The Cold Truth About Dairy-Free 'Ice Cream'

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Warmer weather often brings shoppers to linger in front of the frozen dessert section of their local supermarket. In addition to the standard assortment of Ben & Jerry’s, you might notice more non-dairy options taking up freezer space. Dairy-free and lactose-free treats are certainly beneficial to the lactose-intolerant, but do they hold any other advantages?

CNN reporter Lisa Drayer recently examined the growing assortment of “non-dairy frozen desserts.” (Per FDA regulations, anything labeled “ice cream” has to contain dairy ingredients.) In many cases, products created using dairy alternatives like soy, coconut, almond, or cashew milk can often be lower in calories and saturated fat—sometimes as low as 120 calories and 0 grams per half-cup. By comparison, an equivalent serving of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream comes in at 280 calories with 9 grams of saturated fat.

Other non-dairy options can actually exceed their conventional ice cream counterparts, either with more calories or more saturated fat, especially those made with coconut milk. And non-dairy doesn’t mean manufacturers curb the amount of sugar used, which can sometimes be as much or more as their dairy competition. They may also use sugar alcohols to bring that sugar count down, which some consumers may have trouble digesting.

In a fair head-to-head comparison, Ben & Jerry's offers two varieties of Chocolate Fudge Brownie. The conventional version has 260 calories with 12 grams of fat and 27 grams of sugar. The vegan option has 200 calories, 11 grams of fat, and and 16 grams of sugar. Not a huge difference.

The final scoop? “Non-dairy” or “dairy-free” doesn’t automatically mean healthier. Check nutritional labels and try to avoid treats with heaping amounts of saturated fats.

[h/t CNN]