Are protein-rich ice creams truly healthy?

Are protein-rich ice creams truly healthy? - Photo by Michelle Tsang
Are protein-rich ice creams truly healthy? – Photo by Michelle Tsang

High-protein ice cream has gained popularity in recent years due to its lower calorie and sugar content. But does less calories and sugar mean “healthier”? No way. Define health differently. An overview of the most popular higher-protein ice creams, along with my thoughts on how healthy they are.


Arctic Zero contains water, faba (or fava) bean protein, sugar, allulose, sugar cane fiber, thickeners, and monk fruit (another sugar). This dessert has 2 g of protein per serving and 6 g per pint. So it’s low in protein. It contains 8 grams of fiber per pint from fava beans and sugar cane fiber. Arctic Zero has only 160 calories per pint of vanilla. Arctic Zero is devoid of vitamins and minerals.


Skim milk, eggs, cream, some sugar, sugar substitutes, and sugar alcohols are used in enlightened frozen desserts. A look at the ingredient list reveals that corn fiber is listed second only to skim milk, with 8 grams per 2/3 cup serving and 24 grams per pint. The high sugar alcohol content (4 grams per serving, 12 grams per pint) may cause severe GI distress, including bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Enlightened has 5 grams of sugar, 1 gram of which is added. Enlightened’s protein source appears to be skim milk (7 g per serving, 21 g per pint). It has 2.5 grams of fat per serving and 8 grams per pint, and 100 calories per serving or 300 calories per pint. Enlightened, like Arctic Zero, lacks vitamins and minerals, but has some calcium (likely from skim milk).


Halo Top shares many ingredients with Enlightened, including skim milk, erythritol, corn fiber, cream, sugar, eggs, and thickeners. Halo Top also contains stevia and inulin, a fiber. A 2/3 cup serving of Halo Top has 100 calories, and a pint has 290. 8 g erythritol per serving, 23 g per pint, 6 g fiber per serving, 18 g per pint. 7 g sugar per serving (3 g added), 14 g per pint Also, like Enlightened, the high sugar alcohol and fiber content increase the risk of GI distress. 6 g protein per serving, 19 g per pint, likely from skim milk.


Two-thirds of a cup of Breyers vanilla ice cream contains 170 calories, 9 grams of fat (0 g fiber), 19 grams of sugar (14 g added), and 3 grams of protein. It also has a moderate calcium content. Regular ice cream contains only milk, cream, sugar, a thickener, and vanilla. There is more fat in Breyer’s, which takes longer to digest, and no sugar alcohols or substitutes (which may leave you craving more sugar!).


There is a lot of emphasis on eating the whole pint of these frozen desserts, presumably because they are lower in calories than ice cream and thus can be eaten guilt-free. This implies that eating regular ice cream is a sin. This message is derived from diet culture and is not “healthy.”

If we define health as nutrient density, then neither these high-protein “ice creams” nor ice cream itself are technically “healthy.” But health can and should be defined more broadly. My definition includes a healthy relationship with food, eating without guilt or shame, variety, and nutrient density. It’s difficult to check all of these boxes with every meal or snack. That’s why diet variety is vital. These desserts can all be “healthy” for you if you eat them without guilt or shame because you enjoy them. Diet ice cream may be “healthy” for you if you eat it as part of a restrictive diet because regular ice cream causes guilt, shame, and/or GI distress.

I always tell my clients to think about why they eat certain foods to determine if they are healthy at the time. You can eat whatever dessert you want as part of a varied, plant-forward diet if you answer that question.

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