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.
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.
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
Best Vanilla Ice Cream: Halo Top Vanilla Bean
You can't beat a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and Halo Top's Vanilla Bean was a clear winner. The ice cream had visible flecks of vanilla bean, which many testers commented on and appreciated. Those visuals translated well when it came to flavor, as the vanilla shone. Although some testers found the flavor a little cloying due to the sugar alcohol erythritol, it was still an enjoyable bite.
Another highlight of Halo Top's pint was the texture, which was creamy and smooth. While that texture might seem like a given when eating ice cream, it became an especially important distinction when compared with others in the category, which were described as icy and chalky. The palatable texture also led to a good mouthfeel, according to one tester. With high praise in appearance, texture and flavor, it's easy to see why our testers loved this product—and you will, too.
Nutrition info for Halo Top Vanilla Bean, per 2/3-cup serving
100 calories, 2 g total fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 90 mg sodium, 21 g carbohydrates, 6 g fiber, 7 g total sugar, 3 g added sugar, 8 g sugar alcohol, 6 g protein
Best Cookies & Cream Ice Cream: Nick's Cookies and Kräm
Cookies and cream ice cream often feature small swirls of cookie bits folded into vanilla ice cream—Nick's is not that. Instead, the Swedish-based ice cream brand features larger chunks of cookie crumbles throughout their vanilla base, which gives the ice cream a great texture. One tester said, "I like the chunks," while another noted that the chunks were a welcome visual and textural surprise, making this ice cream a delicious winner among the majority of our testers.
As a bonus, Nick's ice cream uses zero added sugar, and instead uses the sugar alcohol erythritol to provide sweetness. This usage was a thoughtful choice on the brand's part as Nick's founder, Niclas Luthman, created the company after being diagnosed with prediabetes and had to change his diet.
Nutrition info for Nick's Cookies and Kräm, per 2/3-cup serving
90 calories, 3 g total fat, 2 g saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 115 mg sodium, 24 g carbohydrates, 6 g fiber, 5 g total sugar, 0 g added sugar, 4 g sugar alcohol, 5 g protein
Best Fruit-Flavored Ice Cream: Nick's Chilly Mango
When it came to fruit-flavored ice cream, our testers tasted options across the category, including strawberry and lemon, but Nick's Chilly Mango flavor was a clear winner thanks to its unique flavor combination. This limited-edition flavor, created in collaboration with music producer and DJ Zedd, features mango ice cream with a strawberry swirl and a hint of spice from "chili extract." The combination of sweet and spicy drew our testers in, with many going back for a second spoonful.
While the strawberry flavor was a little lost in the shuffle, the mango flavor was clear in taste and smell. In fact, one tester commented, "Whoa, a delicious blast of mango flavor," and said the taste reminded them of a mango-flavored Hi-Chew candy, which they also enjoy. In addition, our testers appreciated the balance between the mango and chile flavors. This ice cream combination from Nick's is a fun change from classic scoop-shop flavors.
Nutrition info for Nick's Chilly Mango, per 2/3-cup serving
80 calories, 4 g total fat, 3 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 180 mg sodium, 22 g carbohydrates, 7 g fiber, 3 g total sugar, 0 g added sugar, 4 g sugar alcohol, 3 g protein
Best Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream: Edy's Slow Churned Mint Chocolate Chip Light Ice Cream
If you're a fan of mint chocolate chip ice cream, you likely have strong feelings about its appearance—should it be white or green? Whichever color you prefer, you're sure to be a fan of Edy's Slow Churned Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream. While the green color was an appealing bonus for some, our testers were most excited about the ice cream's texture and flavor, with one tester commenting that it ticked all of the boxes they were looking for.
Aside from the colorful appearance, its creamy texture was another highlight for our testers. Specifically, the smooth texture was the key difference maker for one tester and helped it earn their top ranking in the category. And while appearance and texture are important, we can't forget about flavor. The chocolate chips were a highlight and clear throughout the cool mint ice cream.
Nutrition info for Edy's Slow Churned Mint Chocolate Chip Light Ice Cream, per 2/3-cup serving
150 calories, 4 g total fat, 3 g saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 60 mg sodium, 24 g carbohydrates, 0 g fiber, 16 g total sugar, 12 g added sugar, 0 g sugar alcohol, 3 g protein
Best Chocolate Ice Cream: Edy's Slow Churned Chocolate Light Ice Cream
Calling all chocolate lovers: Edy's Slow Churned Chocolate Light Ice Cream is for you. This ice cream is part of the brand's Slow Churned series, which contains one-third fewer calories and half the fat of typical ice cream, according to their website. Despite these changes in nutrition, many of our testers found it similar to regular ice cream and couldn't note any differences in the smooth, creamy texture.
In addition to texture, flavor was a real highlight. The rich chocolate flavor was clear and enjoyed by many of our testers, with the word yum being uttered by many. With this ice cream in your freezer, you'll always have a healthy, delicious treat on hand.
Nutrition info for Edy's Slow Churned Chocolate Light Ice Cream, per 2/3-cup serving
130 calories, 4.5 g total fat, 3 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 50 mg sodium, 22 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 16 g total sugar, 11 g added sugar, 0 g sugar alcohol, 3 g protein
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 the 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.
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.
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.