Hmmm…well my jury’s still out on this one and may be for some time yet. Personally I’m not a huge ice cream fan anyway; it’s not my first dessert choice, though I do enjoy a scoop every now and then, usually in summertime and definitely when it’s home-made. As with everything, if you don’t eat too much of it, it’s not going to harm you. And in fact, with regular ice cream there is some protein and calcium to be had from the milk content that is actually good for you.
Of course, if you’re lactose intolerant then these new desserts are marvelous, but many of us are not, so are they really healthier than ice cream? I should mention at this point that it is the FDA who require that anything called “ice cream” must contain milk or cream, hence the phrase “frozen desserts” that you will see on the non-dairy labels.
Just from curiosity more than anything else I have tried various versions of these new “frozen desserts” that are taking over the ice cream aisle of every supermarket. Arctic Zero, Halo Top and Enlightened are the three I’ve tried and, honestly, had a mixed response to. Of the three, Halo Top is probably my favorite – and it’s also now the biggest selling ice cream in the US(!)- it is an actual ice cream as it contains milk and cream, but it claims to be healthier than regular ice cream. To me the flavor and texture came the closest to real ice cream of the three, probably due to its milk content. They do come in very unusual flavors too – Birthday Cake or Chocolate Mocha Chip for example, but it is quite expensive.
To compare it to regular ice cream, a serving of Halo Top Vanilla Bean would have 70 calories, Breyers Vanilla Bean Ice Cream – 130 calories. The total fat content of a serving of Halo Top is 3%, Breyers is 11%. The sugar content is Halo Top is 5g, compared to Breyers at 14g. In addition the protein level of Halo Top is 5g, more than twice the 2g of Breyers (that’s a good one to be high in!) So you can see that overall the Halo Top brand have achieved a healthier version of ice cream fairly successfully. Their ingredients list is also mainly organic and totally recognizable (ie. no strange chemical formulas): INGREDIENTS: milk and cream, cultured nonfat milk, eggs, whey, erythritol, organic cane sugar, chicory root, casein protein, organic vanilla extract, organic vanilla beans, sea salt, organic carob gum, organic guar gum, organic stevia.
(Erythritol is a sugar alcohol found in grapes and pears that doesn’t impact blood glucose levels or cause your body to bloat.)
The other brands of dairyless frozen desserts basically replace the milk and cream with an alternative like coconut, soy, almond or cashew milk. Pretty much everything else remains the same. Coconut is probably the most favored as it gives a rich, creamy texture, but it is also high in saturated fat so a dessert made with coconut can have up to 250 calories per serving! Some coconut-based brands can also have up to 15 grams of saturated fat, and 20+ grams of sugar per half-cup serving! That’s a lot. As always, try and be dedicated enough to thoroughly check nutrition labels, they’re the only things that don’t lie.
Frozen yoghurt has always been a good alternative to ice cream (if you need one) and it’s still a good option. Now let’s see you reading a label – you see the calories are about the same as regular ice cream, but the protein is much higher (good), sugar is around the same but fat is much lower (good), also there is a good chunk of calcium and even a little iron in there. Overall a good, tasty alternative.
In my opinion, ice cream is not unhealthy if eaten in moderation, however if you are one of these people who eats it straight out of the tub, then maybe you should look at some of the alternatives out there. There are MANY, I have only scratched the surface here. Just be sure to apply your common sense, read the label and don’t just assume because it’s different that it’s necessarily better.
Also worth noting is that all the frozen desserts I have tried are hard as ice when just pulled out of the freezer, so you really have to know at least 10 minutes in advance that you want to eat some as there’s no way you are scooping it out straight from the freezer.