Is There Such a Thing as Healthy Ice Cream?

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When you dip into a creamy pint of ice cream on a hot summer day, it can be challenging to limit yourself to just one serving. But what if a company told you that they make a healthy ice-cream-like dessert—and that it’s perfectly fine to eat a whole pint?

That’s what Arctic Zero and Halo Top seem to suggest you can do. “Our love of ice cream runs deep, like eat-the-entire-pint deep,” says Arctic Zero’s package (even though it’s technically a frozen dessert because it doesn’t contain enough milk solids to meet the definition of real ice cream). And the website for Halo Top, which does qualify as ice cream, exclaims, “Save the bowl. You’re going to want the whole pint.”

Unable to resist, we reviewed Vanilla Maple and Purely Chocolate from Arctic Zero and Vanilla Bean and Chocolate from Halo Top for nutrition and taste.

Why You Shouldn’t Eat the Whole Pint

One half-cup serving of Arctic Zero claims just 35 calories, 0 grams of fat, and 5 grams—about 1 teaspoon-worth—of sugars. Halo Top claims 60 calories, 2 grams of fat, and 4 grams of sugars per serving.

When you compare that to a half-cup of Breyers Original, which has 130 calories, 7 grams of fat, and about 14 grams of both natural and added sugars, you can see why people might be tempted to overindulge.

But that doesn’t mean you should.

For one thing, each pint has four servings, so if you ate the whole container you would end up with 150 calories with Arctic Zero and 240 calories with Halo Top. “That’s actually more than what you would get from a single serving of Breyers,” says Amy Keating, R.D., a project leader in Consumer Reports’ food-testing department.

In addition, Halo supplements its dessert with 5 grams of “prebiotic fiber” per serving, so eat the whole pint and you get 20 grams—enough to possibly cause bloating, constipation, or diarrhea. (We reached out to the company several times to find out exactly what “prebiotic fiber” is and why it’s added, but got no response.)

Finally, Keating says that “encouraging people to eat a whole pint, regardless of its calorie and sugar content, can foster bad eating habits.” That’s partly because eating such a large quantity can crowd out space for other, healthier food. And, she says, most nutrition experts recommend you stick close to suggested serving sizes as much as possible so you don’t get accustomed to overeating.

Still Highly Processed

These desserts don’t contain high-fructose corn syrups, hydrogenated oils, trans fats, or ingredients that some people want to avoid, such as artificial sweeteners like aspartame or sucralose.

But they are still processed foods, containing the thickeners and stabilizers guar and xanthan gums (Arctic Zero) and carob and guar gums (Halo Top) as well as the calorie-free sweeteners monk fruit concentrate (Arctic Zero) and erythritol and stevia (Halo Top).

“If your goal is to avoid highly processed foods, then these products may not be for you,” Keating says.

Extra Nutrients, but Not Extra Healthy

Both brands seem to be trying to boost their products’ healthy image by highlighting not only their fiber content but protein, too.

For example, Arctic Zero’s label prominently mentions its protein—but it only has 3 grams of protein per serving, just one more than Breyers vanilla ice cream and one less than the Häagen Dazs version.

And though Halo Top does provide 5 grams of fiber per serving— regular ice cream basically has zero—Keating generally recommends getting your nutrients “from real foods—like fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, and low-fat dairy or meats—not processed foods, like these ice creams.” That’s because those foods pack lots of other needed nutrients, and the strongest evidence of their health benefits comes from studies that looked at overall healthy diets, not fortified foods or supplements.

“They’re jumping on as many bandwagons as they can,” says Keating.

The Taste Didn’t Make Us Scream for More

To top it all off, our sensory panelists weren’t sure they would want to eat a whole pint, anyway.

Sampling the treats blind, they didn’t think that Arctic Zero tasted much like ice cream, mentioning an artificial butterscotch candy flavor with the Vanilla Maple and an unidentifiable “off-note” along with the mild cocoa flavor with the Purely Chocolate.

Halo Top, which is churned with real milk, cream, and eggs, fared somewhat better. Our panelists said that the vanilla flavor had a subtle dairy impression with vanilla bean flavor and that the chocolate had a good cocoa taste. Still, they said it had a chalky texture and lacked the fullness of regular ice cream.

Bottom Line

These frozen treats aren’t cheap: Arctic Zero costs $4.99 a pint at our local Mrs. Green’s Neighborhood Market, and Halo Top $5.99 a pint at our Whole Foods. For comparison, the cost breakdown of Breyer’s Natural Vanilla comes to around $1 per pint at our local Walmart.

If you really want an ice-cream-like treat but are following a low-calorie or low-carbohydrate diet, you could try try one of these treats. “A half-cup or even a cup won’t sabotage a diet,”  Keating says.

But, she says, even most people on strict diets can enjoy the occasional fat and calorie splurge—so why not go for the taste and simplicity of regular ice cream?