When you’re eating for metabolic health, whole foods reign supreme. But that doesn’t mean all convenience foods are off-limits. This ongoing series highlights some of the most metabolically friendly packaged foods found in popular supermarkets.
As much as they may love it, most people blacklist ice cream if they’re eating for a specific health goal. A pint is typically high in calories, sugars, and fat and light on beneficial nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals. In fact, some popular ice cream varieties contain over 30 grams of sugar per serving, and according to Levels data, ice cream causes an average of a 31 mg/dL glucose rise and low zone score of 5.6 (out of 10).
Ice cream also causes a significant insulin response, partly because dairy appears to be an insulin secretagogue, which means it causes your body to release insulin independent of glucose. That means that some people can eat regular ice cream and not see a blood sugar spike since all that insulin shuttles the glucose out of the bloodstream quickly, but that doesn’t mean high-sugar ice creams are good for you—your body still has to deal with all that glucose.
However, with low-carb, keto, and non-dairy ice creams on the rise, it’s possible to eat ice cream while minimizing the effects on metabolic health. Many of these new varieties are lower in sugar or use alternative sweeteners, so they have less impact on blood glucose. The trouble is, not every option delivers the flavor and creamy consistency you crave. So we scoured the supermarket aisles and taste-tested the top low-carb ice cream brands to identify the most recommended varieties. Here’s what we found.
When selecting an ice cream that will have minimal effects on your blood glucose and metabolic health, but delivers the flavor experience you want, keep the following in mind:
1. Serving size
Although all of the ice creams listed below use ⅔ cup as a serving, some brands still consider ½ cup a serving. Others tout the number of carbs per pint, so read the label closely so you can compare equal portions.
Choose ice creams with natural sweeteners. Options such as stevia, allulose, and monk fruit don’t appear to impact blood glucose or insulin levels. Note that while sugar alcohols like xylitol and erythritol have minimal or no effect on glucose and insulin, these can upset some people’s GI systems.
Different flavors may contain questionable ingredients such as carrageenan (a seaweed extract linked to inflammation that may lead to inflammatory bowel disease) and artificial colors such as titanium dioxide and Red 40 (which may damage DNA). You may want to avoid these.
Traditional ice cream toppings such as chocolate sauce, sprinkles, and cookie crumbles would pile sugar onto your dessert. Lucky for you, many popular low-carb ice creams have non-sugary versions of these ingredients already mixed in. Of the ones we tested, the selections below were the most generously incorporated. Conversely, topping your dessert with nutritious foods like nuts and seeds would add protein, fat, and fiber that may help stave off a glucose spike.
Some popular low-carb ice cream brands are known for having a dry, chalky consistency. This is mostly due to the low-fat content in their formulations. Fat from dairy, and dairy alternatives such as coconut milk, deliver the creamy texture you associate with “real” ice cream. When comparing nutrition, remember that a higher fat content may offer better consistency and a more satisfying flavor.
5 Low-Carb Ice Creams to Satisfy Common Cravings
This keto-friendly ice cream has a creamy coffee ice cream base and plenty of chocolate chips. It’s sweetened with the sugar alcohol erythritol and monk fruit. That means there are less than 3 net carbs (total carbs minus fiber and sugar alcohols) per serving. Plus, the fats from the cream base help slow digestion, which means your blood glucose levels may rise more slowly. Among Levels members’ food logs, “Rebel Ice Cream” caused a 15 mg/dL glucose rise, scoring a positive 8.2 (out of 10). Rebel brand also has a few fruit flavors to choose from (rare among keto ice creams). Orange Cream and Black Raspberry are both tasty options. Across the board, Rebel’s low-carb ice cream flavors all taste great.
Per serving (⅔ cup): 210 calories, 21 g fat (14 g sat), 16 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 0 g sugars, 3 g protein, 75 mg sodium
Price: $5.99* per pint
With a deep, dark, rich flavor, it’s hard to believe this gelato is dairy-free. The main ingredient after water is a low-calorie sweetener called allulose. Your body excretes most of this sugar through your urine, so it is unlikely to impact blood glucose or insulin levels. Note that Nubocha is only available online and in select retailers, so it’s more expensive than other options.
Per serving (⅔ cup): 100 calories, 8 g fat (3 g sat), 31 g carbs, 1 fiber, 0 sugars, 2 g protein, 95 mg sodium
Price: $12 per pint
Enlightened uses cream and egg yolks for a rich consistency and erythritol, allulose, monk fruit, and stevia to sweeten this vanilla ice cream with a peanut butter swirl and chunks of brownies. Let the pint sit at room temp for 5-10 minutes for the best texture. One possible drawback with this treat: It contains several gums (tara gum, guar gum, carob bean gum, xanthan gum, and guar gum), some of which may cause digestive problems in some people, especially in large doses.
Per serving (⅔ cup): 230 calories, 20 g fat (11 g sat), 20 g carbs, 5 g fiber, <1 g sugars, 6 g protein, 130 mg sodium
Price: $9 per pint
This is the ice cream form of Funfetti cake, complete with loads of sprinkles. Unlike many brands, though, Nick’s uses vegetable juice rather than artificial coloring to naturally dye the sprinkles. In addition to allulose, erythritol, and stevia, this pint contains EPG (esterified propoxylated glycerol) oil, a low-calorie modified plant-based oil that doesn’t appear to cause gastrointestinal problems as Olestra did. Nick’s Peanöt Choklad Cup is another tasty choice.
Per serving (⅔ cup): 80 calories, 5 g fat (4 g sat), 21 g carbs, 8 g fiber, 0 g sugars, 3 g protein, 105 mg sodium
Price: $9.99 per pint
This dairy-free option with chocolate flakes in every bite is as creamy as regular ice cream, thanks to a coconut milk base. Erythritol, stevia, and monk fruit balance to create a non-bitter sweetness, and there’s just the right amount of mint flavor.
Per serving (⅔ cup): 160 calories, 11 g fat (10 g sat), 25 g carbs, 11 g fiber, 2 g sugars, 2 g protein, 115 mg sodium
* The prices in this article reflect those listed by the retailer at the time of publication. Prices and local store availability may vary.
Or just make your own …
And here are two recipes if you prefer to skip the store and just make your own:
4 Ingredient Dairy-Free Keto Ice Cream: With only coconut milk, almond butter, vanilla, and stevia, this vegan ice cream is as simple as it gets and still maintains a creamy texture.
Almond Milk Ice Cream: This basic recipe built around almond milk and nut butter can be customized for your flavor of choice, from cookie dough to mint chocolate chip.