Ice Cream vs. Frozen Yogurt vs. Sherbet

Ice cream is ubiquitous with summer. And most of us, no matter how many years have passed, still have a Pavlovian response whenever we hear the ice-cream truck classic, “The Entertainer”, playing. But with an influx of gourmet gelatos, sorbets and frozen yogurt eroding the ice cream market in favour of more “virtuous” frozen desserts, it can be hard to navigate the fact from fiction.

When it comes to frozen dairy-based desserts, they all give you brain freeze but is one of them better than the others in terms of being less unhealthy? That which we call ice cream, by any other name would taste as sweet? Does nostalgic sherbet even stand a chance?

Ice.Cream (1/2 c.)
VS Frozen Yogurt (1/2 c.)
VS Sherbet  (1/2 c.)
10th c., Middle East origin 1970s, New England origin 1905, California
$0.70 cost* $0.52 cost* $0.57
282 calories 117 calories 113
18.3 g total fat 3.3 g total fat 1.6 g
11.7 g saturated fat 2.1 g saturated fat 0.9 g
104 mg cholesterol 12 mg cholesterol 1 mg
23.4 g sugar 18.3 g sugar 19.0 g
4.0 g protein 2.8 g protein 0.9 g
132 mg calcium 92 mg calcium 42 mg
206 μg vitamin A 45 μg vitamin A 9 μg

No Baloney’s results? Based on nutrient content per 1/2 cup serving (though who eats that little?), we have to give the win to natural, real ingredient-based frozen yogurt. Ice cream has too much saturated fat to take the win and sherbet, though a close second, is mostly sugar, stabilizers and food colouring! What about gelato? Fancy ice cream with a similar composition in terms of saturated fat. It’s important to note that we didn’t include sorbet as this was a dairy-based showdown, but a fruit-based sorbet would probably be the lowest calorie choice out of the bunch.

But the win for frozen yogurt doesn’t mean it’s time to run out to Yogen Fruz or TCBY just yet! Remember when Jerry and Elaine gained weight eating so-called non-fat frozen yogurt on Seinfeld? There are some common pitfalls that can veer even the “healthiest” frozen yogurt into Haagen Dazs territory pretty quickly.

Low-fat and fat-free are not synonymous with a low-calorie free-for-all: there are still plenty of calories to be had. A large low-fat vanilla yogurt at Yogen Fruz with NO TOPPINGS contains 270 calories. The large low-fat plain yogurt at TCBY is 360 calories! If you are in the US, I have some bad news – your large frozen yogurt size is about 5 oz. larger than in Canada, which means you need to add an additional 80 to 100 calories to the estimates above for a large fro-yo.

And that’s without toppings! Eating Well magazine provides a great list of the “best and worst frozen yogurt toppings” from fruit (best choice) to zero-nutrient, calorie-laden rainbow sprinkles. Here are some more great examples of “fro-yo gone bad” from Cooking Light.

Think you are getting natural probiotics in that fro-yo? Think again – there may not be a whole lot of actual yogurt in that frozen yogurt, particularly the large chain stores, just cultured milk powder and corn syrup and stabilizers. Mmmmmm… propylene glycol monoesters! This is exactly why we said “natural, real ingredient-based frozen yogurt” not chemical factories in a convenient cup! When buying frozen yogurt, sugar will invariably be within the first three ingredients (even for the “healthier” brands), but try to look for ones that have less in the way of chemical stabilizers, thickeners, preservatives, etc. – all of them with have a few, but the list should be as short as possible. Beware of ultra-low fat and fat-free varieties – they usually contain more additives and sugar.

Take home message. Whether it’s frozen yogurt, ice cream, sherbet or any frozen dessert, it’s a matter of how much and how often. We’re not exactly talking healthy food here, no matter how low the calories are! Having energy-dense foods like ice cream more often may actually blunt your satisfaction response when eating these sweet treats, increasing your risk for overindulgence; this is a similar pattern to what is observed in drug addiction (1). Keep portions under control by using a small bowl and small spoon – Dr. Brian Wansink’s research group showed that nutrition experts, like RDs and PhDs, served themselves 15 – 30% more ice cream without being aware of it when bowls and spoons were larger (2).

Nutrition information from the Canadian Nutrient File: “Dessert, frozen, ice cream, vanilla, 16% M.F.” and “Dessert, frozen yogourt”, “Dessert, frozen, sherbet, orange”

*Costs were determined based on comparable brands during a grocery store visit on July 20, 2012.


  1. Burger KS, Stice E. Frequent ice cream consumption is associated with reduced striatal response to receipt of an ice cream-based milkshake. Am J Clin Nutr 2012; 95:810-7.
  2. Wansink B, van Ittersum K, Painter JE. Ice cream illusions bowls, spoons, and self-served portion sizes. Am J Prev Med 2006; 31:240-3.

Author Disclosure: I worked at Dairy Queen as a teenager and still harbour a soft spot for chocolate-covered cherry Blizzards, despite knowing how many calories they contain.


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