The Best and Worst Options for a Cold Summer Treat by Nishta Saxena of Simply Vibrant Nutrition.

It’s the heat of summer. And in the heat of the moment, you’re giving in to a trip to the ice cream shop, a cone from the old-school ice cream truck, or a stop at the corner store for some frozen treats. And hey, you wouldn’t mind a cool snack too. As parents in TOw, it’s easy to get sucked into the sweet stuff.

But what are we actually treating ourselves to?

I asked Mom in T.O. Nishta Saxena of Simply Vibrant Nutrition for a cheat sheet on the cold stuff. Nishta is a Registered Dietitian, Nutritionist and Paediatric and Family Nutrition Specialist and she confirms that nope — all ice cream is not created equal.

Here she provides some tips, facts and all the nitty gritty nutritional details to help us make more informed choices on what to eat. For much more on how to feed our families, check out these stories on Simply Vibrant Nutrition.

Okay, get ready to scream.


This classic summer treat has been around since the 1930s. Whether you get it from an ice cream truck or a fast-food joint, soft-serve tends to contain ingredients you may not want. Soft serve starts as a liquid or powder mix that is put through a soft-serve machine, which freezes it and mixes in air. It’s a highly processed food, full of artificial flavours, preservatives and additives.

Ingredients from food trucks, Dairy Queen, McDonald’s and other popular places include some or all of the following:

  • whey
  • corn syrup
  • magnesium hydroxide: also used in antacids, laxatives and deodorant as a whitener; can interfere with absorption of crucial nutrients such as iron and folic acid
  • polysorbate 65 and 80: some seriously yucky mice studies coming out about effects on reproductive health with these two yuckies
  • carrageenan: originally extracted from seaweed, now some studies coming out about nasty mitochondrial changes to your child’s gut bacteria..making them not fuction, die or produce unwanted and dangerous by-products.
  • soy mono and diglycerides
  • guar gum
  • dextrose
  • calcium sulfate: industrial-grade dessicant and coagulant, unrefined form is from gympsum and anhydrite…used for plaster casts and drywall…yup.
  • artificial flavours galore!
  • cellulose gum

Generally speaking, 1 soft serve nets you 150 – 250 calories, for a small plain vanilla soft serve cone, approx. 5-15g fat aaaaand 20-30g sugar!

More specifically, a small vanilla soft serve from McDonald’s or Dairy Queen: About 230 calories, approx. 7g fat, and 26-28g sugar

Bottom line: Resist the siren song on the ice cream truck, or keep it to absolute occasional. This dessert is full of things you probably don’t want your little one eating regularly. Some of these ingredients have been implicated in changes to gut bacteria, and behavioural issues in children sensitive to those ingredients. So try and have it only occasionally, or go for another dessert option with less artificial ingredients.


In order to be classified as “Ice cream” a dessert must contain at least 10% milk fat. If it has less than 10 per cent milk fat it’s a frozen yogurt. Generally commercially available ice cream contains between 10 to 20 per cent milk fat and is stored at -15 C.

One half cup scoop will ranges from 130 – 270 calories, with anywhere from 4 – 22g sugar.

Ingredients from very common commercial brands from food vendors and retailers include some or all of the following:

  • Carrageenan
  • Artificial flavours such as:
  • Artificial colours: E129 FD&C Red No. 40, E133 FD&C Blue No. 1.)
  • Various types of gums and emulsifiers: guar, locust bean, xanthan, tara

Bottom line: Keep this choice to a minimum, like at birthdays and parties, as most commercially available ice creams have ingredients you don’t want your child consuming regularly. Try and find a locally-made or “boutique” option. While it may be more expensive, it’s likely to have a much shorter ingredient list.


Born in beautiful Italy, this is usually denser than ice cream, so comparing scoop to scoop means gelato is higher in fat, sugar and calories. But gram for gram gelato is in fact lower in fat, calories and sugar than the same amount of ice cream.

Commercial gelatos found ready-made in stores, often contain: 

  • carrageenan
  • Various types of gums and emulsifiers: guar, locust bean, xanthan, tara

There are many small batch makers around town, such as Ed’s Real Scoop, Dream Gelato, Dolce Vita etc. These craft-gelato producers are making fresh and flash freezing their product, so there are no fillers, colours, preservatives – just the good stuff!

Yes, of course there is still fat, salt and sugar, but even then, a scoop of gelato will net 90 to 100 kcal, 3 to 5 grams of fat and about 10 to 15 grams of sugar.

Bottom Line: This is your winner, especially in the case of locally- and freshly-made options at your nearest gelateria. There are so many amazing flavours and niche-angles to choose from. Skip the toppings, as you will see below, let the beauty and richness of fresh gelato shine through!


Frozen yogurt is like hard-packed ice cream’s cousin from the big city. It looks different at first, but still related, and has worse, passive-aggressive behaviour!

Why? The main difference between frozen yogurt and ice cream is fat content. Frozen yogurt is lower in milk fat compared to ice cream but not necessarily lower in sugar or the other nasties! The problem here is that less fat always means more sugar. And more sugar from added sources is definitely not better.

Bottom line: Frozen yogurt may feel like a healthier choice, but its not. It also almost comes with toppings galore, putting the sugar content into the stratosphere. I’d put it in the same or worse category than hard-packed. Have it once in a while, but there are some choices you would want o make more often. A quick rule is for kids (and adults too), healthy fate is always a better choice than sugars.


They guys usually contain no or little fat and lots (and lots) of sugar, additives and colours. On average popsicles will have between 10-20 grams of sugar, usually from high-fructose corn syrup, and lots of food dyes.

The problem with this is for those children who are sensitive to these ingredients, it can increase poor behavioural reactions, irritability, and sometimes event violent and aggressive behaviour.

Bottom line: Popsicles contain a lot of sugar. For a healthier option, make your own – and get your kids to help. Try freezing pureed fruit so you still get the fibre of whole fruit with natural sugars.


Dips and toppings are tempting but they are A) not even a real anything B) often the least healthy part of having an ice cream. Toppings like chocolate syrup and candy are high-sugar additions that drastically increase the calorie count and sugar content.

They’re also full of ingredients like:

  • High fructose corn syrup
  • corn syrup, sugar
  • E330 citric acid
  • E405 propylene glycol alginate
  • E412 guar gum
  • E413 tragacanth
  • E414 acacia
  • E415 xanthan gum
  • modified corn starch
  • E296 malic acid
  • E211 sodium benzoate & E202 potassium sorbate
  • artificial flavours
  • artificial colours such as E129 FD&C Red No. 40, E133 FD&C Blue No. 1

The bottom line: Avoid dips and toppings. Opt instead for real food options like fresh fruit, shaved or curled genuine real chocolate and chopped nuts!


This super-hipster fare is Instagram perfection. It is glorified soft serve with activated charcoal added.

Bottom line: Try it if you enjoy a food adventure or have a penchant for charcoal – just don’t go believing the charcoal is doing anything healthy for you or un-doing anything you have done to yourself. Probably not a great choice for kids, could cause stomach upset in some very small babies the amount of charcoal could be significant to their body mass, and potentially harmful.