Frozen Yogurt vs. Ice Cream…what does it all mean for diabetics?

August 13, 2012By 8 Comments

I don’t think one summer goes by without hearing someone say “well, you know frozen yogurt is better for you anyways.”  Being the dietitian diabetic that I am, I know in the back of my mind there is an exception to that statement, but I am usually too busy stuffing my face with ice cream to retaliate.  I decided it would be helpful to give a breakdown of the difference between frozen yogurt, ice cream, and regular soft serve.  There are pros and cons to point out about this dairy family of creamy-melty goodness, and even more importantly are the nutrition facts to point out that make a BIG difference for those of us burning the gears of our insulin pumps each and every summer as we indulge in these treats.

Ice cream is made with different kinds of dairy, either cream or milk. While most frozen yogurt is made with milk instead of cream, keep in mind that not all kinds are made from fat-free milk.  The calories and fat content will automatically be higher if either is made with whole-fat cream or whole-fat milk. Ice cream is made from milk fat, milk solids, sweeteners (sugar or artificial ones), flavorings, stabilizers and water. Frozen yogurt usually contains yogurt culture, milk solids and milk fat, gelatin, corn syrup and other flavorings.   Ooh yum, bet you didn’t know there was corn syrup in frozen yogurt?  Isn’t that fantastic for diabetics?  (insert sarcastic face here).

Is Frozen yogurt healthier?  Well, it depends on which kinds of frozen yogurt you are comparing to which kind of ice cream.  There are low-fat, fat-free, and sugar-free versions of both.  Don’t just assume because you are eating frozen yogurt that it is ‘healthier for you’.  While the non-fat versions are wonderful in that they don’t add unwanted fat calories to your waist line, they are so high in sugar that we need to be reminded how any calories from sugar that aren’t burned off will… yup you guessed it, turn to fat!!  You gotta love those sneaky manufacturers, they always think they are doing us a favor by taking fat away, and then they turn around and load the product with sugar to mask the bland taste.  The opposite is true for many sugar-free products (including sugar-free ice cream), where they take the sugar away and just add more fat for flavor!  It’s the oldest trick in the book!

There are some great benefits of frozen yogurt, so don’t shoot the messenger just yet.  Frozen yogurt does have the added benefit of live cultures, or probiotics, that are beneficial to your stomach by harboring the growth of good bacteria that help with your digestive system.  Also, because of the broken down lactose content of frozen yogurt, it may be a bit easier to digest for people with lactose intolerance.  Also, both frozen yogurt and ice cream are loaded with calcium and protein, which our bodies can always use.  Okay, maybe I’m grasping at straws here.

So where do we get ourselves in trouble?  Portions.  Portions. Portions.  The table below where I compare frozen yogurt, soft-serve, and ice cream represents a ½ cup portion size.  Who eats only a half cup of any of these kinds of ice cream?  I can’t even remember the last time I saw a 10-year-old eating a small portion while sitting outside the long line at the local ice cream spot.  This is the problem with obesity in America…but I digress.

The main thing to point out about this chart is the following:  Soft-serve ice cream is not frozen yogurt or better for you than hard-serve ice cream.  While frozen yogurt is often times fat-free (again, make sure to check the board at the ice cream shop to see if it even says ‘fat free’ next to it), it is so loaded with sugar when compared to ice cream.  As a diabetic, I would rather have ice cream (which I personally enjoy more anyways), which has less sugar per serving and a ‘fat absorption delay’ on my blood sugars, so that I can adjust my insulin pump accordingly and try to avoid a quick spike in my numbers, which the fat-free frozen yogurt would most likely give me.  Take a look at the sodium content too.  Don’t forget that sodium adds flavor where it is taken away in other areas.  On a side note, I also looked at the nutrition content of Gelato, and it was very similar to a Dairy Queen soft-serve only it slightly less fat but more carbs, at 31 grams!!  Also remember, if you eat enough fat-free frozen yogurt, again, those calories eventually stick to you somewhere!

*1/2 cup serving Cals Fat Sat Fat Sodium Carbs/Sugar
*Dairy Queen Vanilla Soft-serve 140 4.5g 3g 70mg 22g
*TCBY Fat-free frozen yogurt 110 0 0 60mg 23g
*Breyers Vanilla Ice cream 130 7g 4g 35mg 14g

I know this blog post may seem a bit biased, and leaning toward ice cream, but please know I am not biased against any tasty treat and will eat just about anything and enjoy every moment of it!  I just wanted to add some clarity to the confusion that is out there.  What I am recommending is choose whichever kind of dairy delight your heart desires, but don’t really assume you are doing yourself any favors, it all adds up in the end.  It’s okay to treat yourself, but do so in small portions.  As I always say, be an advocate for yourself and for your diabetes.  Ask the high-school student behind the window if they know if the frozen yogurt is fat-free or not, and even go so far as to ask the brand of ice cream they use so that you can go and google it later to make sure you are taking enough insulin for the carb content.  I worked at the Ice Cream Barn back in my home town for two summers and I will tell you that when your arm hairs are sticking to each other from scooping so much ice cream, you don’t care what size you are scooping you just want the night to be over.  So, if you ask for a kiddie size, please tell the girl who is scooping to give you just that, and you will still leave her a tip.

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Comments (8)

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  1. Jack P. says:

    Useful for non diabetics as well. I was just wondering about salt content differences.

  2. Lisa says:

    This post is informative even for non-diabetics! Package it up and pitch it to the Globe!

  3. Veronica says:

    Your information amazed me!, It was so well written and full of so many interesting and important facts.
    Thank you for teaching me something new every day.

  4. Beth Shapiro says:

    Great entry and very appropriate as I just brought home some Tiramisu gelato to share with my husband thinking, “oh, this is probably just as good for me as the frozen yogurt we usually buy…” HA! I’m such a fan of this new treat that I may choose this to be my downfall of the all the dairy delights!…I will say we biked 9 miles today, towing my 17-month old behind me…if you want to dance, you have to pay the fiddler!

  5. Anna Smith says:

    I am a diabetic since I was just 10 years old. I had been married with Insulin since then. This is really helpful.=)

  6. gwen wiliams says:

    Thank you for clearing up the myths about ice cream vs frozen yogurt, I now understand that all in all its about portion control and how often I indulge. It’s hard to figure out this diabetes issue but I am thankful for this breakdown of this particular myth.

  7. Daniel Gross says:

    I need a little dietitian advice – my father became diabetic late in life following a stroke. He rarely gets treats like ice cream. (He is 83 now.) Use of a thickener to help him swallow put his blood sugar over the top and he now has to use an alternative thickener to have any thin liquids.

    I’d like to make ice cream that he can eat. (Have access to ice cream freezers.) I’m looking for ideas or recipes for ice cream, gelato, frozen yogurt, sorbet, custard — whatever — that is diabetic friendly, and if you could tell me, why one choice might be better than another.

    I do understand that “sugar free” substitutes are not necessarily better than sugar, that milk and cream have a lot of natural sugar, and that recipes that include things like corn starch can really trip up the counts.

    But I don’t see much looking at alternatives like almond or soy milk or know how that affects diabetics or the final product. Maybe there are some new alternatives in the last few years since this was written?

    Not being diabetic myself, I want to give him something that is “good” (doesn’t have to be fantastic) because just frozen, slightly creamy and a little sweet would be huge for him this summer.

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