Cream of the crop: The scoop on better frozen desserts

Supermarket sales of ice cream shot up this spring as shoppers reached for comfort during the coronavirus pandemic. (Of course, pausing dine-in service also put restaurant sales of frozen desserts on ice.)

Clearly, ice cream has held onto its comfort food image. Yet food companies have been busy giving it a makeover.

Whether it’s less sugar, more protein, oat milk, avocado, or extra cream for your keto diet, brands are churning out ice creams that sound better for you. Which are? How’s the taste? Read on.

What to look for

Even better-for-you ice cream is still no health food. That’s why we gave Better, not Best, Bites. Our criteria, per ⅔ cup.

  • Calories. No more than 200. That’s a steal compared to super-premiums like Häagen-Dazs (300 to 450).
  • Saturated fat. No more than 4 grams. That’s where most "light" ice creams max out. But even 4 grams—20 percent of a day’s worth—still counts as “high” on labels.
  • Added sugars. No more than 4 teaspoons (17 grams). That’s also high, but it’s as good as it gets for ice creams that contain no low-calorie sweeteners.
  • Low-calorie sweeteners. No acesulfame potassium, aspartame, or sucralose. All are rated “avoid” (see We didn’t disqualify ice creams with allulose, maltitol, erythritol, or monk fruit or stevia extract.

Click here for our full chart of Better Bites and other ice creams.

Heavenly lights

fairlife vanilla light ice cream
Lindsay Moyer/CSPI.


“We flow our milk through special soft filters to concentrate the protein and calcium,” says Fairlife’s website. The company introduced ultra-filtered milk to Americans in 2014. Since then, it’s popped up in yogurts, coffee creamers, and more. Next up: ice cream.

Ultra-filtered milk gives Fairlife and fellow newbie Häagen-Dazs Heaven up to twice the protein (7 to 10 grams) and calcium (10 to 15 percent of a day’s worth) of regular ice cream.

We loved Fairlife’s flavor-packed pints. Your tastebuds won’t believe that they cut the added sugars with allulose and monk fruit extract.

Haagen Dazs heaven ice cream
Lindsay Moyer/CSPI.

That makes most Fairlife varieties Better Bites. (Exceptions: Chocolate Peanut Butter, Java Chip, and Mint Chip, whose coconut oil “chocolatey flakes” nudge up the saturated fat.) A plus for some: Fairlife is lactose-free.

Häagen-Dazs Heaven promises “decadent ice cream” that’s “just lightened up.” Most varieties fall just out of Better Bite range. But 200-ish calories sure beats the usual 350. And Heavens deliver all the rich intensity you’d expect from Häagen-Dazs.


ice cream nutrition facts
Lindsay Moyer/CSPI.

Has your ice cream gained some calories?

Blame the (more realistic) new Nutrition Facts label that’s now on most foods. Some changes:

  • Serving size. Ice cream has jumped from ½ cup to ⅔ cup to reflect how much Americans eat. That’s why new pints show “3 servings per container,” not 4.
  • New column. Most pints must tack on a second column, with “Per container” Nutrition Facts. Sayonara, calculator. Surprise! Most Ben & Jerry’s pints top 1,000 calories.
  • Added sugars. The “Added Sugars” line only counts sugars from cane sugar, corn syrup, and other sweeteners. “Incl.” is short for “includes,” because the “Total Sugars” line right above it includes the naturally occurring sugars in milk and fruit plus any added sugars.

Dairy free for all

Most dairy-frees have little to no calcium or protein and enough coconut oil to bump up their saturated fat. What to know about the handful of Better Bites:

cado avocado mint chocolate chip ice cream
  • Halo Top, Arctic Zero, Enlightened. The texture of Halo Top Dairy Free (chalky) and Arctic Zero Non-Dairy (icy) didn’t win them any taste awards. Enlightened Dairy-Free scored points for creamier texture, but it’s laced with a hint of low-calorie-sweetener aftertaste.
  • So Delicious Frozen Mousse. How does So Delicious’s answer to Halo Top get its calories so low (100-ish) and its texture über-fluffy? Erythritol cuts the sugar. Air adds the fluff. The mousse is about 40 percent less dense than other So Delicious frozen desserts. That makes it easy to scoop straight from the freezer...but might also make it easy to eat more.

Some other new kids on the non-dairy block:

  • Avocado. “Who says ice cream doesn’t grow on trees?” asks Cado Avocado Frozen Dessert.

    Cado’s buttery texture comes from avocado oil plus (in most varieties) avocado purée. But it doesn’t taste like avocado. All eight flavors miss a Better Bite by just 30 calories.
  • Oat. Thanks to Oatly, Planet Oat, and others, the oat milk craze has hit ice cream. None get Better Bites (too much coconut oil, alas), though the “Wow No Cow!” exclamation on velvety Oatly is no joke.

How low can you go?

How do Better Bites like Breyers Delights, Enlightened, Halo Top, and Fairlife slash added sugars? With help from some of these:

halo top chocolate ice cream
Lindsay Moyer/CSPI.
  • Monk fruit extract, stevia extract. Monk fruit extract hasn’t been well tested in animals, but the fruit has been eaten in China for centuries. Stevia is a safe natural sweetener.
  • Sugar alcohols, allulose. Maltitol and other sugar alcohols are safe, though they can cause diarrhea—or, for erythritol, nausea—if you overdo them. Ditto for allulose, a sugar that’s poorly absorbed, so labels don’t need to count it as “sugar.”
  • Processed fibers. Soluble corn fiber, chicory root or inulin (they’re the same thing, and they can cause gas), and gums give lower-sugar treats a creamy texture.

Do Halo Top & friends rack up fewer calories than Ben & Jerry’s? Sure. Are they unprocessed real foods? Nope.

“Here at Halo Top, we believe that rules are meant to be frozen,” says the company’s website. “That’s why we think you can eat the whole pint. Or not.”

If a whole pint of any ice cream has enough sugar alcohols or processed fibers to give you GI distress—or if it has enough calories to match a serving of Ben & Jerry’s—better not.

Keto or no?

rebel keto ice cream
Lindsay Moyer/CSPI.

“Rebel Ice Cream uses only all-natural, high quality ingredients that are keto-friendly,” says the company’s website. “Its healthy fats and zero sugars will allow you to indulge in creamy, full-fat ice cream without the negative impacts of sugar.”

What about the negative impacts of...cream?

Rebel has enough cream (its first ingredient) to supply more than half a day’s saturated fat in ⅔ cup. Ditto for Enlightened Keto Collection. That’s in Ben & Jerry’s territory. As for Rebel’s “healthy fats” claim, the best evidence shows that dairy fat raises LDL (“bad”) cholesterol compared to unsaturated fats. Over time, that boosts your risk of heart disease.

And with roughly 200 calories (Rebel) to 250 calories (Enlightened) per ⅔ cup, keto ice cream is no magic weight loss bullet.

The first ingredient in Halo Top Keto Series is ultra-filtered skim milk, which cuts the sat fat in half (to 6 to 8 grams) and the calories to 150 or so.

Sugar shock


talenti sorbet
Lindsay Moyer/CSPI.


Before the new Nutrition Facts labels hit tubs and pints, we couldn’t even estimate how much of the total sugars in sorbets came from fruit instead of added sugars. (Estimating was easier with ice cream.)

Now we know. And it’s mostly added sugars.

Just 4 grams (about a tenth) of the sugars in ⅔ cup of Häagen- Dazs Mango, for example, come from fruit. The remaining 40 grams are added sugars. That’s 9½ teaspoons—about what you’d get in a 12 oz. can of Coke. Why? The sorbet has more water and sugar than mango.At least the first ingredient in Talenti Alphonso Mango is fruit, which supplies a quarter of its total sugars. So each ⅔ cup has about 6 teaspoons of added sugars. Not ideal, but we are talking dessert. The upside: each serving comes with just a 160-calorie price tag.