Is “Healthy” Ice Cream a Thing? 4 Questions to Avoiding Pint-Sized Mistakes

It’s been a sweltering summer so far. The struggle is real, and we all scream for ice cream.

If you’re watching your macros, the grocery stores and bodegas are filled with the latest and greatest “lighter” ice cream and a personal invitation to eat the whole pint without destroying your dreams of health and hotness.

You many recognize this as a topic I’ve talked about before on the MFF blog, first in an article about Arctic Zero in 2013 and then about Halo Top in 2016. (All the feelings about this topic.) Looks like lot of you are interested in weighing the pros and cons of “healthier” frozen desserts!

But are they the answer for everyone? Or are there other factors to consider? Can you have your ice cream and eat it too?

The Scoop on Nutrition Facts

Real ice cream, while definitely higher in calories, is made with real ingredients. The lower calorie ice cream substitutes are made mostly from chemicals. It’s not real food.

Halo Top is popular because even though it’s lower in calories, it’s still sweet. That doesn’t naturally occur in nature. You need food scientists to do that.

Let’s compare the ingredients found in Häagen Dazs Chocolate Ice Cream with Halo Top Chocolate Light Ice Cream.

  • Häagen Dazs: cream, skim milk, sugar, cocoa processed with alkali, egg yolks
  • Halo Top: milk and cream, eggs, erythritol, prebiotic fiber, milk protein concentrate, organic cane sugar, high fat cocoa, vegetable glycerin, sea salt, organic carob gum, organic guar gum, organic stevia

The Marketing Mindf*ck

In a society where we struggle with food issues, I think it can be a problem when we’re being told on the ice cream carton that it’s a “guilt free zone” or “keep digging” and “stop when you hit the bottom.”

For people with food issues, this line of thought enables the very habits they are trying to change. The association of guilt with food, and the encouragement to eat the whole pint—isn’t that what we’re trying to avoid?

We compared ingredients, now let’s compare nutrition facts.

Halo Top boasts that you can eat the whole pint. If you are buying this type of light ice cream, there’s a good chance you might be looking to do just that. Which is really what the advertising and the carton labeling suggests: 1 pint = 1 serving.

For reasons that are probably obvious to you sophisticated macro-ologists (I may have made up that word, but you know who you are), Häagen Dazs is not advertising a serving to be a whole pint. So now let’s compare again:

The takeaway here: If you can give up the romanticized notion of eating a pint, you could have ½ cup of real ice cream. I’m just gonna leave that right there.

So why is eating a whole pint of a substitute ice cream so bad?

It’s not. But, it may not be the best choice for everyone. It depends on what you are trying to accomplish by eating one of these ice cream substitutes.

4 Questions to Making Your Best Choice: The Cosmo Quiz!

1. Do you have health issues such as Type 2 Diabetes or IBS?

  • Type 2 Diabetes: You may find a lighter ice cream useful as substitute for real ice cream, particularly if you don’t “eat the whole pint.” The sugars, carbs and fats are lower. But so is the taste, so factor that in.
  • IBS: You may find that you cannot tolerate the prebiotic fiber and other chemicals that tend to be in these products, particularly if you eat the whole pint. Products such as inulin and erythritol are often high on the list of ingredients and can cause gas, bloating and general stomach upset in people with (or without) IBS.

2. Are you looking to ice cream as a protein source?

Nothing to see here. I suggest moving on and getting some real food that has actual nutrition.

3. Are you looking for a sexy subsitute?

Is this you? —> You are fine with moderate portions, you like ice cream sometimes, but you don’t really care if it’s real ice cream or not. You just want something sweet, something that doesn’t break your macro bank.

If so, it’s fine to have some Halo Top sometimes. You seem pretty detached when it comes to desserts. You probably don’t even care if you eat a whole pint. Just be aware that while this is filling out your macros, it isn’t adding nutritional value, in spite of what the label says.

4. Are you in behavior or lifestyle change mode?

If you are trying to get rid of some bad habits, especially surrounding your fitness and nutrition, you know it’s not easy. Changing habits is a long-term commitment. This is where that mindf*ck part comes in.

Changing long-developed habits is complex AF without food manufacturers telling you that you can eat a pint of something just because you aren’t consuming as many calories. That would be fine if calories were the only thing that mattered in changing your lifestyle.

But I am going to maintain, based on decades of—well, of being me—that calories are not your biggest problem. Nope. You have a behavior problem.

If someone has a shopping addiction and they are constantly spending, buying cheaper things will not change their behavior. It’s the same here. Swapping a pint of real ice cream for imitation lower calorie ice cream isn’t gonna fix your food issues. You still have the same habit to break.

And maybe—just maybe—one of the habits you’re looking to ditch is eating a pint of anything. Maybe you want to work toward a state of mind where you eat one moderate serving of real chocolate ice cream once in a while and you feel pretty good about it.

Food for Thought

It’s easy to get caught up in marketing, especially in a culture where “healthy treats” are prized. But before you decide if a treat is ultimately healthy for you, consider who you are and what you want to achieve. It’s the best, mindful way to avoid pint-sized mistakes.

Want more health and hotness knowledge bombs to blow your mind? Read MFF’s 7 Habits of Highly Sexy Motherf*ckers!


Stella Kaufman is an OG Ninja from before there was even a Mark Fisher Fitness Clubhouse. She is the editor for the MFF blog and runs the Tasty Ninja recipes page on Facebook. She loves to share what she’s learned along the way, especially with her fellow unicorns and Ninjas.


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