An article this week caught my eye. It was about Halo Top ice cream – a brand that encourages you to just eat the whole pint. Because the whole pint contains only 280 calories, on average. No bowl required.
The piece is full of examples of people who unabashedly devour a whole container of ice cream in one sitting and feel good about it. Some even do this seven days a week.
There are caveats in the article – about texture and aftertaste. But, that seems to be beside the point as sales of Halo Top grew more than five-fold last year, making it one of the most popular ice cream brands in the freezer isle – right up there with Haagen Dazs and Ben and Jerrys.
That's good for the company. But is it good for you?
Let’s look at the ingredients in the most basic Halo Top offering:
Vanilla Halo Top:
Skim milk, eggs, erythritol, prebiotic fiber, milk protein concentrate, cream, organic cane sugar, vegetable glycerin, natural flavor, sea salt, vanilla beans, organic carob gum, organic guar gum, organic stevia leaf extract.
Milk, eggs, cream, sea salt, vanilla beans – got it. But what about all the other stuff?
- Erythritol - A sugar substitute that looks and tastes like sugar, erythritol is a sugar alcohol. It’s also a member of the low-calorie artificial sweetener family, and if you’re a regular reader of this blog you already know that artificial sweeteners have multiple deleterious health effects. In addition, some people report side effects such as diarrhea, stomach upset, and headache after consuming regular amounts of erythritol in foods or beverages.
- Prebiotic fiber – Another name for inulin, a common fiber additive. It’s a “short chain” fiber that can lead to significant digestive distress because it can literally ferment inside your intestines, causing gas and abdominal pain. If you’ve had issues with inulin-containing foods in the past, you should probably avoid Halo Top.
- Vegetable glycerin - Vegetable glycerin, or glycerol, is a clear, odorless liquid produced from plant oils, typically palm oil, soy, or coconut oil. Because it has a sweet taste, it is used in foods to boost sweetness without increasing carbohydrate load. It’s also a hydrating agent, and a central component of glycerin soap, lotions - and suppositories.
- Natural flavor - Added flavoring, both natural and artificial, can contain anywhere from 50 to 100 ingredients, including solvents and preservatives that can make up to 90 percent of the volume of the additive. Yes, it's only a tiny amount – unless you’re habitually eating 4 servings of ice cream at a time.
- Carob and guar gum - Gums are mostly comprised of indigestible polysaccharides (chains of sugar molecules). Food manufacturers love gums because they have unique properties that add desirable texture and/or shelf life to processed foods. All gum additives appear to influence the makeup of our gut bacteria, the full extent of which is not fully studied or understood. Given the central role of the microbiome in our health, this is not an inconsequential consideration.
- Stevia extract – 200 times sweeter than sugar, stevia extract contains no calories and comes from the stevia plant. But just because it has zero calories and comes from a plant does not make it perfect. The chemical name for stevia extract is Rebaudioside A and this comes with no antioxidants or micronutrients typically associated with plant-based foods. Emerging data reveals that stevia extract might interact with various medications – such as those used to control blood pressure and cholesterol.
The point of this blog is not to pick on Halo Top. This ice cream brand is not the problem – it’s a symptom of the problem.
Pardon the pun, but there is no such thing as a free lunch. Manufacturers want you to believe that some attribute of their food is so compelling that you should eat it with wild abandon. But nutrition is FAR more complex and, let's be honest, incompletely understood. Which is why we are best off following the dietary examples of humans who have experienced exceptional longevity because they're obviously doing something right. That means eating REAL food (without additives, stabilizers, artificial anything), in reasonable amounts, while making plants a core component of our diets.
Because if you fill up on beans, greens, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables first, you won’t have room for a pint of “healthy ice cream”.