Summer brings with it all kinds of great things: Warm weather! Poolside fun! Vacation!
Who wants to add “carb and sugar reduction” to that list? Nobody.
After all, hot July and August afternoons are designed for cooling off with icy fruit popsicles. Yet if you’re trying to avoid empty calories — and who isn’t? — they might be on your off-limits list. But is there a way to indulge your craving for icy treats without sugar overload.
Here are five tactics to enjoy your summer with a refreshing pop:
If you have a blender, it’s easy to whip up a smoothie, pour it into molds, stick them in a freezer, and hours later enjoy healthy popsicles.
To maximize protein, use Greek yogurt as a base, which has the added benefit of lower carb and sugar content and more protein than regular versions. (This is because much of the whey, a major source of lactose, is removed when Greek yogurt is made.) Pureed with fruit and other additions to make the flavors pop, you’ll end up with amazingly creamy and satisfying popsicles you won’t feel guilty about.
Instead of dairy, try a dairy-free base of unsweetened coconut or almond milk. Each has a distinct flavor profile that can produce truly delicious results. Try a dollop of smooth almond butter to increase the protein content of your pop; it will also add richness and heft, providing an alternative to higher-sugar ingredients that are normally added for bulk, such as bananas.
Experiment with silken tofu as an ingredient — paired with full-flavored strawberries and coconut milk, for example, you won’t even taste it and a small amount will add hardly any carbs or sugar.
Not all fruit is equal when it comes to sugar and carbs. Generally, tropical fruits such as banana, pineapple and mango contain the most sugar — keep that in check by taking a different direction. Rely instead on blackberries, strawberries or blueberries which are among the lowest carb fruits. If you want to try different flavors, try comparatively lower-in-sugar melons or frozen sliced peaches, which make an easy addition to the blender. Experiment with flavor pairings: watermelon and fresh mint or honeydew and cucumber; a simple sieve can help you strain the mixture before freezing if fibrous.
Other additions that don’t add sugar include fresh ginger or squeezing a fresh lime or lemon into the mix, which always makes flavors pop.
One of the biggest contributors to the high sugar in popsicles is fruitjuice; if you’re making them at home, avoid the OJ or use just a splash. Instead, try liquid that doesn’t add sugar — like hibiscus tea. (If you’ve ever sipped a cup of Celestial Seasonings Red Zinger, you’re familiar with the ruby color and tart flavor of hibiscus.) Other intriguing options to try include green tea, lemon tea, peach tea or sweet and spicy chai.
The beauty of tea is it contributes color and flavor — but zero calories — to your mixture and will easily sweeten with a scant spoonful of maple syrup or honey if you must.
Does the good-health potential of popsicles mean ice cream should be out of bounds? Not necessarily, you just might have to get creative. If you’re buying treats at the store. Shoppers might assume that between a chocolate-dipped ice cream bar and a simple lime pop, the latter is by far the healthier choice. However, it’s always a good idea to read nutritional information. While the popsicle brand Outshine boasts on its boxes that its treats are an “Excellent Source of Vitamin C,” don’t mistake them for health food. For example, a rectangular 76-gram lime fruit bar from Outshine has 16 grams of sugar, whereas an 81-gram chocolate-dipped vanilla ice cream bar from Haagen-Dazs clocks in at 20 grams.
All this is to say, if you’ve got the self-control to indulge in frozen treats infrequently, satisfy those cravings. After all, summer only comes once a year!