‘Tis the season for all of our favorite frosty summer indulgences. We get it. The nostalgic person in you is looking for that perfect texture and flavor of real ice cream. The health-minded adult in you wants this all without the sugar, calories and fat.
Food manufacturers have taken notice and are trying to fulfill your wishes. From high-protein, low-cal options to pints made from almond or coconut milk, there are many new “healthier ice cream” alternatives available in your freezer aisle.
They may leave you confused as to which are truly a better choice and when you should go for the real stuff your childhood memories are made of instead. I’ve broken down the perhaps-healthier newbies here so you can make the best choice for you:
1. Halo Top
Perhaps the most well-known of the bunch, Halo Top boasts 240-400 calories per pint. Yes, per pint! Traditional ice cream will run you that much for only half a cup. While you’re polishing off that pint (spoon not included), you’ll also be consuming 5 grams of protein.
Halo Top (and many of the new healthier ice cream brands) are made with skim milk and milk protein isolate as opposed to skim milk and cream. Isolates are concentrated milk solids with 90 percent more protein by weight than regular milk. By taking out the cream, manufacturers are able to significantly cut calories and fat while amping up the protein. To give this new treat the familiar ice cream texture, thickeners and additives like guar gum and xanthan gum are added — they’re not the worst ingredients you’ll find in packaged products, but they may cause stomach upset. Halo Top also contains the non-nutritive sweetener erythritol to give it ice cream's famous sweet taste.
2. Arctic Zero
This is another “healthier” dairy option. It’s one of the lowest-calorie options of the bunch (150-300 calories depending on the pint), but don’t expect to feel like you’re diving head first into a creamy indulgence as it is slightly icier and lighter compared to the other low-cal, high-protein options.
Similar to Halo Top, Arctic Zero is made with protein isolates and thickeners. The big difference with this sweet treat is that the source of sweetness comes from organic cane sugar. Oh, and it has about half the grams of sugar of traditional ice cream.
This low-calorie dairy option (made with milk protein isolates and sweetened with erythritol, like Halo Top) contains hormone-free milk. Enlightened also boasts 20 grams of fiber, which comes from added soluble corn fiber, per pint. Nope, fiber is not naturally found in this frozen treat.
Yes, the ice cream brand you know and love is joining the Halo Top-esque bandwagon and offering a low-cal, protein-rich ice cream option. After taking a peek at the label, it’s right on par with Halo Top and Enlightened at 260-330 calories per pint. The difference may just come down to personal brand preference.
5. So Delicious
Straying away from the high-protein dairy options, there are also coconut-, almond- and cashew-based “ice creams” that are a great option for people who have issues digesting dairy. So Delicious has less sugar, but also less protein than traditional milk-based ice cream. The first ingredient in the coconut option is organic coconut milk, but you’ll also see some added thickeners, similar to the low-calorie pints mentioned above. Again, not a horrible thing, but these ingredients can cause stomach upset and that’s exactly what most people eating alternative milk ice cream are trying to avoid in the first place.
Unlike many other non-dairy frozen treats on the market, this one is not a nut-based alternative. This new non-dairy line has mouth-watering flavors, like chocolate salted caramel and peanut butter chocolate fudge, which use the core ingredient as its base. Yes, think peanut butter and chocolate chunks instead of soy or coconut milk. But its top ingredients include sugar, corn syrup, peanut oil, soy lecithin, pectin and powdered cane sugar, and eating a half-cup serving will cost you 240 calories (as much as some of the other “healthier” options have in the entire pint).
So if you need to go dairy-free for medical reasons, this may be a good choice, but don’t dig in with the expectation of a low-cal, healthier option.