Diet & Nutrition
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The Scoop Behind 8 “Healthy” Ice Creams

Find out if these popular frozen desserts live up to their health claims. 

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By Deborah Wilburn

When we think summer, we tend to think of beaches, barbecues—and ice cream, the perfect beat-the-summer-heat treat. Whether served in cones or topping a cobbler or slice of pie, most of us are addicted to these frozen desserts. But all aren’t created equal. Some come with health claims like vegan, high protein, low carb or non-bloating. How healthy are they, really?

We consulted Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, Sharecare nutrition expert and author of Eating in Color, to evaluate the nutritional value and health claims of eight nationally available brands. Here’s the scoop!

Enlightened Triple Chocolate

2 / 10 Enlightened Triple Chocolate

The pitch: “Low in calories, fat, and sugar, and packed with protein and fiber, Enlightened ice cream is truly good for you. Seven net carbs (erythritol) has no calories or effect on blood sugar.”

While Largeman-Roth says that the carbs claim is accurate, she begs to differ that this ice cream is all that healthy. The 7g of protein comes from the milk protein isolate, she says. “You’d be better off eating yogurt if you want protein and calcium—and you’ll be getting probiotics too.” If you crave chocolate, a healthier way to get a fix is by eating a square of dark chocolate (70-85% cocoa), which is a good source of minerals like potassium, copper, iron and manganese. 

The scoop: You may enjoy this brand of ice cream—just don’t be fooled by the “truly good for you” marketing pitch.

Nutrition Facts (per ½ cup serving)
Calories: 90
Saturated fat: 2g
Carbohydrates: 18g
Sugars: 6g

Halo Top Vanilla Bean Light

3 / 10 Halo Top Vanilla Bean Light

The pitch: “A good source of protein, low carb, low fat, gluten free, 240 calories per pint. Sweetened with organic stevia.”

Halo Top contains 5g of protein per half cup serving. Largeman-Roth says that you may feel more satisfied after eating a serving, but it’s not the best way to meet your daily protein needs. The brand also touts erythritola—a low-calorie sweetener found in fruits like pears and grapes—one that doesn’t affect blood glucose or cause bloating.

“It’s not true that it won’t cause bloating,” says Largeman-Roth. “Some people may not be affected but many will, especially those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).” Erythritol can have other side effects as well. “One study showed that the maximum amount of erythritol a person should have at one sitting is 10g,” she says. “If you eat the entire pint, as they suggest, you’d be getting 20g. That will send lots of folks straight to the toilet.”

The scoop: Savor one serving at a time to avoid the possible diarrhetic side effect.

Nutrition Facts (per ½ cup serving)
Calories: 60
Saturated fat: 1g
Carbohydrates: 13g
Sugars: 5g
Sugar alcohol: 5g
Protein: 5g

Arctic Zero Salted Caramel

4 / 10 Arctic Zero Salted Caramel

The pitch: Gluten free, lactose free, fat free, low glycemic. “It’s the perfect guiltless pleasure whenever your sweet tooth strikes.”

The main ingredient in this non-dairy frozen dessert is purified water, which helps explain the low-calorie count. Other ingredients mainly include added sugars (5g), but it does provide 3g of protein.

The scoop: It won’t give you a health boost, but it is an option for people who are managing blood sugar levels or can’t tolerate dairy products.

Nutrition Facts (per ½ cup serving)
Calories: 35
Saturated fat: 0g
Carbohydrates: 7g
Sugars: 5g
Protein: 3g

So Delicious Cashew Milk Chocolate

5 / 10 So Delicious Cashew Milk Chocolate

The pitch: “Rich, creamy and totally indulgent non-dairy frozen dessert.”

This So Delicious dessert may be dairy free, but what it lacks in dairy it more than makes up for in sugar (16g/serving). And at only 150 calories per serving, you may be tempted to go for seconds of the sweet stuff, which could send you over the American Heart Association’s (AHA) daily recommended limit for added sugars: no more than 36g per day for men and 25g for women.

The scoop: You’re likely getting added sugars from other foods in your diet, too—another reason not to go overboard!

Nutrition Facts (per ½ cup serving)
Calories: 150
Saturated fat: 1.5g
Carbohydrates: 21g
Sugars: 16g
Protein: 3g

Whole Foods 365 Organic Vanilla

6 / 10 Whole Foods 365 Organic Vanilla

The pitch: All organic ingredients, including milk, cream, cane sugar, skim milk and egg yolks. Cows not treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), a hormone injected in dairy cows to increase milk production.

Foods labeled “organic” may sound healthier than they really are, creating a health halo effect. This is the case with Whole Foods house brand ice cream. While it’s made with organic ingredients, that doesn’t wipe out the fact that it’s high in saturated fat (8g) and sugars (14g). Studies regarding the potential adverse health effects of drinking milk from cows treated with rBGH haven’t found conclusive evidence of any risks. In addition, demand for dairy products treated with rBGH has declined dramatically over the last few years, making this ice cream less unique than it appears. While the 365 brand does provide a dose of vitamin A (6%) and calcium (10%), there are far healthier sources for those nutrients.

The scoop: Convenient to pick up on a Whole Foods pit stop, but you may want to try other low-cal ice creams with less saturated fat. 

Nutrition Facts (per ½ cup serving)
Calories: 140
Saturated fat: 8g
Total carbohydrates: 15g
Sugars: 14g
Protein: 3g

Breyers CarbSmart Chocolate

7 / 10 Breyers CarbSmart Chocolate

The pitch: “For use as part of a carbohydrate-conscious diet.”

One might think that something labeled “carb smart” would be substantially lower in carbs, but at 13g per serving, it’s not that different from other low-calorie ice creams. 

What stands out on the nutrition label for Largeman-Roth is the sugar alcohol (5g). “This is being used in lots of foods and beverages these days,” she says. “It’s low calorie and low on the glycemic index, so it can be used by people with diabetes. But it’s not completely absorbed by the digestive system, so it can cause bloating, gas and diarrhea, especially if more than one serving is consumed at one sitting.”

The scoop: Stick to one serving to avoid excessive gas and frequent bathroom breaks.

Nutrition Facts (per ½ cup serving)
Calories: 110
Saturated fat: 3.5g
Carbohydrates: 13g
Sugars: 4g
Sugar alcohol: 5g
Protein: 2g

Edy’s Slow Churned Classic Vanilla

8 / 10 Edy’s Slow Churned Classic Vanilla

The pitch: Half the fat, one-third fewer calories than regular ice cream.

Edy’s is a popular, dependably delicious indulgence, and this creamy dessert touts a short list of ingredients: Fresh milk and cream and no artificial colors or flavors. There are 14g of added sugars—not ideal, but less than the amount found in full-fat ice creams, which can run to 20g or more. At 100 calories per serving, you can afford to cool off with a few licks on a hot summer day.

The scoop: Practice portion control when enjoying this creamy treat.

Nutrition Facts (per ½ cup serving)
Calories: 100
Saturated fat: 2g
Carbohydrates: 15g
Sugars: 14g
Protein: 3g

Edy’s Slow Churned No Sugar Added

9 / 10 Edy’s Slow Churned No Sugar Added

The pitch: Half the fat and one-third fewer calories than regular ice cream.

It can be hard to find a significant difference in taste between Edy’s Classic Vanilla and this Splenda-sweetened version. But there is a nutritional difference worth consideration: Splenda (sucralose), like other artificial sweeteners, is like sugar on steroids. In fact, Splenda is 600 times sweeter than sucrose. “My opinion is that we all need to lower our threshold for sweetness, and these sweeteners only keep us wanting very sweet foods,” says Largeman-Roth.

The scoop: Think twice before feeding your sweet tooth with a dessert that can fuel cravings for more.

Nutrition Facts (per ½ cup serving)
Calories: 100
Saturated fat: 2g
Carbohydrates: 14g
Sugars: 3g
Sugar alcohol: 4g
Protein: 3g

Easy tips for healthier desserts

10 / 10 Easy tips for healthier desserts

Stick with the real thing: For an occasional indulgence, Largeman-Roth recommends that people eat regular full-fat, no-artificial-sweeteners-added ice cream. “I put mine in a special little round vintage glass and eat it with a tiny demitasse spoon to savor every bite and make it last longer,” she says. Real ice cream just tastes better, and without the health halo you may not be tempted to eat it too often.

Try this recipe for strawberry ice cream: Quick and easy to make, Greek yogurt makes this a lickable, creamy dessert.

Go for chocolate-covered frozen bananas:

  • Line a sheet pan with waxed paper
  • Cut each banana in half and push a popsicle stick halfway through the cut end. The other half of the stick is used as a handle.
  • Freeze the bananas for about an hour
  • Melt dark chocolate in a bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water; occasionally stir.
  • Dip each frozen banana in the melted dark chocolate
  • Place on the sheet pan, freeze and enjoy!