Get the nutritional scoop on these popular frozen desserts.

By: Jodie Shield, RDN

Americans love ice cream. On average, we eat about 22 pounds of ice cream per person per year.  But gelato (a.k.a. Italian ice cream) is gaining fans in the United States, too.  In 2014, gelato sales hit $214 million, and driving growth in the frozen dessert market.  Ice cream vs. Gelato: are they the same or is there a difference?  Both frozen treats taste de-lish.  But that’s where the similarities stop.  Here’s the nutritional scoop on these popular frozen desserts.

Ingredients.  Both ice cream and gelato contain cream, milk, and sugar.  However, gelato is made using more milk and less cream than ice cream, and gelato typically does not contain egg yolks, a common ingredient in ice cream.

Fat Content.  According to U.S. labeling laws, ice cream must contain at least 10 percent butterfat, with most medium- to high-end ice creams containing somewhere between 14 percent to 17 percent fat.  By contrast, gelato contains only between 4 percent to 9 percent butterfat.

Texture.  Ice cream is churned at a high speed to incorporate at least 50 percent air into the mixture, resulting in a smooth, fluffy texture.  Gelato contains 25 percent to 30 percent air making it creamier, smoother, and denser than ice cream.

Flavor.  Fat in frozen treats coats your taste buds, which prevents them from fully experiencing the flavor.  Since gelato has less fat than ice cream, it allows you to experience flavors more intensely.  Which also means, gelato does not need as much added sugar as ice cream to produce the same sweet flavor.  Keep in mind; many fruit-flavored gelatos may contain additional sugar due to the natural sugars found in fruit.

Nutrition. On average, a 3.5-ounce serving of vanilla ice cream contains 125 calories, 7 grams of fat, and 14 grams of sugar. A typical 3.5-ounce serving of vanilla gelato contains 90 calories, 3 grams of fat, and 10 grams of sugar.

Bottom-line: Pay attention to portion size!  At first glance, it would appear that gelato would have the nutritional edge over ice cream.  However, nutrition information listed here, and on labels, is based on weight.  Due to its lower air content, gelato is denser than ice cream. Since a scoop of gelato would weigh more than the same size scoop of ice cream, make sure you serve yourself a smaller portion of gelato.

Check out my Free App Time to Eat Healthy available on iTunes and Goggle Play for for more delicious recipes and nutrition tips.


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About Author


Jodie Shield, M.Ed., R.D., L.D.N. Jodie Shield has been a consultant and spokesperson in the field of nutrition for over two decades. A former national media spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (1989-1995), she has worked extensively with the Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center and taught nutrition and medical dietetics at the University of Illinois. Currently she is a complemental faculty member of the College of Health Sciences in the Department of Clinical Nutrition at Rush University in Chicago.

(1) Reader Comment

  1. Great info! Thanks for the post. I want some gelato!

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