Give me real ice cream or give me kale!

By Lauren Mazzo
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Everyone and their mom is "into health and fitness" these days-and don't get me wrong, that's great. Only good things can come from having more healthy, happy people in this world. (Yay workout endorphins and vegetables!)

But because these topics are ~super trendy~ RN, people looove to share what they're doing every step of the way-including endorsing workouts or diets they love, and trying things they've seen other people blast on the Internet. It's like the modern-day, adult version of peer pressure: If everyone is going Paleo, and doing juice cleanses, and Instagramming from SoulCycle, you should probably do it too, right? If it worked for them, it's gotta work for you. (BTW, social media isn't always great for your health.)

And that's exactly what's happening with this damn ice cream.

ICYMI, "healthy" ice cream brands are blowing up too. Halo Top, Arctic Zero, and Enlightened are debatably the best-loved brands (at least on Insta), and clock in at just 240 to 300 calories per pint. Then there's Wink Desserts, which boasts a 100-calorie pint (say whaaaa). In one 1/2-cup serving from their chocolate pints, Halo Top, Arctic Zero, and Enlightened each have about 35 to 60 calories, 3 to 5g of protein, 3 to 5g of sugar, and 0 to 2g of fat. Wink has just 25 calories, 2g protein, 0g sugar, and 0.5g fat. Their nutritional facts (compared to 1/2 cup of chocolate Häagen-Dazs, which has 260 calories, 5g protein, 19g sugar, and 17g fat) seem like straight magic, am I right?

For this exact reason, when I first tried these ice creams about a year ago, I was hooked. The kinda-bloated feeling and weird aftertaste were worth the fact that I could eat an entire pint of this low-calorie, high-fiber, high-protein ice cream and still be within the caloric and macronutrient parameters of having a "healthy" day. The flavors were surprisingly diverse and totally filled my stomach while satisfying my raging sweet tooth. Not to mention, it was so low-cal that I could afford to top it with peanut butter, cereal, banana, and whatever other treats I wanted. "This is the perpetually hangry fit girl's dream," I thought, and immediately told all my friends to try it. (You'll die at this if you know what it's like to be constantly hungry.)

Somewhere along the way, I forgot about this ice cream. I never made the distinct decision to stop eating it, but instead, I was treating myself with full-fat Ben and Jerry's on the weekends. Yeah, I couldn't dietarily "afford" to eat these treats every night, but some chocolate and a spoonful of peanut butter were enough to satiate my sweet tooth for the night, and the occasional splurge on a high-fat, high-sugar, high-cal treat felt 100 percent welcome.

One day, I found myself with not one but six free pints of this "healthy" ice cream. I proudly brought it home and told my roommate she was going to be ~obsessed~ because we could basically eat all of them in one sitting and it'd be totally chill. We snuggled in with a chick flick, a bottle of wine, two spoons, some pints, and went to work. (Zero shame.) After a few spoonfuls, we looked at each other and put them down. Bleh. I had zero desire to put this meh-tasting ice cream in my mouth just for the sake of it being healthy. I no longer wanted to eat an entire pint of this stuff just because I could. Six months later, we still hadn't reopened them. The freezer-burned cartons ended up in the trash during spring cleaning.

While my fascination with these "healthy" ice creams has waned, the social media fanbase seems to be gaining steam. I see proud selfies and product shots posted by every fit-fluencer I follow, and every time I see one on my newsfeed, I can still taste the mediocrity in my mouth.

The thing with insanely healthy processed treats is this: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. To me (and many other health professionals who are experts on this stuff), healthy eating is about eating fresh, whole foods-foods that humans have messed with as little as possible.

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Just think about it: If they took out the calories, fat, and sugar (the things that naturally make things taste delish), how the hell do companies make this stuff taste good? Take your eyes off the nutritional facts and take a look at the ingredients instead. Chances are, anything that's devoid of sugar but still tastes sweet is full of sugar alcohols: erythritol, xylitol, and many other ingredients that end in "-ol." (Check out your sugarless chewing gum.) Those little guys are great for causing bloating and digestion issues. (Here's what else you need to know about sugar alcohols.) You'll also likely see carob gum and/or guar gum, a thickener that may cause your gut to overproduce bacteria. While none these ingredients are outright *eViL*, I'm not the biggest fan of bloating.

That chocolate Häagen-Dazs may have more fat and sugar in one serving than the others have in the entire pint, but at least the ingredients are things you could find in your fridge: cream, skim milk, sugar, processed cocoa, and egg yolks. Plus, the fat in regular ice cream can help satiate you so you might not even want to eat the whole thing. The milk gives you some much-needed calcium to help fight osteoporosis. Your mouth (and gut) will probably be happier too. And isn't that better than 300 throwaway calories?

All that aside, tell me which sounds better: enjoying a little bit of indulgent ice cream or teaching yourself to tolerate an imposter? I'm not saying that these "healthy" ice creams don't taste good to some people. But if you've had real ice cream anytime in the last month, you'll know that the frozen treat touching your taste buds is a sham. Personally, I'd choose to treat myself to just one or two scoops of Edy's slow-churned or Talenti gelato (because that ish is GOOD)-not fill my belly to the brim with something that's second-rate. (I also love burpees, so maybe I'm just an extremist?)

In a society obsessed with more, more, more, the allure of this "healthy" ice cream is that it offers a way to have your cake (er, ice cream?) and eat it too. It says, "Yes, you can binge on me and still feel healthy." It says, "There's no need for portion control-lick the bottom of the carton. It's totally cool." The focus is on quantity over quality. But is it really a treat if there's nothing inherently treat-like about it? If you want a dessert, you should have a freaking dessert.

I'm not saying I have a perfect relationship with food (does anyone, really?). I may eat that whole pint of gelato if I feel like it. I'm not saying "healthy" ice cream is the only problem; there are plenty of questionable low-cal foods that I'd argue against in the same way. I'm also not saying you have to agree with me. Each person's health and fitness ~journey~ is different. If you want to eat "healthy" ice cream, then, by all means, do so. We all have our vices.

As for me? I feel better with a whole lot of kale and a generous scoop of full-fat Phish Food-and I'm going to Instagram that. Because life is too freakin' short to eat ice cream you don't like.

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Anonymous
April 14, 2017
While I'm sure these are trendy with the "I'm already skinny but I need to lose 5 pounds" crowd, the bulk of people that I see eating and enjoying them are those who choose to for health reasons - AKA, "I have diabetes/prediabetes, high c[filtered]sterol, etc and I need to lose REAL weight". Low-carb and keto weight management systems find these ice creams to be fully suitable alternatives to high sugar, blood glucose-spiking 'real' ice creams. So yes, if you want to eat the 'real' ice cream, I'm glad you find it an allowable indulgence. But for many MILLIONS of people who are wisely ditching carbs to save their lives, these 'imposter' ice creams are the difference between success and failure. If someone is foolish enough to sit down and eat 6 pints of Halo ice cream, they deserve the bloat and stomach discomfort that comes with it.