The Truth About 'Healthy' Ice Creams

By , SparkPeople Blogger
There's a reason it's a prop in pretty much every breakup scene of every romantic movie: After all, it wouldn't be quite as comforting to curl up on the couch with a bowl of broccoli. But you don't have to be freshly single to appreciate the cold, creamy deliciousness of a pint of ice cream—it's also the treat of choice for celebrating birthdays, cooling off on summer afternoons or simply indulging a sweet tooth on a random Tuesday.
However, unless you're super disciplined about portion sizes (rocky road and restraint don’t usually go hand-in-hand), screaming for ice-cream on the regular isn’t exactly conducive to a health and weight loss plan. But parting with it is such sweet sorrow…so what's a frozen treat fanatic to do?
Enter alternative ice creams. In response to the large demand for the tastiness of ice cream without the extra calories or sugar, a slew of so-called "healthy" ice creams—some of the most popular include Halo Top, Arctic Zero, Wink and Thrive—are filling the frozen food aisles of most supermarkets. Their packaging promises the best of both worlds: the amazing taste of ice cream, with a sliver of the calories, fat and sugar of the real thing, sending well-intentioned dieters scurrying to satisfy their sweet cravings. Some even tout the added benefit of an extra protein boost.
At first glance (and first taste), it might seem like you've hit the dessert lottery—but most registered dietitians and nutritionists warn that if something seems too good to be true, it usually is.

How Are Healthy Ice Creams Made?

SparkPeople's registered dietitian, Becky Hand, breaks down how these alternative ice creams are created:
  • Goodbye, cream. When the cream is removed, it lowers the fat and calories—but you also lose the rich, creamy texture. To compensate, guar-gum and xanthan gum are added. These agents, which are approved for use in foods, work to thicken the ingredients to create a smooth, creamy texture. They also help to stabilize the mixture and prevent separation.
  • So long, sugar. Instead, say hello to lower-calorie or zero calorie (artificially made) sweeteners, such as erythritolstevia and monk fruit. These are sugar substitutes that help to reduce calories and carbohydrates. "Don’t be fooled that these are 'all natural,'" Hand warns. "Without chemical processing, they would not exist."
  • Pile on the protein. These frozen concoctions usually list high amounts of protein compared to real ice cream. Hand says the source is some form of protein powder that's used as a supplement. 

Trading the Real Thing for the Fake Thing

Liza Baker, health coach with Simply: Health Coaching, says today's "healthy" ice creams are a sign that we're still living in a fat-phobic era. "Starting in the 70s, we were taught that fat (especially saturated fat from animal products) is evil and should be avoided, but there is a lot of evidence now that our bodies do need moderate amounts of beneficial fat," she says.
Unfortunately, fat is what adds flavor, so when you take out the fat, Baker warns that you wind up with a lot of synthetic flavors, artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols to make the product palatable. In addition to affecting taste, removing fat also impacts what Baker calls the "mouthfeel" of a food—which means the manufacturer will then add gums and other fillers to their products in an attempt to replicate that delicious, creamy texture.
Baker says it's better to enjoy "real" ice cream with the fewest number of whole ingredients as possible (think cream, milk, eggs, sugar, dark chocolate, fruit and other natural stuff), enjoyed in ½-cup servings. "It's a lot better to eat a small amount of healthy fat than a large amount of highly processed sugar," she says. "Enjoying an occasional treat is not unhealthy. What's unhealthy is our inability to resist huge portions on a regular basis, plus the use of highly processed ingredients."

How 'Healthy' Ice Creams Affect Portion Control

Registered dietitian Alissa Rumsey points out another potential problem with "healthier" ice creams: They lead to the idea that because they are supposedly better for you, you can eat as much as you want. "This type of thinking leads to overeating, because instead of responding to your body's feelings of fullness and satiety, it becomes 'I'm going to eat it all because I can,'" she says.
The other issue is that these ice creams usually aren't as satisfying as the real thing. "If you're really craving ice cream and try to eat one of these instead, you aren't going to feel satisfied and will likely end up continuing to eat and graze on foods to try to find that feeling of satisfaction," Rumsey warns. "On the other hand, if you just have some real ice cream, you'll feel more satisfied and probably end up eating less."

10 Better Ice Cream Alternatives

If you're craving a cold treat but don't trust yourself to stick to the ½-cup portion size—and you want to avoid the artificial additives found in today's trendy "healthy" ice creams—try these lower-calorie, real-food alternatives that won't freeze your progress: 
  1. Frozen Berries and Cream: This low-calorie, high-protein treat is made from fresh raspberries, Greek yogurt, honey and almonds.
  2. Blended Bananas: Baker keeps cut-up bananas in her freezer. When she's ready for dessert, she combines the frozen bananas, two teaspoons of cocoa powder, one teaspoon of almond or coconut milk, one teaspoon of pure vanilla and a pinch of salt in a food processor. Blend until it's smooth and has the consistency of soft-serve ice cream.
  3. Zucchini Bread Ice Cream: Why not combine a delicious dessert with an extra serving of veggies?
  4. Balsamic Strawberries with Ricotta Cream: Strawberries are combined with tangy and sweet balsamic vinegar and creamy ricotta in this quick and simple dessert.
  5. Peanut Butter Cup Parfaits: Topped with chopped chocolate peanut butter cups, it's a peanut butter lover's dream, and it will cost you just 100 calories.
  6. Strawberry Gelato: Super easy to make with simple ingredients, it comes together in just five minutes.
  7. Pumpkin Custard: This whole-ingredient dessert will satisfy your creamy craving in a pinch.
  8. No-Bake Banana Pudding: This five-layer dessert requires no baking and clocks in at just 267 calories per serving.
  9. Mango Almond Popsicle: This refreshing, guilt-free frozen treat is made with just three vegan ingredients.
  10. Vegan Lemon Curd: You'll need five ingredients and one pot for this creamy, naturally sweetened dessert.
Is it ever okay to eat alternative ice creams? Although Hand doesn't consider these frozen concoctions to be "healthy"—which is a word that can be tossed around with no regulation—she says they can be a useful tool if you are craving a sweet, frozen treat with about half the calories. "Just be sure to use them strategically," she says. "Limit your once-a-week indulgence to a half-cup portion size—not a pint."
Have you tried "healthier" ice creams? What did you think?
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I agree on the .5 cup of ice cream and I enjoy every bite. Report
Excellent information! Report
I’ve tried one of the brands mentioned. Two bites and I tossed it. I choose the real thing, on occasion and in moderation. Report
I’ve tried one of the brands mentioned. Two bites and I tossed it. I choose the real thing, on occasion and in moderation. Report
I’ve tried one of the brands mentioned. Two bites and I tossed it. I choose the real thing, on occasion and in moderation. Report
I like blended frozen bananas with a tsp. of peanut butter...delish! Report
"So long, sugar. Instead, say hello to lower-calorie or zero calorie (artificially made) sweeteners, such as erythritol, stevia and monk fruit. These are sugar substitutes that help to reduce calories and carbohydrates. "Don’t be fooled that these are 'all natural,'" Hand warns. "Without chemical processing, they would not exist."" Um....sugar is also put through a chemical processing to be sugar. Try again. Also, I'll take erythritol over sugar any day. I don't actually eat ice cream alternatives, but this point is pretty bogus. Report
White sugar is in your "real" ice-cream. I will take the Stevia over white sugar any day. White sugar feeds cancer cells. Not to mention contributes to diabetes and obesity, and also Alzheimer's disease.

Four steviol compounds, naturally occurring molecules derived from stevia leaves, were tested for potential anti-cancer effects, according to Dr. Ken Yasukawa in the 2002 issue of "Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin. The steviol molecules successfully blocked the effects of 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetat
e or TPA in mice. TPA is a potent carcinogen capable of spurring cancer growth.

Although processing is involved, and a white powder is produced, many of the health properties of the stevia plant survive, making it a healthy alternative to sugar or sugar substitutes like Aspartame and Nutrasweet.

So If I have a choice yes, I will choose the Halo Top or other alternative. Are all the flavors fantastic? No, But I have found ones I like.

Read The Case against sugar - https://

I have tried a couple of different kinds of these ice cream alternatives. I found them pretty underwhelming. I definitely will not buy it again. Just my two cents worth. Report
Interesting.. Report
I eat real ice cream, but rarely. Artificial sweeteners hit my stomach "wrong." I can eat most anything I want as long as I track it in SP food tracker and stay within SP recommended range. The key for me is tracking ALL my food and caring about my intake enough to moderate it every day. Report
I've tried Halo Top and it was exactly what the article implies - not satisfying for a craving of the real thing. Seems better to get a small, pretty ice cream bowl and measure out a portion of the real thing to savor.

Talenti does make a good Roman Raspberry Sorbet that has simple ingredients and reasonable calories. Report
Ice Cream is absolutely one of my favs and one of the guilty pleasures that I will not compromise on. However, the Peanut Butter Parfait sounds tasty. I have some Greek yogurt that wasn't too tasty on its own but with this recipe I can put it to good use and not waste. Report
I for one don't care for ice cream. I guess, I just don't like cold things that much. Report
The prices of these are outrageous where I live. I tried some samples but will certainly not be able to afford actually buying one of the small cartons. Thank you for the tasty alternative suggestions. Report
Haven't tried them and after reading this article will leave them alone. Report
I'm actually grateful I'm not much into ice cream. Also, those brands do not come here. Report
I had a carton of Halo in my hand yesterday, but didn't buy it--too expensive. After reading this, I'm glad I didn't. Will stick to the the very rare instance of the real thing. Report
I stick with the real thing, but only once in a great while. Report
Better for me to just skip it. Report
I still prefer the real thing I just watch how mush I eat Report
I've tried Halo Top and Simple Truth. The Halo Top was the better of the two, but to me it was like eating ice with some chocolate mixed in. Will not be buying any of those products any time soon. Report
If you try these ice cream alternatives keep in mind that a lot of them have sugar alcohols in them and if you eat more than the suggested portion size, you might be very sorry. I am sensitive to Malitol and other sugar alcohols and if I eat too much of "the good thing" I have uncomfortable gastric distress. Eat these in moderation and check your serving sizes. Just because it has a low calorie total for the whole container doesn't mean you should eat the whole thing. I think the marketing practices are horrible on these items and should be changed because most people not familiar with sugar alcohols are going to think..."Awesome! Cool, I can eat the whole pint for 360 calories!" Dont do it! Test a portion size to see if you are sensitive. Yes, I love these ice cream alternatives. I prefer Artic Zero over Halo Top though. Report
I've tried both Arctic Zero and Halo Top. The Arctic Zero was just that, a big fat zero. But depending on the flavor, the Halo Top was really good, and satisfying. The chocolate almond crunch... oh my. I also found that I have more trouble with a portion with 'real' ice cream compared to Halo Top. Report
I tried a halo top and it was not good Report
I haven't tried these, but I find the same thing with yogurt. The zero fat yogurt just tastes of corn starch to me - the thickener they use to replace the milk fat. I'd rather eat less of the real stuff. But if I was unable to control my craving for ice cream, why not use these, once in a while. Report
I must look for these! Report
Thanks. Report
several of your "healthier" suggestions contain just as much junk, cool whip, pudding mix... Report
Interesting Report
I like them. I agree with @Seandalai - why is protein powder okay in smoothies but not in ice cream? That seems kind of disingenuous.

If you can limit your portions (which I can), then a lot of the arguments in this post fall apart.

Ice cream or any sub for it is not meant to be a meal food or an all the time food - it can't be in a lot of the world because of the climate.


Let people enjoy things.

Seriously. We're not sitting around eating a bag of pork rinds or anything close to it.

At some point, this feels like slamming something for the sake of slamming it, or for the sake of pushing other forms of natural eating. Which I do, I might add, and in rather large %s compared to what I eat in Halo Top and its brethren. Report
I have to leave the ice cream alone or save a bit for a treat. I could easily only eat ice cream always and have a satisfied palate! Report
I haven't tried low-cal/diet ice cream but I did treat myself to some regular sherbert a few weeks ago and it tasted great even though I felt guilty. From all the comments I will skip the diet stuff and just have some regular ice cream every once in a while and feel guilty. Report
Don't like those "healthier" ice creams, I eat regular ice cream about once a month, in moderation. Report
Haggen Daaz , vanilla for me please. Report
Watch out for those artificial sweeteners. For myself, including those in my diet leads to my fainting and then hospitalization. Natural, whole foods are best. Report
I tried 2 different kinds and did not find them satisfying at all. they lacked that creamy feeling and did leave me wanting something else. Plus, I didn't think they tasted very good at all! Report
Moose Tracks is my go to ice cream. I've tried low fat versions and it just doesn't do it for me. Celebrating 47th. Anniversary today and that was our desert. It's a good thing we don't buy ice cream very often. Report
I figure if you're in the mood for ice cream get your favorite kind and have a serving otherwise you're just going to keep thinking about it and that's where we get into trouble. Report
I have to have the real thing. I just need to have a small serving and only eat it on rare occasion Report
I tried Halo Top after hearing such rave reviews. I did not like it at all and it left a film in my mouth. I would rather just not have ice cream at all. Report
I have no need to try store bought 'healthy' ice creams because I can easily make my own at home! 1.5 cups frozen strawberries, 1/2 - 3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk and 3 pkts of Stevia blended until smooth makes an awesome frozen treat that I feel good about eating! Report
Truth! Just eat REAL food, folks if you want to be healthy and lose weight naturally as the result. No boxes. Report
I tried Halo Top, pistachio. Very disappointed in the texture and I didn't find one pistachio in the whole container. I'll stick with a good,real ice cream next time Report
I used to be an ice cream addict, but I substituted home-made "Smoothie Pops." I blend 1/2 c low-fat yogurt, 1-2 T tart cherry juice concentrate, and 3-4 bananas. I freeze in children's popsicle makers & have one every night for dessert. The high banana content makes the consistency soft, not icy like popsicles. They satisfy my need for something cold & sweet, and now I have a hard time eating ice cream because it's too sweet. You could of course flavor with unsweetened cocoa powder or other fruit, but the bananas are key. Report
why is protein powder fine in smoothies but not fine in ice cream? Halo Top's a blessing, and the ingredient list is fine. it's far better than some of the alternatives you've listed here, such as the peanut butter cup parfaits. honestly "fat free sugar free instant vanilla pudding"...? who are you kidding? Report
If you are watching your blood sugar, you have to be very careful about sugar in any food. As a type 2 diabetic I can eat 1/2 cup of Halo Top without it having an effect on blood sugar levels. If I have a 1/2 cup of regular ice cream my blood sugar would sky rocket. It’s obvious which is the better choice for me. Report
Yes. I have tried one or two. Halo Top is one I remember.

Not all that impressed. Not enough to make it my go-to for a frozen treat. Fortunately, I can and do enjoy 1/2 cup servings of the real thing and I like the lower fat ice creams because the heavy fat ones are ... too heavy. But those almost calorie free things are almost taste free too. Report
Thank,you! Report