The 5 Best Ice Cream Brands for Diabetes
Whether you're digging into a pint from the freezer or enjoying a cone from the local scoop shop, ice cream is a delicious sweet treat any time of year. But for people with diabetes who have to manage their blood sugar levels, finding a healthy ice cream may seem tricky. "Dessert can absolutely be part of a healthy eating pattern, even if you have diabetes," says Jessica Ball, M.S., RD, EatingWell's nutrition editor. The key is reading nutrition labels to make sure you're selecting healthy choices—and that's where this list comes in handy.
First, keep saturated fat in check. "Typically, we recommend that diabetes-friendly desserts have no more than 2 grams of saturated fats, but since ice cream is made from dairy, which is typically slightly higher in saturated fats, we selected ice creams with up to 3 grams per serving," explains Ball. This minimal increase allows more choices for the consumer while still supporting a heart-healthy way of eating.
Another thing to consider is the added sugar in a product. As Ball notes, "Most Americans eat too much added sugar. That doesn't mean you can never enjoy sweet foods, but it's a nutrient worth limiting when you can." With that in mind, we capped our products at 12 grams added sugar. We also limited calories to 200 and total carbohydrates to 25 grams, as "choosing treats that are lower in added sugar, total carbs and calories can help keep your blood sugar levels more consistent," says Ball.
To help you find the healthiest ice cream brands for diabetes, we conducted a blind taste test with more than 15 products that met our nutrition parameters, including flavors like vanilla, chocolate and fruit. We tried each ice cream as is and made notes about the taste, texture and appearance. One of our favorite brands? Edy's was a winner in multiple categories. Read on for our full list of the best healthy ice creams.
Our Product Recommendations
- Best Vanilla Ice Cream: Halo Top Vanilla Bean
- Best Cookies & Cream Ice Cream: Nick's Cookies and Kräm
- Best Fruit-Flavored Ice Cream: Nick's Chilly Mango
- Best Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream: Edy's Slow Churned Mint Chocolate Chip Light Ice Cream
- Best Chocolate Ice Cream: Edy's Slow Churned Chocolate Light Ice Cream
If you're looking to keep things simple, Halo Top's Vanilla Bean is a cool, creamy choice. Or, if you're looking for a classic scoop-shop taste, Edy's Slow Churned Mint Chocolate Chip Light Ice Cream will please palates of all ages.
To narrow the field, we researched and read the labels of more than 150 products, and selected the ones that fit the following nutrition requirements: ≤200 calories, ≤5 grams total fat, ≤3 g saturated fat, <240 milligrams sodium, ≤25 g carbohydrates and ≤12 g added sugar. We also looked for a range of flavors, including vanilla, chocolate, birthday cake, cookies and cream, fruit, mint chocolate chip and chocolate. For the taste test, a blind tasting was set up with five testers. Each ice cream was tested as is directly from the container. We took notes regarding the taste, appearance and texture of each product.
When selecting a diabetes-friendly ice cream, there are a few key things to consider on a nutrition label: saturated fat, carbohydrates and added sugar or sugar alcohol. Saturated fat is naturally found in animal-based dairy products, and the American Diabetes Association recommends limiting your intake, as too much can impact your cholesterol, which in turn can impact your risk for heart disease—something people with diabetes are at higher risk for. While our general diabetes-friendly nutrition parameters cap saturated fat at 2 grams per serving for desserts, our registered dietitians suggested we increase the cap to 3 grams for this test, based on the saturated fat average found in our research.
While following a diabetes-friendly diet does mean reducing consumption of added sugar and simple carbohydrates, it doesn't mean eliminating them entirely. To help limit intake, we set nutrition parameters after analyzing the numbers on products in the category. Each ice cream had to contain no more than 25 grams carbohydrates and 12 grams added sugar per serving.
Speaking of sugar, another thing to be mindful of is sugar substitutes like stevia and monk fruit, and sugar alcohols like erythritol and xylitol. Food manufacturers use these products as a low-calorie alternative to sugar, and they can often produce an artificial aftertaste. While sugar alcohols can have an impact on glucose levels, it's less of an impact than sugar has, so these sugar alcohols are often found in diabetes-friendly products. However, depending on the person, consuming large amounts of sugar alcohols may lead to digestive issues, so be sure to enjoy these ice creams in moderation.
Alex Loh is the associate food editor at EatingWell. She is passionate about food and cooking, and has over two years of experience with the brand. She has written more than 15 product guides and has tested hundreds of products, including chef's knives, hot dogs and protein powders. For this article, she consulted with a registered dietitian and nutrition editor at EatingWell, Jessica Ball, M.S., RD, for her insights about nutrition. The testers included registered dietitians and food editors.