Good news for all of us trying to fit back into our skinny jeans after too much summer indulgence: Now there’s skinny ice cream to help us do it. ICYMI, a seismic shift occurred in your grocer’s freezer section this past year. Newcomer Halo Top, which comes in 25 flavors including Red Velvet and Pancakes and Waffles, unseated veteran heavyweight brands like Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs to become the nation’s top-selling ice cream pints. The reason for the revolution is simple: You can eat an entire container for a fraction of the calories. A half-cup serving has 60 to 90 calories, compared with 250 calories for a half cup of Häagen-Dazs or Ben & Jerry’s.
Since then, a slew of guilt-free gourmet frozen desserts has flooded the market, each with their own claim to fame. Arctic Zero is gluten free, lactose free and made with all natural, non-GMO ingredients, and some flavors have only 150 calories. Chilly Cow is made with “ultra-filtered” nonfat milk for that ultra-creamy “mouth feel” ice cream that aficionados crave. Enlightened is launching a limited edition of barista-inspired flavors this fall, including White Chocolate Peppermint Mocha, Pumpkin Spice Latte and Triple Shot Espresso. Several come in nondairy and vegan versions.
Even traditional ice cream manufacturers are scrambling to make up for lost market share. Breyers launched Delights, which has 70-85 calories in a half-cup serving and uses only naturally sourced colors and flavors and sustainable fruit and vanilla. Ben & Jerry’s came out with Moo-phoria light ice cream, which has 140-160 calories per half-cup serving and still contains “funky chunks and whirly swirls” in flavors like Chocolate Milk & Cookies and P.B. Dough.
The secret behind these skinny desserts is actually food science. They cut calories by reducing sugar (6 grams vs. 20), and replacing it with organic stevia, a plant native to Paraguay; monk fruit; and erythritol, a sweetener found in fruits. Instead of the high fat of cream, these frozen desserts incorporate tapioca, corn fiber and whey to recreate that ice-creamy texture.
What makes these products healthier than regular ice cream is they’re fortified with protein and fiber. Think of them as the spoonable version of a protein bar. Enlightened, “the good for you ice cream” claims to be “the only pint that actually has more protein than sugar,” with 23 grams. A pint of Halo Top has 20 grams of protein and eight grams of fiber, and delivers 40 percent of the recommended daily dairy allowance. Chilly Cow has 24 grams of protein and 20 grams of fiber per pint. You get the picture.
However, sweet-toothed optimists who think they can substitute a bowl of Cookies and Cream for breakfast, lunch or dinner should think again, according to health experts.
“Halo Top is not a bad treat,” says Ashley Koff, a registered dietitian and founder/CEO of The Better Nutrition Program. “But should it be used as a meal replacement? No. It doesn’t provide healthy fats, vitamins, minerals or vegetables and you need a rainbow daily. But if you ate it in place of a poor quality meal, like a burger and fries, it could be better.”
There is also the controversy of erythritol, the ingredient that many of these desserts use to replace sugar. Found naturally in fruit like grapes and watermelon but made commercially by fermenting starches with yeast, erythritol is 70 percent as sweet as sugar but has zero calories. The Food and Drug Administration deemed it “generally safe” for consumption in 2001, and it’s now used in foods like chewing gum and sugar-free candy. Because the substance passes through the body undetected until it reaches the colon, erythritol does not spike blood sugar, but the sugar alcohol does fall in a category of fiber known as FODMAPs. In some people, erythritol can cause diarrhea and headaches, especially when consumed in large quantities. Though it doesn’t have quite the unhealthy reputation of now-defunct fake fat olestra or sweetener aspartame, there hasn’t been research into the ingredient’s potential long-term effects on the body (although one recent study did link it to belly fat). In addition, critics claim sugar substitutes can leave people unsatisfied and craving more sweets. (Note: Arctic Zero uses monk fruit instead of erythritol.)
Which one tastes the best? My 12-year-old daughter and I decided to get the scoop with a head-to-head taste test. We buy mint chocolate chip flavor in Halo Top, Enlightened and Chilly Cow. This is where it gets personal.
“Tastes fluffy, like minty air,” says Mackenzie about Halo Top, which is my favorite because it does, in fact, taste sweet and light. Mackenzie prefers Enlightened, which, to me, tastes like chemicals. We both like the creamy thickness of the Chilly Cow. (All of them taste better when they get a bit melty, as the containers suggest.)
A few nights later, we do more “research” with vanilla.
“This tastes just like ice cream,” Mackenzie says of the Halo Top. In fact, it did, although I appreciated the authentic vanilla flavor of Breyers Delights. ProYo wasn’t worth the super-high protein content because it tasted less like food than a diet shake.
Truth be told, ice cream snobs will claim that none of the skinny versions compare to the decadence of the real thing. Depending on your taste buds, however, you may find that what they lack in quality they make up for in quantity. At the end of a long day dutifully filled with lean protein and green veggies, it’s a welcome treat to have a dessert that won’t break the caloric bank — especially for those of us who aren’t satisfied with a half-cup serving size. I, myself, am a confirmed lid tosser.
Nutrition by the vanilla pint in grams:
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