Frozen yogurt and ice cream each have a special place in our hearts. The thing is, sometimes we’re also trying to keep a little extra space in our waistbands. Is one healthier than the other? Here’s the scoop.

The Scoop on Frozen Yogurt

Let’s start at square one. 

Frozen yogurt is made from a combination of yogurt, milk, and cream. Unlike other frozen desserts such as ice cream and frozen custard, the term “frozen yogurt” isn’t regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). With no regulation, there’s no way of knowing how much actual yogurt goes into frozen yogurt. But life’s more fun with a little mystery anyway, right?

Looking back in history, regular yogurt has been around for roughly 5,000 years and originated in regions of the Middle East and India. Perhaps surprisingly, it took until much later in the 20th century for someone to have the idea of freezing yogurt. It was in the 1970s when America was first introduced to frozen yogurt, and it quickly picked up the nickname “frogurt.” 

Fast forward a few years, and this sweet treat is known to us as froyo (which is quite the upgrade, if you ask us). Froyo’s immediate and ongoing popularity is mostly attributed to its association with regular yogurt, which contains live bacteria (the “good” kind) and probiotics, making it a seemingly “healthy” alternative to ice cream. 

Recall that regular yogurt is cultured milk, referring to milk that has been skimmed or partly skimmed by adding a lactic acid bacteria culture to it. Lactic acid is what we usually hear of as “live” or “good” bacteria, which promotes gut health. This bacteria is what gives yogurt, and therefore frozen yogurt, its signature tart flavor. 

Some cultured dairy products have a “live and active cultures” seal on the packaging. This seal, created by our friends at the National Yogurt Association (yes, it’s a thing), ensures that a given product has at least 100 million cultures per gram. Any amount less than this probably isn’t enough to bring the health benefits these live cultures are known for. 

Here’s the thing most people don’t know; although cultured milk is the main ingredient in frozen yogurt, the cultures (good bacteria) are usually ruined during the freezing process of production. Some manufacturers incorporate additional probiotics into the final product. Still, unless the froyo is labeled as such, it probably doesn’t have any or enough probiotics to offer your gut any benefits. 

Given there is no minimum fat requirement for frozen yogurt (since it isn’t regulated), there’s often extra sugar or other sweeteners added to froyo to help enhance its flavor and get rid of its naturally tart taste. Fat is often villainized, but other than tasting great and adding some richness, fat also helps us stay satiated for longer, potentially deterring us from going back for round two. So, we’re starting to see that froyo may not be the ideal “healthy cousin” of ice cream that people think it is. 

The takeaway? Frozen yogurts vary but are generally made from yogurt, additional cultured milk, sweeteners, and sometimes other dairy derivatives. Contrary to popular belief, regular yogurt’s probiotic benefits don’t really carry over to frozen yogurt because the cultures are ruined during the freezing process. Frozen yogurts may also contain higher amounts of additional sweetening agents to compensate for their naturally tart and tangy taste. 

The Scoop on Ice Cream

Oh, ice cream. Everyone screams for ice cream. 

Ice cream is regulated by the FDA, making it a bit easier to figure out what exactly goes into it. Ice cream is defined as food “produced by freezing, while stirring, a pasteurized mix of dairy ingredients.” It must contain at least 10% milkfat (compared to no minimum fat requirement for frozen yogurt) and less than 1.4% egg yolk. To earn the title “ice cream,” it must contain dairy ingredients. 

Fun fact: there’s a little myth floating around that Thomas Jefferson, a founding father and the third President of the United States, invented ice cream. As cool as it would be if this were true, it (unfortunately) isn’t. He did, however, help popularize the dessert by serving it at the President’s House on at least six occasions. Pretty cool, right? Right. It’s probably a sign to eat some ice cream.

Ice cream is made from a mixture of milk, cream, and sometimes but not always additional sweeteners and eggs. (Yes, we know listing milk and cream as ingredients may seem redundant. But remember how ice cream must be at least 10% milkfat? Adding the condensed component of the cream helps the product reach this requirement.). 

Ice cream gets its lightness and fluff factor from the amount of overrun it’s produced with. Overrun refers to how much air is incorporated into the ice cream machine as the mixture is churning. The amount of overrun is expressed in percentage and typically ranges from 50-70%. For some context, 100% overrun would turn one gallon of ice cream base into two gallons of the final product.

So, Is One Healthier?

We wish we could give you a clear, easy answer, but there isn’t one. 

The first problem is in how we define health; what are we supposed to be measuring? There are too many variables affecting what we consider to be healthy or not healthy, so we’ll just go over some potential points of differentiation. 

Probiotics. It’s the probiotics found in (regular) yogurt that have driven Americans to perceive frozen yogurt as the health-conscious, smarter dessert option. Except, most of the probiotics won’t survive the freezing process, so it kind of just ends up being sweetened milk (similar to… ice cream). If probiotics are something you want in a froyo, keep an eye out for the “live and active cultures” seal. Or, eat regular yogurt for probiotics and then whichever dessert your heart desires. 

The thing is, most people enjoy getting froyo from froyo bars. You know, the ones with a giant wall of froyo dispensers and counters covered in buffet-style toppings? Yea, we can pretty much guarantee the froyo in these places isn’t National Yogurt Association approved. But hey, frozen desserts are supposed to be about enjoyment, not probiotics. 

Conclusion: the majority of froyo doesn’t even have probiotics. If you’re looking for additional sources of good bacteria, try the actual yogurt aisle.

Serving size. This should go without saying, but serving size plays a huge role in this whole “health” comparison. In light of frozen yogurt being perceived as healthier than ice cream (which we’re still not sure of), people tend to eat more of it. Especially with all the marketing jargon that frozen yogurt has going for it, it’s understandable that picking up a pint of froyo may seem “better” than a pint of ice cream. 

The fat content, or lack thereof, can also be affecting how much we eat. Even in small amounts, additional fat helps slow down the digestion process and the rate at which our stomachs empty after we consume food. Slower digestion time translates to feeling fuller sooner and for longer, which can deter a second round of dessert. 

Toppings. Toppings are half the fun (obviously), but they can also be doing the most “damage.” Because frozen yogurts naturally tart taste, people tend to add more toppings, syrups, and other delicious decorations in an attempt to make up for some lacking sweetness. This seems rather counterintuitive given that frozen yogurt is often chosen solely because it’s believed to be the healthier option. But then again, some people genuinely prefer the taste of frozen yogurt, and who are we to be the topping police?

Dairy. In case you haven’t noticed, North America seems to be ditching dairy. Did you know that non-dairy is now the fastest-growing segment of the frozen dessert category? Yep! People are starting to favor vegan ice cream because it offers all of the goodness minus any skin sensitivities or digestive problems common with dairy products. We’re lucky enough to be living in a time where dairy-free options are almost as common as their regular counterparts; both frozen yogurt and ice cream have several dairy-free alternatives that taste just as good as their “regular” version. 

Now You Know

We’re sorry we couldn’t give you an easy answer – it’s just not black and white. 

At the end of the day, life is too short to be reading into nutritional information about dessert. Frozen yogurt and ice cream are both awesome – you can’t go wrong. But if you really want to up the taste factor, we suggest going for Eclipse ice cream. We promise it won’t disappoint. 


Cultured milk vs Pasteurized milk – What’s the Difference? | Best of Culinary

Live Culture | About Yogurt

CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 | FDA

What Is Overrun & Why Does It Matter When Making Soft Serve Ice Cream? | Slices Concession