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Can Ice Cream be Healthy?

Can this be a healthy treat?
Can ice cream be a healthy treat?

Americans have an obsession with ice cream. At any given point in time, 87% of us have ice cream in the freezer. What’s not to love? It’s a creamy, delicious blend of fat and sugar that comes in hundreds of flavors. But as our waistlines have grown, we’ve been looking for ways to indulge, without the guilt.

Pick up a typical pint of ice cream in the supermarket and you’ll see it has about 250 calories per serving, which doesn’t sound bad. Read a little further on the label and you’ll notice; that pint container isn’t a single serving, it’s FOUR SERVINGS. So if you sit down and eat one pint, you’ll have packed away more than 1,000 calories.

That’s where the new “healthier” ice creams come in. One of the first breakthrough products was Halo Top, with pints that have as few as 240 calories in the entire container. In addition to being dramatically lower in calories, they are often higher in protein and fiber. The marketing pitch is go ahead and eat the whole thing, but without all the guilt.

So how are these magical foods made? Companies use products like chicory root to give the ice cream more body, while also boosting fiber count. Instead of sugar to sweeten it, sugar alcohols and stevia are mixed in. Protein powder is added to give it that extra healthy boost.

At first glance, it appears like they’re better options. In fact, after looking into them and their ingredients, they ARE better options than eating an entire pint of the regular stuff, but not by much.

  • First, most Americans don’t need the extra protein, and that’s one of the big selling points these have.
  • Second, most brands use sugar alcohols to make them sweet, and those have been known to cause “gastric distress” (an upset stomach).
  • Third, it’s unclear if the fiber they add provides the heart-healthy benefits of naturally occurring fiber.

The real question I had is; how do those healthier ice creams taste? Is it worth giving up a small bowl of something delicious for one of these lower calorie pints?

I picked up five of the healthier ice creams and one full fat regular product. Where it was available, I tried to get the same flavor from each brand. Then I had six people over to conduct a blind taste test of each one. These are what we taste-tested, in alphabetical order.

  • Arctic Zero Cookie Dough Chip
  • Enlightened Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
  • Halo Top Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
  • PROYO Mint Chip
  • Thrive Simply Chocolate Ice Cream

For the full-fat control brand we chose Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough.

Arctic Zero Cookie Dough ChipEnlightened Chocolate Chip Cookie DoughHalo Top Chocolate Chip Cookie DoughPROYO Mint ChipThrive Simply Chocolate Ice CreamBen & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

The tasters were not pleased. As they tried one bowl after another, comments like “grainy”, “overly sweet” and “bad aftertaste” kept coming up. Panel members couldn’t find the cookie dough in a couple of brands and repeatedly complained of a “chemical” taste in each bite. Many asked if you’re going to eat dessert, shouldn’t it be enjoyable?

(The tasting panel loved Ben & Jerry's ice cream and three of them immediately called it out as a full-calorie ringer.)

These ice creams are what regular people think all “healthier” products taste like. One bite and they tell themselves, “I’d rather eat unhealthy than have to live eating like this the rest of my life.”

That’s where I think the biggest problems with these products lie. Dessert is a treat to be enjoyed after a healthy meal. There wasn’t a single member of my tasting panel that wanted to put any of these products in their freezer. If dessert doesn’t taste good, why are you eating it?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy food companies are trying to address the obesity problem and these ice creams are certainly a step in the right direction. If you insist on eating a pint of ice cream a day, and these taste good to you, go for it. But don’t buy these thinking they’re a healthy alternative to regular food, they’re not. They’re still ice cream and like any dessert, should be eaten in moderation. 

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