Frozen custard and ice cream are two popular frozen desserts that look similar but have some key differences when it comes to ingredients and nutrition. Both custard and ice cream contain cream and/or milk, sugar, and flavorings, but custard also contains egg yolks while ice cream does not. The egg yolks give custard a richer, creamier texture and flavor. When comparing nutritional information, there are pros and cons to each dessert. Frozen custard tends to be higher in calories and fat since it contains egg yolks, while ice cream is generally lower in calories but can still be high in fat depending on the specific ingredients. Ultimately, the healthiest option depends on your nutritional needs and preferences.
What is Frozen Custard?
Frozen custard is a thick, creamy frozen dessert made with egg yolks, cream and/or milk, sugar, and flavorings. It has a smooth, thick texture and rich flavor thanks to the egg yolks. Legally, frozen custard must contain at least 1.4% egg yolk by weight. Anything containing less egg yolk is considered ice cream. The egg yolks give frozen custard a richer mouthfeel and color compared to ice cream. Frozen custard also tends to be churned at a slower speed during freezing, incorporating less air and leading to a dense, creamy consistency. It can be served soft like soft serve, or frozen into a scoopable solid. Vanilla and chocolate are classic frozen custard flavors, but all types of flavors can be made into custard.
What is Ice Cream?
Ice cream is a frozen dessert made from cream and/or milk, sugar, and flavorings. It does not contain egg yolks like custard does. The ingredients are churned while freezing to incorporate air and create a smooth, creamy texture. Anything churned at a faster speed will incorporate more air and be lighter and icier in texture. The lack of egg yolks means that ice cream does not have the rich flavor and color of custard, but it can still be flavored in many diverse ways. Ice cream can also be served soft or solid. Classic ice cream flavors include vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and cookies & cream, but all types of flavors can be used.
Calories and Fat in Frozen Custard vs Ice Cream
Frozen custard generally contains more calories and fat compared to ice cream. Here is a nutritional comparison of 1/2 cup servings of vanilla frozen custard and vanilla ice cream:
|Nutrition Facts||Frozen Custard (1/2 cup)||Ice Cream (1/2 cup)|
As you can see, the frozen custard contains about 100 more calories and 8g more fat compared to the ice cream. It is also higher in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sugars. The higher fat and calorie content comes from the egg yolks used to make custard. The egg yolks contain healthy fats, but these still add more overall fat and calories than ice cream. However, the ingredients in ice cream like cream, milk, and sugar can still make it high in calories and saturated fat.
Nutritional Benefits of Frozen Custard
Though frozen custard is higher in calories and fat compared to ice cream, it does provide some nutritional benefits:
The egg yolks provide more protein – 4g per serving compared to 3g in ice cream. Protein helps keep you full and satisfied.
Egg yolks contain vitamin A, which supports eye health and your immune system. A 1/2 cup of custard provides 10% of your Daily Value for vitamin A.
Egg yolks also contain a nutrient called choline that supports brain and nervous system health. A 1/2 cup provides about 60mg of choline.
The fats from egg yolks contain mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats like oleic acid, which are healthier types of fats.
So while frozen custard is higher in fat and calories than ice cream, the egg yolks provide some valuable nutrition.
Nutritional Benefits of Ice Cream
Though ice cream is often seen as an indulgence with little nutrition, it does provide a few benefits:
The milk/cream used to make ice cream is a good source of calcium, which is important for bone health. A 1/2 cup provides 10% of the Daily Value.
Like custard, ice cream provides vitamin A from the cream/milk ingredients. A 1/2 cup provides 8% of the Daily Value.
Some types of ice cream contain live and active cultures like probiotics, which offer digestive and immune system benefits. Look for brands advertising “live and active cultures.”
Ice cream contains protein from the milk and cream, providing 3g per serving to help you feel full.
So while ice cream is lower in overall nutrition compared to frozen custard, it still offers some benefits from the dairy ingredients.
Health Impact of Added Sugars
One area of concern nutritionally for both frozen custard and ice cream is the added sugars. A 1/2 cup serving provides 20g sugars in custard and 16g in ice cream – over half of the American Heart Association’s recommended daily limit of 25g for women and 36g for men.
Consuming excess added sugars has been linked to increased risk for:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- Fatty liver disease
The WHO recommends limiting added sugars to 10% or less of total daily calories. For a 2000 calorie diet that would be around 50g.
So enjoying an occasional small serving of frozen custard or ice cream is unlikely to cause problems, but overdoing it could potentially impact health due to the high added sugar content. Those with health conditions like diabetes or obesity should take extra care with portion sizes.
Another consideration is that both frozen custard and ice cream contain dairy, which can cause issues for those with lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance impacts 30-50 million Americans, causing digestive symptoms like bloating, gas, and diarrhea after consuming dairy products. People with lactose intolerance lack sufficient levels of the enzyme lactase needed to properly digest lactose, the natural sugar in milk.
The amount of lactose in frozen custard and ice cream varies by brand, but a 1/2 cup serving may contain roughly:
- Frozen custard: 7-12g lactose
- Ice cream: 5-9g lactose
Some ice creams and frozen custards are now being formulated to be low-lactose or lactose-free to accommodate lactose intolerance. If you experience discomfort when consuming custard or ice cream, look for these low-lactose and lactose-free options. You can also take a lactase enzyme supplement when consuming dairy.
Blood Sugar Impact
People with diabetes need to pay close attention to how foods impact their blood sugar levels. Due to their high carbohydrate content from added sugars, both custard and ice cream can raise blood sugar. However, frozen custard may have less of an impact.
The egg yolks and fat in frozen custard help slow digestion, which leads to a more gradual rise in blood sugar compared to ice cream. One study found that eating custard resulted in 30% lower peak blood glucose levels compared to ice cream. The egg yolks may also help promote insulin sensitivity, which can further help regulate blood sugar.
So while neither custard or ice cream are ideal choices for diabetes due to the high carbs, custard may affect blood sugar levels a little less drastically. But portions still need to be controlled. Checking blood glucose levels after consuming custard or ice cream is recommended to see individual responses.
Gut Health & Digestion
Both frozen custard and ice cream can cause some digestive discomfort if you’re sensitive to lactose or eat a large serving. The sugar alcohols sometimes added to ice cream as a reduced calorie sweetener may also cause gas or bloating.
However, frozen custard may be digested a little easier thanks to the fat and protein from the egg yolks, which helps slow digestion. The choline in egg yolks may also help support a healthy gut microbiome.
One study did find frozen custard to be one of the least likely desserts to cause indigestion, bloating, or gas issues compared to ice cream and other frozen desserts. So custard may be the better choice if you experience stomach sensitivity from ice cream. But individual tolerance can vary.
If you’re trying to lose weight, ice cream may be the better option between the two desserts because it’s lower in calories and fat. But portion control is still important. Stick to a 1/2 cup serving or less.
The higher protein content of frozen custard may help you feel fuller and more satisfied compared to ice cream. But you’ll still want to watch your portions since custard tends to be significantly higher in calories, fat, and carbs overall.
Some tips if enjoying custard or ice cream on a weight loss diet:
- Choose low-fat or fat-free varieties
- Prioritize flavor over higher calories
- Avoid coatings like hot fudge
- Use a small bowl or teaspoon to control portions
- Balance out calories for the day by eating lighter at other meals
An occasional small treat of frozen custard or ice cream can fit into a weight loss diet. But it shouldn’t become a daily habit.
Frozen custard tends to cost a little more than ice cream. Based on online prices, a pint of frozen custard ranges from about $4 to $8. Meanwhile, a pint of basic ice cream tends to cost $3 to $6.
Here are some factors that contribute to the higher price of custard:
- Uses egg yolks as an ingredient, which are more expensive than just cream/milk
- Requires specialized machines to churn at lower temperatures
- More labor intensive to make
- Considered more of a premium, artisanal product
- Often made in smaller batches rather than mass production
The price difference may be small per serving, but can add up if you eat a lot of it regularly. Ice cream offers more affordable options, including basic brands sold at grocery stores. But devoted frozen custard lovers feel it’s worth the extra cost for the dense texture and richer flavor.
Flavor is subjective, but frozen custard and ice cream do have some differences:
- Rich, buttery, vanilla flavor from egg yolks
- Thick, creamy, smooth mouthfeel
- Muted/subtle flavors compared to ice cream
- Doesn’t get as hard when frozen due to lower overrun
- Sweeter flavor from more added sugars
- Icier, foamier texture due to faster churning
- Bolder, brighter flavors
- Can get very hard when frozen solid
Custard lovers prefer its richer, creamier flavor and texture from the egg yolks. Meanwhile, ice cream fans enjoy the wider range of intense flavors and smoother, lighter mouthfeel.
Frozen custard used to be confined mainly to the Midwest, especially Wisconsin. But its popularity has spread across the U.S. in recent years. However, ice cream is still much easier to find. Almost every grocery store sells ice cream, with entire aisles dedicated to all kinds of brands and flavors.
Custard is still considered more of a specialty or gourmet item. It’s unlikely to be stocked on mainstream grocery store shelves. You may find it in some specialty food shops. Your best bet is looking for dedicated frozen custard shops in your area, which are popping up more nationwide, especially in bigger cities.
Ice cream wins out clearly when it comes to accessibility and availability. But custard’s following continues to grow. So you may see it become more mainstream in the future.
The environmental impact of milk-based foods like custard and ice cream relates to the emissions produced from dairy cows. Cows produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Raising cows also requires land and water resources.
However, ice cream may have a slightly lower carbon footprint. Producing eggs also generates emissions, and egg yolks require more energy to produce compared to milk.
Choosing organic and locally-produced custard and ice cream can help lower the environmental impact. These brands may use practices like:
- Pasture-raised cows
- Renewable energy
- Energy efficient equipment
- Recyclable/compostable packaging
But ultimately, both frozen custard and ice cream should still be considered occasional treats if you want to minimize environmental impact. Plant-based options made from ingredients like coconut or oat milk are available for a lower carbon dessert.
So is frozen custard or ice cream healthier? When comparing nutritional content, ice cream tends to be lower in calories and fat since it lacks egg yolks. But custard provides more protein, important nutrients like choline, and healthier types of fats. Though higher in sugar, custard may impact blood sugar less drastically. Ultimately, the healthiest choice depends on your nutritional needs and preferences. Both can be enjoyed in moderation as part of an overall balanced diet. Just be mindful of portion sizes since both desserts are high in calories. Custard offers a richer, creamier texture and flavor, but tends to be more expensive and less accessible. Consult a dietitian or nutritionist if you have specific health conditions that require monitoring fat, carbs, and sugars. Otherwise, base your choice on your taste preferences and dietary goals. Both frozen custard and ice cream can satisfy your sweet tooth when enjoyed occasionally and carefully.