I scream, you scream, we all scream for… gelato? If you haven’t tried this classic Italian dairy dessert, you’re missing out. Like ice cream, gelato is a decadent frozen treat that packs a ton of flavor and is loved by anyone who tries it—unless you’re among the one-third of Americans who can’t eat dairy.
So what’s the difference between these tasty treats? Gelato and ice cream share common ingredients, such as cream, milk, and sugar. But authentic gelato contains more milk and less cream and generally doesn’t contain egg yolks, which are commonly found in ice cream.
Many people tout gelato as a “healthier” dessert option since it offers less sugar, fewer calories, and lower fat content than ice cream. For example, a half-cup serving of vanilla ice cream contains 7 grams of fat, 14 grams of sugar, and 125 calories. By comparison, the same serving size of vanilla gelato contains 3 grams of fat, 10 grams of sugar, and 90 calories.
Given this info, you’d think gelato is a healthy alternative to satisfy your sweet cravings. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Although it’s lower in fat than ice cream, gelato is still an ultra-processed food high in added sugars, calories, and questionable ingredients.
Here are four of the unhealthiest gelatos you’ll find on grocery shelves. And while you’re making healthier food choices, here’s a list of the 100 Healthiest Foods on the Planet.
PER 1/2 cup: 170 calories, 7 g fat (4.5 g saturated fat), 20 mg cholesterol, 75 mg sodium, 26 g carbs (<1 g fiber, 21 g sugar), 3 g protein
With a history dating back to the 1860s, Breyers frozen desserts have become a staple in the frozen aisle of nearly every grocery store in America. The Unilever-owned brand is well-known for its ice cream pints, which include over 40 flavors.
So when Breyers decided to add gelato to the mix, frozen dessert lovers rejoiced since gelato is considered a different alternative to ice cream because of its lower fat content. However, Breyers gelato is packed with added sugars, calories, and an unhealthy amount of saturated fat. This type of fat has been shown to increase heart disease risk by raising levels of LDL cholesterol, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“Breyer’s Chocolate Caramel Gelato contains seven servings at 170 calories each. While this may not seem like much, consumers typically go above the serving size by double or more,” says Trista Best, a registered dietitian with Balance One Supplements. “The 26 grams of carbohydrates include 21 grams of added sugar along with 7 grams of saturated fat. Overall, Breyers Chocolate Caramel Gelato isn’t a healthy option based on the inflammatory and calorie-dense ingredients.”
PER 1/2 CUP: 280 calories, 15 g fat (8 g saturated fat), 30 mg cholesterol, 60 mg sodium, 34 g carbs (4 g fiber, 26 g sugar), 6 g protein
Another iconic American ice cream company, Tillamook was founded in 1909 after several small creameries in Tillamook Valley, Oregon, joined forces to form the Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA). In addition to its 31 ice cream flavors, Tillamook offers over a dozen gelato options for those who crave decadence in their dairy desserts.
While the sodium content is relatively low, beware of other unhealthy ingredients and added sugars in this gelato. “With the highest amount of added sugar of all the brands listed, this dessert may send blood sugar levels soaring. Reducing your portion size and sticking to this as an occasional treat would be the best choice,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, a registered dietitian and author of 2-Day Diabetes Diet.
PER 1/2 cup: 230 calories, 10 g fat (6 g saturated fat), 30 mg cholesterol, 70 mg sodium, 30 g carbs (0 g fiber, 27 g sugar), 4 g protein
Talent specializes in making gelato and sorbetto. The brand has an impressive variety of flavors and healthy options for various dietary needs, including dairy-free, gluten-free, egg-free, and organic options.
However, Talenti’s products are still high in added sugars which provide mostly empty calories. One gelato pint stands out among the rest as a particularly unhealthy option—their Cinnamon Peach Biscuit flavor—because of its saturated fat content from added palm oil.
“The addition of palm oil increases the saturated fat content of this gelato to 30% of your total daily intake in just half a cup,” says Palinski-Wade. “In addition, 27 grams of sugar (mostly from added sugar) can easily exceed the daily recommendation for added sugar if you aren’t careful with the portion size.”
PER 1/2 CUP: 200 calories, 9 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 25 mg cholesterol, 350 mg sodium, 30 g carbs (2 g fiber, 28 g sugar), 4 g protein
Gelato Fiasco is a Maine-based gelato company that boasts a whopping 1,500 original flavors. Even more impressive is the fact that Gelato Fiasco claims to use only whole ingredients in their gelatos.
Unfortunately, the term “whole” doesn’t necessarily mean healthy. For example, the saturated fat in this gelato reaches 25% of the recommended daily value for fat and 80% of your daily calories from fat overall.
“The added sugars in this gelato reach a significant 28 grams and 30 overall grams of carbohydrates. Therefore, this gelato will mainly provide empty calories with minor vitamins and minerals such as iron, calcium, and vitamin A,” says Best.
A better option would be to limit this gelato to an occasional treat or balance it with lower fat choices for the rest of the day.