Gelato Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

Gelato

While you may not be able to travel to Italy at the drop of a hat, you can enjoy one of the pleasures of an Italian getaway almost any time—gelato! This creamy dairy treat is widely available at grocery stores and dessert shops in the U.S. Made with a base of cream, milk, and sugar, gelato can come in any flavor, from fruity to chocolatey to plain old (and delicious) vanilla.

You may have heard gelato praised for having lower fat content than ice cream. And in general, you can expect it to have slightly fewer calories and fat than traditional American ice cream, since its recipe calls for more milk and less cream. Because gelato doesn't get churned as quickly as ice cream, it also contains less air, so it’s typically denser and creamier.

Despite its lower calorie content, high amounts of sugar mean gelato is a treat to enjoy in moderation. Still, it does come with some noteworthy benefits. Here’s a look at the nutrition and health effects of Italy’s famous dessert.

Gelato Nutrition Facts

The following nutrition, for ½ cup (88 grams) of vanilla gelato, has been provided by the USDA.

  • Calories: 218
  • Fat: 14.2g
  • Sodium: 54mg
    Carbohydrates: 19.5g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sugars: 18g
  • Protein: 3g
  • Calcium: 103mg (10% RDI)

 

Carbs

About 35% of gelato’s calories come from carbohydrates, most of that is in the form of added sugars. The remaining carbs are from lactose that naturally occurs in milk and cream.

Fats

Although gelato may have less fat than ice cream, it’s definitely not low in this macronutrient. The combination of heavy cream and cow’s milk—plus, occasionally, egg yolks—adds up to 14.2 grams of fat per half-cup. Keep in mind, the more cream used in a recipe, the higher it will be in saturated fat.

Protein

A half-cup of gelato contains about 3 grams of protein—6% of the daily value of 50 grams. Because this protein comes from animal products (milk, cream, and eggs), it provides all the essential amino acids your body can’t produce on its own.

Vitamins and Minerals

The amount of vitamins and minerals in gelato will depend in part on its flavor additions. Fruity flavors like orange and strawberry, for example, may get a vitamin C boost, if real fruit is used in the recipe.

Even in plain vanilla, you’ll find a significant amount of one important micronutrient—calcium. One half-cup of vanilla gelato supplies 103 milligrams of calcium—9% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) for women and 10% for men.

Some recipes are also a significant source of vitamin A. To determine the exact amounts of micronutrients in a carton of gelato, be sure to read the labels carefully.

Health Benefits

Gelato is lower in calories than traditional ice cream yet packed with calcium, which can help build healthy bones and teeth. And, depending on what is added to the gelato, it could even contain antioxidants. Here's a closer look at the benefits of eating gelato.

May Be a Better Choice for Weight Loss

Because gelato tends to be lower in calories and fat than regular ice cream, it can be a better dessert choice when you’re trying to lose weight. Just don’t forget that portion control is still important.

Helps Build Better Bones

At 10% of the RDI of calcium in a 1-cup serving, gelato qualifies as a good source of this nutrient. Calcium helps to build healthy bones.

May Contain Inflammation-Fighting Antioxidants

Just as micronutrients in gelato vary depending on flavorings, so does antioxidant content. Gelato flavored with dark chocolate may be a high-antioxidant choice, for example.

Dark chocolate contains powerful antioxidants that have been linked to reducing inflammation, possibly helping protect against heart disease. Citrus flavors, meanwhile, contain the antioxidant vitamin C, while blueberry-flavored gelato comes with a burst of the berries’ famous polyphenols. It is important to remember however, that these antioxidants are delivered in a food that is high in saturated fat and sugar—foods that are linked to heart disease.

Promotes Food Enjoyment

Gelato is traditionally served in small portions with a miniature, shovel-like spoon. In addition to being a novel way to eat a frozen treat, these visual cues might also help you eat your gelato more slowly, savoring the experience as you go. Research shows that savoring and eating more slowly can enhance our sense of satiation from smaller portions.

Suitable for a High-Fat Diet

Sometimes, health circumstances call for a high-fat, high-calorie diet. People with cystic fibrosis, those on chemotherapy, or anyone trying to gain weight may be advised to include rich, high-fat foods in their meal plans. With its large percentage of calories from fat, gelato earns a place on this type of diet.

Allergies

If you have a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance, you’ll need to steer clear of the gelato case. For a similar treat, consider a non-dairy ice cream or fruit-based sorbet.

Likewise, those with an egg allergy should be extra careful about consuming gelato, as some recipes include egg yolks. When in doubt, ask your server about the ingredients in a gelato recipe. Or, if purchasing gelato from the grocery store, take a good look at the ingredient list.  

Adverse Effects

A cone of gelato can be a glorious way to channel Italian vibes or celebrate a special occasion—but beware of too much of a good thing. Almost all gelatos are very high in sugar. Excess sugar in the diet can drive weight gain, contribute to the development of cavities, and even increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

Gelato's high-fat content may also be problematic for health. Too much saturated fat in the diet can raise cholesterol, potentially increasing your risk of heart disease and stroke. Again, it is best to reserve gelato as a here-and-there treat.

Varieties

The varieties of gelato don’t just include the array of flavors spread in rainbow order behind plate glass. In addition to the near-infinite number of tasty flavors to choose from, gelatos vary by the ingredients used in their base.

Some recipes include eggs, while others do not; some contain more or less fat from cream. And some may even be lower in sugar. It’s also up to each gelato maker to decide how long to churn their product, which determines how dense it becomes. Finding your favorite variety can be a delicious experiment.

Storage and Food Safety

Interestingly, gelato is typically served at a warmer temperature (about 10 to 15 degrees warmer, to be exact) than ice cream. The purpose behind this temperature difference? A warmer product is less numbing in the mouth, allowing for a fuller experience of flavor.

However, that doesn’t put your gelato shop treat into the temperature danger zone, where bacteria are more likely to grow. Most gelato shops keep serving temperatures around 10 to 22 degrees Fahrenheit.

When serving gelato at home, you may want to let a carton thaw a bit longer than usual to achieve a creamier texture and more potent flavor—but don’t keep it out of the freezer for too long. If gelato sits out for 2 hours at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or more, it’s best to discard it. Kept frozen, gelato has a shelf life of about 3 to 9 months.

How to Prepare

For the sake of convenience, it's easiest to purchase gelato from your supermarket or local gelato shop, but it’s also totally possible to make it yourself! When you DIY this creamy dessert, you get to customize it to your taste.

Start by heating 2 cups milk and 1 cup cream together in a saucepan on the stovetop. Meanwhile, whip 4 egg yolks and ½ cup sugar with a hand mixer on maximum speed until frothy. Add the egg-sugar mixture to the warm cream mixture and continue cooking over medium heat until it begins to thicken.

Pour through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl. Mix in any flavorings you like, cover, and chill the mixture overnight. Finally, churn the whole batch in an ice cream maker until it reaches your desired consistency.

Recipes

Healthy Gelato Recipes to Try

 

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