Is dairy-free ice cream actually better for you?

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OK, I’m just going to say right up front that as a nutritionist, I would never categorize ice cream as health food per se. But lately several seemingly healthier versions of the sweet stuff have appeared on the market, and a few brands are flying off su-permarket shelves. Before you grab a spoon and dig into any of these better-for-you pints, here’s a look at a few popular options, and what you should keep in mind.
Halo Top made headlines this month when it became the best-selling pint of ice cream in the country, surpassing top brands like Ben & Jerry’s. In addition to milk, cream, and eggs, Halo Top’s ingre-dients include fiber, milk protein concentrate, and the sweeteners stevia and erythritol. The latter is a type of sugar alcohol, which tastes sweet but doesn’t get absorbed like regular sugar, or raise blood sugar levels.
As a result, a pint of Halo Top contains just 240 calories, with up to 24 grams of protein, and nearly 50% of the Daily Value for fiber. That’s a better nutritional profile than traditional ice cream. But still, Halo Top is a treat—just one with less sugar, fewer calories, and more protein and fiber.
In other words, it’s not a good idea to polish off a pint every night—or to eat one in place of dinner (which a few of my clients admit they occasionally do). Another caveat: Erythritol can cause bloating and gas in some people.
Enlightened, which is marketed as “ice cream that’s good for you,” is similar to Halo Top. The product’s makers start with skim milk and add milk protein isolate (to bump up the protein), fiber, erythritol, and monk fruit extract—another natural, no-calorie sweetener that has become popular alongside stevia. The macro-nutrient numbers are pretty similar to Halo Top’s. It’s worth mentioning that like stevia, monk fruit extract is 150 to 300 times sweeter than sugar. Anecdotally, some of my clients find that the intense sweetness actually stokes their sweet tooth, rather than satisfying it. And some say they don’t like the aftertaste.
Snow Monkey, which is currently only available in two flavors (cacao and goji berry), is a dairy-free ice cream alternative made from bananas, hemp seed protein powder, sunflower butter, and either fruit or maple syrup as the sweetener. While not that low-cal at about 400 calories per pint, it provides 20 grams of protein, and nearly half of the daily rec-ommended fiber intake. A full pint of the cacao also packs over 60% of a day’s iron and vitamin C needs. Impressive, but remember, polishing off a pint in one sitting doesn’t qualify as healthy eating!