Halo Top’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream is 360 calories for the whole pint. I know this because I ate the entire thing during a single episode of Master of None and also because it’s written on the carton. Arctic Zero’s Cookie Dough flavor is 300 calories; Enlightened’s version, my personal favorite, is 400.
These companies who have nutritionally-engineered four servings of ice cream to calorically resemble one are popping up everywhere. Halo Top, the arguable darling of this whole movement, recently announced it’s launching seven new flavors: Rainbow Swirl, Mochi Green Tea, Candy Bar, Chocolate Covered Banana, Pancakes & Waffles, Caramel Macchiato and Cinnamon Roll.
Founder and CEO Justin Woolverton said they can’t keep Halo Top on shelves.
“Halo Top has become one of the most Instagram-able products available in the frozen dessert aisle, with 28.8 million pints sold last year,” reported CNBC in June. “While the sales for the whole [ice cream] category increased, sales of products that fit within the Food and Drug Administration’s definition of ‘healthy’ grew 85 percent last year.”
I really want to believe that admitting I’m going to eat the whole pint and buying accordingly is not a bad idea but instead, a radical expression of self-love. Yet at first glance, these ice creams are packing some verrrrrrrrrry interesting stuff — and I use the word “interesting” here the way your mom does when she’s nicely saying your artwork sucks. Is it all too good to be true? Ugh. I asked the experts, crossed my spoons and told them to make it as quick and painless as possible.
What do you think of the new low-calorie ice cream trend?
Dr. Rupy Aujla, general practitioner and founder of The Doctor’s Kitchen, says the idea that less calories are better is a myth perpetuated by food companies. He’s a big proponent of the “eat food, mostly plants, not too much” school of thought.
“Counting indiscriminate numbers on the back of food packets is one of the least helpful variables a person can focus on when it comes to food choices,” Dr. Aujla says. “It shifts attention away from what is actually important: the quality of where your food comes from.”
McKel Hill, registered dietitian and founder of Nutrition Stripped, agrees: “In general, I’m not a fan of low-calorie items. They’re often replacing fat with sugar or sugar with fat.”
Most of these ice creams are low calorie and low sugar because of a sugar alcohol called erythritol. What is that? Is it bad?
“Sugar alcohols can cause migraines and stomach issues (i.e. bloating, diarrhea, gas, especially with excessive intake),” says Hill. “One study showed erythritol did not increase serum levels of glucose or insulin [as normal sugars do], and most (about 90%) is excreted in urine without having been broken down.”
This means our bodies don’t know what to do with erythritol. A bad sign.
“When you eat a piece of fruit, your body knows how to digest it and what to do; the sugar gets metabolized and hormones are released to decrease your appetite. But with sugar alcohols, your body may not register the ‘fuel.'” This would explain why I rarely feel full after eating a whole pint of the stuff, and why I find myself hungry an hour later.
“Digestive upset and not allowing the body to register when it’s full are all effects of many artificial sweeteners that don’t sit well with me,” says Dr. Aujla. Since the longterm effects of most artificial sweeteners are inconclusive, he says it’s better to play it safe. “I’d prefer people use real sugar, honey, maple syrup and practice self-restraint rather than gorge on ‘sugar free’ substitutes.”
Let’s say I’m going to eat the whole pint either way. Is it better to eat Halo Top or Häagen Dazs?
“It’s literally impossible to say which one would be better or worse because it totally depends on the individual consuming it,” says Dr. Aujla. “What’s her current state of health? What does her gut bacterial population look like? What time of day is she eating? Has she worked out? Calorie counting is largely useless for the majority of the population. The number of calories consumed is going to have vastly different metabolic effects from person to person.”
That said, his personal choice would be Häagen Dazs because he knows his body would recognize the ingredients.
Hill is a fan of coconut milk-based ice creams that are loaded with good fats and are typically lower in sugar. If dairy agrees with you, she says that’s an option, too — but get the organic, full-fat kind and just eat until you’re satiated.
Final call: Yay or nay?
At the end of the day, Dr. Aujla and Hill both agree that creating ice cream that can be consumed by the pint is solving the wrong problem.
Says Hill, “As a nutrition coach, I’m looking at it from the perspective of behavior and mindset. So while, yes, the whole pint of ice cream is low calorie, what are you actually training your mind and body to do? Eat pints of ice cream? That’s not a healthy habit or behavior that you want to integrate into your lifestyle.”
Both cite “quality over quantity.” Halo Top may aim to provide a solution for those of us who want to binge guilt-free, but it does so by creating more problems. Not only are what these nutritionists call “destructive eatings habits” encouraged, but we’re putting our digestive systems in danger. It’s the least fun answer of all, but the one I feared was true: Moderation of the real deal is better.
Are you into Halo Top-esque ice cream?
Photo by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.