Search the hashtag #TransformationTuesday, and you’ll likely find at least one fitness guru or weight-loss success spokesperson holding a pint of Halo Top ice cream. The reduced-calorie and low-sugar treat gets high social media praise as the “healthy” way to enjoy ice cream. But is eating an entire pint of ice cream (reduced cal or not) in one sitting actually a good idea, and how does this disruptor to the ice cream market compare to similar better-for-you treats, like frozen Greek yogurt or mochi ice cream? We chatted with some experts and did some of our own taste-testing (it was hard work, we swear) in an attempt to answer the question, “Is there such a thing as healthy ice cream?”
What the Experts Say
Spoiler alert—we asked a couple registered dietitians for their opinion on low-calorie ice creams, and they didn’t always see eye to eye. “While I hate to use the term ‘healthy’ since it really has such a different meaning for each individual, I do think the new innovations to the ice cream aisle have their place in a healthy diet,” says Elizabeth Shaw, MS, RD, CLT. Shaw admits that the new lower-calorie ice cream flavors are cutting edge.
Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, founder of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness, disagrees. "The problem with these 'healthier' ice creams is that they lead you to think 'it's better for me, so I can eat as much as I want.'" Rumsey adds that the lower-calorie ice creams aren’t quite as satisfying as the real thing. “Those two factors can lead to overeating instead of responding to your body's feelings of fullness and satiety.”
However, both Shaw and Rumsey agree that no matter the ice cream, moderation is key. In other words, no, you shouldn’t eat the whole pint in one sitting. “While many brands will use creative marketing tactics to show you the calories in an entire pint, turn the package over and look at the nutrition panel; it's usually four servings per container!” Shaw says.
Rumsey goes on to say that the key to moderation is throwing the food rules out the window, which is music to our ears! “The best thing you can do is to give yourself permission to eat ice cream. When you do so, and truly trust that you can have it whenever you want, you won't feel the need to binge on an entire pint,” she says.
So, Wait, Is It Healthy?
To answer that question, you may want to take a closer look at the ingredient labels. Whereas full-fat ice creams are made with just milk, cream, sugar, and whatever delicious flavor they’ve come up with, low-cal ice creams have a few more "interesting" and foreign ingredients.
When looking at the label for the lower-calorie ice creams, you may see ingredients like prebiotic fiber, erythritol, stevia, monkfruit, corn fiber, and vegetable glycerin. Are these things “bad” for you, per se? Shaw says no. “Each ingredient serves a purpose for the particular manufacturer to create the most palatable product for their intended consumer.”
She adds that the best way to go about picking a product is to find one that you like and that doesn’t upset your stomach. While research has found that erythritol doesn’t seem to cause gastrointestinal distress, other sugar alcohols do—something to keep in mind as more of these products pop up on the market. Despite that redeeming fact, other research has found that zero-calorie sweeteners don’t actually help people lose weight and may actually cause weight gain. Think about that before downing an entire pint of the low-cal stuff.
Remember, “healthy” is a subjective term. Some people run marathons and frequently enjoy bowls of full-fat ice cream while still maintaining their muscle mass. Others love the low-calorie ice cream options to satisfy their sweet tooth while on their weight-loss journey. The “healthy” aspect falls somewhere in the middle of not binging on any variety of the sweet stuff and also allowing yourself to enjoy your food. Whether you opt for the low-cal or creamy variety, here are some of our favorite ice cream brands that are targeting healthier eaters.
If you’re an ice cream fanatic but want something that isn’t full of cream, then Yasso is right up your alley. Made with nonfat milk and Greek yogurt, these pints aren’t quite as creamy as a traditional ice cream, but they are absolutely delicious. And if you can limit yourself to a 1/2-cup serving, you’ll be getting 5-6 grams of protein for just around 100 calories.
Shaw adds, “Their pre-portioned bars are creamy, refreshing, and light, meaning they satisfy my craving but do not make me feel overly full.” They also now offer pints, but unlike other brands, they aren’t telling you to eat the entire thing in one sitting (although, trust us when we say it’s really hard to stick to just one serving).
This Paleo and vegan “superfood ice treat” isn’t really an ice cream, but it helps satisfy your cold-food craving. Containing just superfoods, fruits, and seeds, this frozen goodie is all good for you without any of the bad stuff, really! The ingredients are a mixture of puréed and concentrated fruit, hemp protein powder, and seeds. We’ll be honest, it doesn’t really taste like ice cream, but it’s cold, it comes in a pint, and it might be a preferred dessert option if you’re on the Paleo bandwagon.
The brand that started the low-cal craze has pints that are just 240 calories with ingredients like milk and cream. What’s not to love? Halo Top uses prebiotic fiber to replace some of the fat and erythritol and stevia in place of some of the sugar. “Personally, I love the creamy texture and taste; it resembles the real deal,” Shaw says. “Depending on the flavor, an average serving for 1/2 cup is about 75 calories with 5 grams of protein,” she adds.
With flavors like french toast, cold brew coffee, glazed donut, and s’mores, it’s hard to believe this brand is considered a “skinny” ice cream. Just like Halo Top, Enlightened is lower in calories and richer in protein than traditional ice creams, clocking in at around 60-100 calories and 6 grams of protein in a 1/2-cup serving. It also uses erythritol and cane sugar to add sweetness, and the creaminess comes from corn fiber. If you’re looking for a low-cal ice cream variety and don’t mind a longer ingredient list, give this brand a try.
If you’re a fan of mochi (Japanese rice cake), then this is the ice cream for you. My/Mo is a bite-size ball of ice cream wrapped in chewy mochi. It’s perfectly portion-controlled and contains just a few simple ingredients. For anyone who wants the creamy goodness of ice cream in a 110-calorie bite, this might be worth trying.