Is Dairy-Free Ice Cream Healthy?

Some vegan and plant-based versions are healthier, some aren't

If you follow a dairy-free lifestyle, you no longer need to suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out) when it comes to enjoying a scoop of ice cream. Whether you're a part-time flexitarian, lactose intolerant, or a strict vegan, grab your spoon because it's now easy to find oodles of non-dairy options that lack animal products—but not flavor.

Just keep in mind that not all non-dairy frozen desserts are healthier than regular ice cream. Some options can be higher in saturated fat and calories, too. That might be something you want to consider if you are looking for a lighter option.

It also doesn't make sense to choose something you don't enjoy because it's lower in calories and then eat the whole container when you could have been satisfied with less of the real thing.

For more information on nutritional content, check out our guide below.

RELATED: How To Go On A Dairy-Free Diet—And 6 Things That Could Happen When You Do

Dairy-Free Options Abound

Health food stores and other retailers can have upwards of 30 different dairy-free dessert options, a number which likely will continue to increase, according to a July 2022 report by KBV, a global market research company that covers the industry.

The report shows that the non-dairy frozen dessert market is expected to grow to $8.7 billion by 2028. Here are some reasons why:

  • Climate change, environmental, and ethical concerns
  • The popularity of vegetarian, flexitarian, vegan, and dairy-free diets
  • Health reasons, including a desire to reduce animal protein intake

Choosing non-dairy ice cream can offer some health benefits that include saving you calories, sugar, and saturated fat, which can contribute to high cholesterol. In other cases, though, the plant-based versions have more of the above.

That may seem counterintuitive, but it comes down to the ingredients, including the plant-based milk they contain.

Types of Dairy-Free Ice Cream

Dairy-less frozen desserts replace milk and cream with alternatives like coconut, soy, oat, cashew, or almond milk. Many other ingredients remain the same between the dairy and dairy-free versions. And, just like dairy ice cream, non-dairy ice cream can vary widely in terms of sugar, fat and calorie content.

Some brands contain coconut milk, for example. Coconut is popular among manufacturers because its saturated fat makes for decadent, creamy vegan frozen desserts. That said, it can pack in more saturated fat than a dairy version of your favorite frozen treat.

It's also relatively high in calories. Some coconut-based brands can have more than 260 calories, 11 grams of saturated fat, and 20 grams of sugar per half-cup serving, depending on the ingredients.

For context, Breyer's "traditional" dairy-based vanilla ice cream has 170 calories per 2/3 cup serving, 6 grams of saturated fat, and 19 grams of sugar. Cosmic Bliss' coconut-based Madagascan vanilla bean has 250 calories per 2/3 cup serving, 18 grams of saturated fat, and 13 grams of sugar.

If you are concerned about any of the above, consider reaching for a frozen confection made with a different type of plant-based milk. Pints made with milk from almond, soy, cashew, or other nuts tend to be lower in saturated fat and calories than those made with coconut cream or milk.

Keep in mind that the nutritional content will depend on the flavor and what ingredients have been added.

RELATED: Is Ice Cream Healthy? A Nutritionist's Take on Halo Top and Other 'Healthier' Brands

Lighter Vegan Scoops

If you're looking for something lighter and with fewer calories per serving, opt for brands such as So Delicious, Almond Dream, and Halo Top.

These brands will likely use sugar alcohols and natural non-nutritive sweeteners like Stevia to keep sugar and calories low. (Note: These might not be suitable for people looking to avoid these types of ingredients.)

So Delicious and Almond DREAM have lighter nut-based choices, and Halo Top has some of the most low-calorie choices in the category. Halo Top's dairy-free options, for instance, weigh in at 70 to 90 calories, with low saturated fat counts and less than 8 grams of sugar per half-cup serving.

If you are concerned about calories, sugar or fat, the easiest way to choose your scoop wisely is to do a quick comparison of the nutrition facts boxes on the packages. That said, choose the one you love the taste of and enjoy it.

A Quick Review

More people are turning to non-dairy versions of ice cream and other frozen desserts. They're choosing to go plant-based for several reasons, including environmental and ethical concerns, the health benefits of plant-based diets, and other reasons such as lactose intolerance.

If you want to reduce your saturated fat intake, compare labels or choose a smaller serving size. If you wish to add nutrition, top it with berries and nuts for added fiber, healthy fat, and protein.

Whatever you decide, put your ice cream in a fun dish or bowl and enjoy it!

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  1. Häagen-Dazs. Non-dairy coconut caramel.

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