Do you ever look at research studies on the effects of different types of chocolate, or how napping at work makes you a better employee and wonder how one gets the opportunity to be part of research studies? Well, I lived one of my dreams while writing this article. I researched ice cream, gelato, and frozen yogurt…all for the sake of science. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that I should have already known what those three are and what they taste like. Well, let’s just say I take my research of creamy sugary desserts very seriously and perhaps I needed to update my research…again.

In the midst of a warm summer, ice cream, gelato, and frozen yogurt are main staples on any dessert table or in any freezer. The United States consumes the highest amount of frozen treats in the world. So, what exactly are the components of these three creamy, cool desserts? Does one taste better than the others or does one save us from the battle of the belly bulge more than the others?

First up, we have ice cream. This is classic. We all have memories of ice cream as children, whether we ate it in a bowl, on a cone, or dropped it on the sidewalk. According to the Nestlé’s ice cream website—, here’s a little history on one of the “coolest” desserts ever:

  • 5 BC: The Greeks ate a cold dessert similar to ice cream.
  • 1300’s: Marco Polo returns to Europe with an ice cream like food.
  • 1700’s: Ice cream is introduced to the west (Americas) as a delicacy for the elite.
  • 1776: America’s first ice cream shop opens up in New York.
  • 1840’s: America’s first ice cream churn is invented.
  • 1851: The first ice cream plant is established in America.
  • 1880’s: The ice cream sundae is born.
  • 1904: Waffle cones are introduced at The World’s Fair in St. Louis.
  • 1929: Rocky road flavor makes its debut.
  • 1984: July is declared National Ice Cream Month.
  • TODAY: Ice cream is America’s favorite treat…. second only to cookies.

It’s interesting how we make the top of the charts in all things gluttonous. According to the International Dairy Food Association (IDFA), in the United States, the average American consumes over 23 pounds of ice cream a year, with summer being the obvious peak time (although I love ice cream in January in Chicago!). So what makes this dessert so yummy? Fat….and a whole lot of it. Real ice cream contains approximately 10-15% of milk fat. Ice cream is an aerated concoction of milk, cream (fat), sugar, and flavoring. Ever wonder why you feel like you need a nap after a big bowl of ice cream? Now you know.

We’ve been savoring Italian ice cream, gelato here in America for several years now. And no, gelato does not contain gelatin. Stop the rumors. Since the Europeans (and everyone else on the planet) are more health conscious than us Americans, gelato usually contains less than 10% milk fat and is not as aerated as ice cream. Hence, it has a more dense and flavorful taste. The main components of gelato are the same as ice cream; however, it has higher milk content and lesser cream/fat content than ice cream. Gelato is growing by leaps and bounds in the frozen dessert industry and what was a bit of a mystery about a decade ago is now close to a billion dollar industry. Gelato is here to stay.

Next up, frozen yogurt. Frozen yogurt has a dedicated fan following. There are people who are serious about their icy yogurts and will not listen to the ice cream and gelato folks. We’ve all seen these people come out of their hot yoga studios and go straight to their fro-yo place for a concoction of milk, yogurt culture, cane or beet sugar, and stabilizer. Stabilizer? A stabilizer can be made of a myriad of things such as animal gelatin, vegetable gelatin, or vegetable additives such as carrageenan or guar gum. The stabilizer ensures that the yogurt maintains a smooth consistency and minimizes crystallization. So what about the fat and sugar content? Anything with the word yogurt in it is low in fat and sugar, right? Not so fast. Let’s take a look at this healthy dessert. Frozen yogurt has some milk fat. Usually it varies from less than one percent to up to five percent (or more). However, most frozen yogurt brands can contain more sugar than both ice cream and gelato.

Disillusioned? Ok, let’s compare it all in a chart. Since a cup of ice cream has more air than a cup of gelato or frozen yogurt, we must look at the mass (in grams or ounces) to have a real comparison. Also, we have used vanilla ice cream, gelato, and yogurt but a flavor variation can also make a difference.

Husna T. Ghani has an MSEd and an MBA. She has taught health and science for years. When she’s not working, she reads, writes, sketches, and tries to save the world (or something like that).