the Egg Nutrition Center, and a blogger/Writer for Madavor Media.

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