Italian ice (or water ice) seems a lot “lighter” than ice cream. It’s dairy-free, it’s vegan, and it has an awesome texture. But is Italian ice actually good for you? Or is it just another sugary dessert?
Italian ice is typically fat-free and low in calories compared to ice cream. However, it is still a processed food that contains quite a lot of corn syrup, with around 25 to 30 grams of sugar per cup. Therefore, it is still relatively unhealthy and should only be eaten in moderation.
Below, we’ll look at the ingredients, calories, and sugar content of leading brands of Italian ice. I’ll compare them to leading brands of ice cream. Then I’ll take a look at “No Sugar Added” Italian ice, and I’ll share what I’d personally choose instead of Italian ice!
What Is Italian Ice Made Of?
Let’s start off by looking at the ingredients for two of the leading brands of Italian Ice today. Then I’ll make some comments on the pros and cons of what I see.
First, here’s Lindy’s Lemon flavor:
Lindy’s Italian Ice (Lemon) Ingredients: “Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Sugar, Natural Flavors, Citric Acid, Dextrose, Lecithin (Soy), Guar Gum, Xanthan Gum, Carrageenan.”
Now here’s a flavor from Luigi’s—the Cherry & Lemon Swirl:
Luigi’s Italian Ice (Cherry & Lemon Swirl) Ingredients: “Water, Syrup Blend (Sucrose Syrup and Corn Syrup), Cherry Juice from Concentrate (Water, Cherry Juice Concentrate), Lemon Juice from Concentrate (Water, Lemon Juice Concentrate), Citric Acid, Natural Flavor, Stabilizer (Guar Gum, Xanthan Gum, Dextrose), FD&C Red #40.”
Here’s what sticks out to me in those ingredients:
- Both of them are mostly made of water and “syrup” (different kinds of sugar). Both include quite a bit of corn syrup. This means Italian Ice definitely counts as processed food.
- The Lindy’s Italian Ice contains some carrageenan. This is a controversial ingredient. More evidence is needed, but some research shows it may cause inflammation, damage to the GI tract, and even leaky gut (source, source).
- The colorful flavors have artificial flavors like Red #40. More evidence is needed, but research has shown connections between artificial flavors and various health issues, including behavioral issues in children, cancer, and more. (Read more here and here.)
So, we’re not off to a great start—but let’s look closer at the question of calories, and then sugar.
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Is Italian Ice Low in Calories?
If you want to judge whether Italian ice is fattening, the calories are the most important number to look at. Your total calorie balance—calories consumed vs burned—will be the main factor in weight loss or weight gain.
So let’s check the calories for a few Italian Ice products:
|Brand and Flavor||Serving Size||Calories|
|Lindy’s: Lemon||6 fl oz (1 cup)||120|
|Luigi’s: Raspberry & Lemon Swirl||6 fl oz (1 cup)||130|
|Wylers: Assorted Flavors||1.5 oz (1 pop)||45|
Overall, these calorie numbers strike me as moderate. Something like 120 calories won’t ruin your diet all by itself. An Italian ice treat could fit into a healthy diet, calorie-wise.
However, if you consider that Italian Ice is mainly just water and sugar… it also won’t fill you up much. It has no fiber. The carbs are all fast-digesting sugars. So your diet may be more satisfying if you eat more real food instead.
The Wylers Italian Ice is lower in calories per serving—simply because the servings are much smaller! This may be very helpful if you’re trying to lose weight and only eat sweets in moderation.
If you eat just one Wylers Italian Ice pop, you’ll naturally reach a stopping point at 45 calories. But in contrast, if you wanted to only eat 45 calories of Lindy’s or Luigi’s, you’d have to stop mid-cup and put it in the freezer for tomorrow. That takes more discipline.
So if you’re going to eat Italian ice while dieting, I’d recommend ordering some Wylers pops (they’re on Amazon here). They’ll make it easier to stop after just a small treat.
Which Has More Calories, Italian Ice or Ice Cream?
So, if Italian Ice is “moderate” in calories, then how does it stack up against ice cream? Well, let’s take a look. Here are two ice cream brands compared to Italian ice:
|Brand and Flavor||Serving Size||Calories|
|Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream: Vanilla||2/3 cup (143g)||330|
|Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream: Chocolate||2/3 cup (130g)||330|
|Lindy’s: Lemon Italian Ice||6 fl oz (1 cup)||120|
|Luigi’s: Raspberry & Lemon Swirl Ice||6 fl oz (1 cup)||130|
Ice cream is much higher in calories than Italian ice. This is largely due to the high amount of fat in ice cream. While Italian ice is typically fat free, Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla ice cream has 21g of fat per serving, for example.
Ice cream also contains a lot of saturated fat, which many leading health organizations recommend limiting. Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla contains 13g of saturated fat per serving. Saturated fat has been shown to raise LDL cholesterol, which raises heart disease risk. (source)
While Italian ice has a moderate amount of empty calories, ice cream is very calorically dense. So if you’re going to indulge in one of them on your diet, the Italian ice will do less damage, for sure.
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Is Italian Ice High in Sugar?
As we saw in the ingredients above, the main ingredient in Italian ice besides water is syrup. And that means Italian ice is potentially quite high in sugar. But how high are we talking?
Let’s take a look at three common brands:
|Brand and Flavor||Serving Size||Total Sugar|
|Lindy’s: Lemon||6 fl oz (1 cup)||31g|
|Luigi’s: Raspberry & Lemon Swirl||6 fl oz (1 cup)||27g|
|Wylers: Assorted Flavors||1.5 oz (1 pop)||9g|
Now, I’m going to say this as somebody who’s been watching his sugar intake for the last two years… Wow. I was shocked to see how much sugar is in Italian ice.
Usually I try to limit my sugars to about 10 or 15 grams at a time, as I’ve noticed that helps reduce my acne. (Read my whole blog post on acne for more about that.) So, I was shocked to see that just 1 cup of Italian ice typically contains double my upper limit.
Some flavors may have less sugar. I’ve seen a few Italian ice cups as low as 20g of sugar. But that’s still pretty high, in my mind.
That said, once again there’s a simple solution if you want to keep eating Italian ice and limit your sugars: Just choose the Wylers pops (here on Amazon). The serving size is much smaller, so you can naturally stop after just 9g of sugar. Much more reasonable!
Which Has More Sugar, Italian Ice or Ice Cream?
I just checked a couple of brands of ice cream to compare the sugar to Italian ice. Here’s what that looks like, side by side with the Italian ice:
|Brand and Flavor||Serving Size||Total Sugar|
|Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream: Vanilla||2/3 cup (143g)||27g|
|Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream: Chocolate||2/3 cup (130g)||25g|
|Lindy’s: Lemon Italian Ice||6 fl oz (1 cup)||31g|
|Luigi’s: Raspberry & Lemon Swirl Ice||6 fl oz (1 cup)||27g|
Based on my judgment, Italian ice and ice cream are roughly equal in sugar. Considering that the ice cream also contains a lot of fat and more calories, I would say the ice cream is worse for you overall. But both have a similar amount of sugar.
Healthy Italian Ice Brands?
I looked around for healthy Italian ice brands… but I was disappointed with what I found. Sure, there are some “No Sugar Added” Italian ices out there, but they all contained artificial sweeteners like Splenda, which may cause health issues, too.
I haven’t found any Italian ice products that are only sweetened with real fruit. You’d think that would be achievable, as there are sorbets, fruit bars, and other fruity ice creams that are sweetened 100% with real fruit.
If I was personally going to indulge in Italian ice and wanted to keep things as healthy as possible, I would probably go with one of the no-added-sugar options, or I would stick with the Wylans pops just due to the small serving sizes.
But you’d have a much healthier snack if you just made something like a smoothie of real fruits and vegetables! If you start with frozen fruit, it can come out pretty similar to fruity ice cream! Look up “banana nice cream” to see what I mean!
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