Coconut Milk Ice Cream Just Isn't Worth It, According To Nutritionists

There are many things we thoroughly enjoy that we know aren't very good for us, especially when it comes to the dessert category. But the good news is that these days we can easily find healthier alternatives to our favorite treats, whether we buy them in the store or make them at home.

Maybe it's a brownie made with almond flour and no refined sugar. Maybe it's a Greek yogurt-based ice cream bar or a healthy no-bake treat with oats, nuts, and chocolate. These better-for-you versions of our favorite sweets are often worth the trade-off: They're not quite as decadent or tasty as the real thing; but, in turn, a much better choice is made for your body and overall health.

But sometimes the healthier alternative is simply not worth the trade-off, and nutritionists agree that coconut milk ice cream is one of those things. When it comes to ice cream, it's best to just stick to the real deal and enjoy the cow's milk frozen treat the way it's intended. Here's why.

Why dairy ice cream is better than coconut milk ice cream

If you're making your own coconut milk ice cream with limited, healthy ingredients that you can control, that's one thing. But when it comes to the commercially made plant-based ice cream you'll find at the store, it's unfortunately not necessarily a better choice than the dairy-based pint next to it.

One of the reasons coconut milk works so well as a non-dairy alternative in ice cream is that it's very high in saturated fat, which helps to create that thick, creamy element we all love. But nutritionist Jonathan Valdez of Genki Nutrition says that "coconut ice cream's texture is inferior, it usually has lower protein content, and the hype for using coconut oil is overrated" (via Food Network).

Ice cream is a fatty, sugary dessert by nature; and, aside from swapping out the cream, most brands don't go to lengths to make the other ingredients any healthier — in fact, they often pack in even more sugar. So coconut milk ice cream often ends up having more calories, more saturated fat, and more sugar than dairy ice cream. Chicago Health notes that some coconut ice cream brands have 250 calories, 15 grams of saturated fat, and 20 grams of sugar per serving, compared to the average dairy ice cream of 150 calories, 5 grams of saturated fat, and 10 grams of sugar.

How to choose better-for-you ice cream

All that said, not every brand of coconut milk ice cream will surprise-attack you with more calories, fat, and sugar; there are certainly some ice cream brands out there that do offer better-for-you options. And there are also other non-dairy bases that make for lower-calorie ice creams, like almond milk, soy milk, and even fava bean protein.

The best thing you can do is read the label and know what to look for. Chicago Health recommends sticking to ice cream (whichever base you choose) that has 200 calories or less, no more than 5 grams of saturated fat, and under 16 grams of sugar per serving. By those standards, brands like So Delicious, Halo Top, Almond Dream, and Arctic Zero all make reasonable options that generally contain less "bad stuff" than dairy ice cream.

But, when it comes down to it, nut milk or not, it's still ice cream — and most of the time a non-dairy alternative just won't benefit you enough to be worth sacrificing what you love about ice cream. So go ahead and enjoy the real deal (in moderation, of course) and know that nutritionists are backing you up.