How Healthy Are Those “Healthy” Ice Creams, Really?

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The next generation of alleged better-for-you ice creams are taking the freezer section by storm. But are these angelic you-can-eat-the-entire-container breeds of frozen treats really the answer to all your healthy eating prayers?

What Is Ice Cream?

Not surprisingly, ice cream is typically made from heavily sweetened heavy cream along with any desired flavorings or add-ins. Some homemade versions of ice cream may also include egg yolks.

Beyond these basic ingredients, ice cream may include various types of chocolate chips, candies, sugary swirls, fruits, and other flavorings. Commercially produced ice creams (like the ones in the freezer section of the grocery store) are not free from additives and thickeners. To assist with texture, consistency and increased shelf-life, additives such as xantham gum, guar gum, soy lecithin, and whey protein may be added. Overall, you are looking at a series of high-calorie ingredients with plenty of sugar and unhealthy fats.

An entire pint of traditional vanilla ice cream averages 1,000 calories, 64 grams of fat, and 16 grams of protein—that’s about the same amount of protein found in a  2.5-ounce piece of grilled chicken or fish.

The sugar is abundant and increases generously along with the fat and calories once you add candy, chocolate, and other confections to the mix. While there are some naturally existing sugars from the dairy and fruit (when applicable), for the most part, the sugar is predominantly the added variety. 

Ice Cream, Only Healthier?

It is no wonder dieters are drawn to the idea of eating an entire pint of something that contains fewer calories than peewee portions of traditional ice creams. But unless you are totally kidding yourself you might want to question how that's possible.

A pint of vanilla flavored Halo Top comes in at 240 calories, 8 grams of fat, 24 grams of protein, and 20 grams of fiber, which is 80 percent of your fiber needs for the entire day. The nearly 800-calorie discrepancy between this light ice cream and traditional kinds of ice cream should surely lead you to ask, what’s in here?

The ingredient list of Enlightened Low Fat Mint Chocolate Chip reveals main ingredients including skim milk, milk protein isolate, erythritol, and soluble corn fiber. Further down the list, you will find cream, sugar, milk, mint, monk fruit extract, as well as soy lecithin and guar gum.

Swell (the product formally known as ProYo) contains a slightly cleaner ingredient list than some, featuring skim and whole milk, whey protein concentrate, xylitol, sugar, inulin and flavorings. Plenty of protein powder gives this brand a whopping 35 grams of protein per pint!

So what do all these complicated ingredient words really mean? How do they make up a lighter version of ice cream? Here’s a breakdown of the various components.

Sugar is used in small amounts, but this faux ice cream is plenty sweet thanks to the addition of erythritol or xylitol, also known as sugar alcohols. While small amounts of these sweet tasting substances are found in chewing gum and other foods seem to cause minimal issues, large amounts have been associated with increases in blood sugar and stomach upset.

While the consistency of most "healthy" ice creams fall short of creamy, to achieve a somewhat cohesive texture, various types of fibers are added to these pints. Ingredients such as soluble corn fiber and inulin are added to help texture, but these too may wreak havoc on your digestion. The presence of these forms of supplemental fibers will boost the fiber content as far as the label goes but only yield an undigestible substance instead of typical sources of fiber like fruits, vegetables, and grains.

Last but not least is the ambitious amounts of protein found in these ice creams and it is nothing mysterious. Flavored protein powders or isolated milk proteins are added to help with texture but also provide a supplemental protein boost.

Bottom Line

You get what your calories pay for when it comes to real ice cream, so get the facts and make some ingredient comparisons. Read labels closely and make an informed choice on what you are eating. Keep in mind that an entire pint of ice cream or lighter "healthier" versions can both lead you down a path to tummy troubles of some sort. There’s nothing wrong with indulging with either of these frozen treats on occasion but shy away from a spoon and a pint with both.

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