First, let me preface this piece with this: I have no problem with ooey-gooey, 800-calorie, super-sized ice cream sundaes moated up with caramel sauce and crowned with enough whipped cream to enable your cherry-on-top to snowboard off-piste. And if there's ever a day to indulge in such an ode to frozen, creamy dessert, today is it (Happy National Ice Cream Day!!). 


However, if you like to enjoy ice cream more than once a year (and really, super crazy dessert treats shouldn't be indulged in more often than that, both because of the calorie insanity and because they start to lose their specialness if you do), I have a few ideas on how you can incorporate ice cream into your diet both healthfully and realistically. And since you're adding extra flavor, you can get away with a smaller serving of the ice cream itself (and saving more for later!). 


Add fresh fruit: If you start with a more neutral base — chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, mint chip or pistachio are all great — you can add fresh fruit, which is now at the height of flavor in mid-summer. Adding fresh strawberries to your strawberry cone, or a cascade of berries to chocolate or vanilla ice cream is obvious (and adds few calories, tons of taste, and lots of vitamins and antioxidants to your dessert).


But don't stop there. Try throwing some peaches, nectarines or black plums on the grill once dinner's done and letting them cool a bit before tossing them on top of some vanilla, or adding quickly braised orange chunks to mint chip (chocolate, mint and orange are a super-yum, but not totally obvious combo). 


Go nuts: You can turn a bowl of ice cream into a meal if you add nuts and fruit. But even if you just add nuts (I like raw cashews, macadamia nuts or almonds, since they retain more of their nutrients than roasted nuts and have no added oils), you've got a truly nutritious snack. You can try mixing nuts — peanuts and cashews, for example, or swirling nut butters through slightly softened ice cream (and then you can re-freeze if you want it be fancy about it).


Macadamia nut butter swirled through chocolate ice cream with some blueberries on top? Or how about some crunchy peanut butter scooped into a vanilla caramel swirl? Either way, you're getting the health benefits of nuts — packed with protein and minerals — along with satisfying your sweet tooth. As mentioned above, I like raw nuts, and raw nut butters without any additives. Organic, unsweetened roasted nut butters are great too, and recently I've seen almond butter with flax or chia seeds (at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods) mixed in. You could easily make your own with flax, hemp or sesame seeds, which triples the health benefits, bringing omegas and even more protein, as well as additional antioxidants from the seeds. 


Double the chocolate: As a dark chocolate aficionado, I rarely go a day without the good stuff, which is filled with antioxidants, isn't highly sugary, and has been shown by a ream of scientific studies to have very real heart-health benefits. 


You can melt dark chocolate in a double boiler and pour over your favorite ice cream for a much healthier chocolate sauce (the commercial jarred versions are filled with preservatives, unhealthy oils and other additives), or just break a piece up over whatever flavor you've got on-hand (I think chocolate goes with every ice cream flavor!). 


Or, do what I do: break off a chunk of chocolate, cover one end with a bit of foil, and use it as your spoon! The coldness of the ice cream means you just get a bit of chocolate with each bite, which means you really get to savor the flavor. 


Can't — or don't want — to eat ice cream? I wrote about my favorite ice cream alternatives here. Pretty much everything above works with these delicious substitutes, so enjoy!


(I'm thinking a super-health sundae with vanilla ice cream swirled with raw almond butter, roasted peaches and melted dark chocolate, and topped with chia seeds might be on my menu today!) 

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