A Nutritionist’s Take on Halo Top and Other ‘Healthy’ Ice Creams

Diet

I once made black bean brownies, a process that involves pureeing an entire can of beans into a batter that bakes up surprisingly rich and fudgy. My kids, who were well aware of the secret ingredient, agreed it tasted good. But my teenager was annoyed. “Brownies aren’t supposed to be healthy,” he griped. “Why can’t brownies just be brownies?”

That’s sort of how I feel about the new “healthy” ice creams.

Frozen desserts like Halo Top, Arctic Zero, and Enlightened boast high protein content, but I suspect they’ve become popular mostly because of what they don’t have—namely, many calories, fat, or grams of sugar. A half-cup serving can range between 40 and 100 calories, which is less than half what a scoop of regular ice cream would be.

But there’s a trade-off. To reduce the overall sugar content, these treats may contain sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit (which can have aftertastes) and sugar alcohols (which can bother some people’s digestive systems). To boost the fiber and sweetness, they may add prebiotic fiber, which can also trigger bloating and gas for some. That’s especially true if you eat the whole pint (which one brand seems to encourage with messages on the packaging like “Stop when you hit the bottom”).

You actually could eat a whole pint for roughly the same calories as a half-cup serving of Häagen-Dazs. But would it be as satisfying? Sometimes low-cal treats don’t end up quelling the cravings, so we just eat more of them (see: Snackwell’s cookies).

And even though it’s low-cal, should you eat the whole pint? Sure, the half-cup serving list on ice cream labels isn’t realistic—and heck, sometimes a pint of ice cream and a spoon is a solace after an especially terrible day. Fact is, some people feel powerless when there’s ice cream in the freezer, and stocking a lighter version may ease that stress. Another solution: Heading to the local shop when cravings strike and getting a scoop of your favorite flavor. (If you consistently feel out of control around food, it could be a sign of a broader issue with food that a dietitian or therapist could help you work through.)

There’s also the issue of whether added nutrients like protein and fiber automatically make something like ice cream “healthy”. As a dietitian, I love when people get more of the nutrients they need. But I’d rather see people eating foods naturally rich in those nutrients, not desserts engineered to seem nutritious. I’d also rather see someone occasionally have a bowl of premium ice cream than scarf down a pint of light ice cream every night because they feel guilty about eating the real deal.

Bottom line: Enjoy these low-cal frozen treats if you truly enjoy them. If you don’t, buy individually wrapped bars or cups (or hit up the ice cream shop) when you want ice cream.

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