It won't be long before some of us will be hauling out our ice cream makers for another season of frosty refreshment.
Eating ice cream is one of America's favorite indulgences. I see it on plenty of waistlines, and I've written about it in this column in years past.
A big bowl of ice cream is one of the most popular nighttime snacks for a lot of people. And going ice cream-free is all it takes for some people to see the pounds melt away.
Ice cream is also a powerful package of saturated fat. Regular doses may drive up your LDL or "bad cholesterol."
For that reason, everyone should consider some ice cream alternatives.
Many people scoff at "healthy" alternatives to ice cream. I understand and appreciate good ice cream. My first job was scooping ice cream and making sundaes at a Michigan dairy. (A point of personal pride: Guernsey Farms' butter pecan was voted best in the country by People magazine in 1984.)
I spent my adolescence with a chocolate malt in my hand.
Today, however, I prefer to think about what 96-year-old fitness guru Jack La Lanne told me a few years back: "Figure out what's good for you, then develop a liking for it."
There's a lot to like about some of the healthier alternatives to ice cream. Reduced-fat varieties as well as sorbet, sherbet, frozen yogurt and Italian ice taste good and are far better for you.
They're lower in calories, and they're lower or devoid of saturated fat.
But for purists, there may be an even better option: Make your own. What could be better than homemade?
Electric ice cream makers are easy to use, clean and relatively inexpensive. If you start with a well-frozen freezer bowl, you can have ice cream in 30 minutes or less.
The ingredient list can be amazingly short: Milk, fruit, sugar, a little arrowroot or other thickener, and possibly some vanilla or other flavoring. Easy.
For a couple of recipes to get you started, troll the web or check out my blog at onthetable.typepad.com .
Other advantages to making your own:
You control the ingredients. For the highest quality ice cream, you can use organic, fat-free milk and fresh, locally grown strawberries, peaches or other fruit in season.
Make your own custom flavors such as coconut, almond peach, strawberry kiwi or cocoa java pecan. Use your imagination and come up with your own favorite blends - and names.
Use up bananas that are getting too ripe.
You can go dairy-free. If you are lactose intolerant or just want an alternative to dairy, make ice cream using soymilk, rice milk, almond milk or any other milk substitute.
There are lots of them on the market now, and you can use them cup-for-cup in place of cow's milk in any recipe.
They're saturated fat-free and many are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, just like cow's milk.
It's cheaper. You'll save money if you make your own. That's especially true if you want a nondairy, lactose-free alternative. Dairy-free frozen desserts sold in natural foods stores are expensive.
So get freezing. Try your own hand at making ice cream this season.
Who knows? Maybe someone will name your avocado almond supreme the best new flavor in the Triangle.
Suzanne Havala Hobbs is a licensed, registered dietitian and clinical associate professor at UNC. Send questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.