Halo Top isn’t shy about marketing their ice cream as healthy. They make explicit claims to that effect all over their website and packaging. Now that Halo Top is becoming more mainstream, I think it’s time to see if they put their money where their mouth is.
I’m seeing Halo Top everywhere lately. People are mentioning it on Facebook, telling me about it in the offline world, and emailing to ask if they should be eating it or avoiding it.
I’m even seeing their crazy ads on YouTube…
When things that are marketed as “healthy” start to become part of the mainstream and affect lots of people, it’s my job to jump in and sort out fact from fiction.
Let’s get to it…
Is Halo Top Ice Cream healthy? Here’s what nutritionists said (and why they’re mostly wrong)…
In doing some research for this article I came across various quotes from nutritionists. Here’s what three of them had to say (and my thoughts)…
Marion Nestle – Professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University
“Marketing ice cream as healthy is an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one. This fits perfectly in the category of ‘just because it’s a slightly better choice does not mean that it is a good choice.’”
Saying that something called “ice cream” can’t be healthy isn’t an argument. In order to answer the question, you have to grade actual aspects of the food in question. Frankly, I would expect a professor of nutrition to not be so intellectually lazy.
Sharon Akabas – Associate director of the Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University
“While less caloric than regular ice cream, a pint of Halo Top still contains more than 10% of the daily recommended limit … With two-thirds of the US adult population overweight or obese, we don’t have much wiggle room for ‘discretionary calories … [most nutritionists and health organizations define a healthy diet as eating] fewer processed foods, and selecting a dietary pattern rich in plant-based foods. Halo Top is neither … [the term “healthy”] is not “standardized or regulated by any official or even knowledgeable organization. Because of that, anything can be marketed as healthy.”
The “recommended daily limit” is subjective nonsense, which makes this part of her argument nonsensical. Every human being is different and has a different caloric need. In fact, any given individual’s caloric need changes on a day to day basis. This is a core truth about calories.
Let’s move on to her comments about wiggle room in the diet. This is not an analysis of Halo Top ice cream. Every calorie is a “discretionary calorie” – you eat at your own discretion. There is no “optimal diet” you can achieve. The fact is that any human being can include Halo Top ice cream in their diet and not become overweight or obese. This is a non-starter.
What about her statements about the definition of a healthy diet? It’s true that most nutritionists and health organizations define a healthy diet as eating fewer processed foods and selecting a dietary pattern rich in plant-based foods. It’s also true that they’re wrong on a lot of things. It’s also true that nutrition research is some of the most manipulated research of any sector. It’s also true that nobody knows for sure what every single human being needs or doesn’t need.
Yes, it’s generally a great idea to limit “processed foods” and eat plants. It’s also a good idea to eat high-quality animals. It also might be a good idea to eat Halo Top ice cream. We don’t know yet because none of these lazy nutritionists have made an actual argument against Halo Top that scrutinizes the details of the product itself.
Barry Popkin – Professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina
Fortune Magazine notes that professor Popkin, “has questions regarding erythritol, the sugar alcohol additive Halo Top uses in its recipe in order to cut back on sugar” and worries that “the company’s messaging will reinforces bad eating habits, as it runs in direct opposition to one of the basic tenets of maintaining a balanced diet: moderation.”
Finally, someone who actually looked at Halo Top, chose a factor, and offered criticism! One out of three ain’t bad, I guess.
I, too, am concerned about erythritol as I’ll get to more in a moment. I, too, worry about the messaging and the impact it may have on people’s relationship with food. So, props to Barry Popkin for his thoughts.
Halo Top ingredients: A closer look.
If you want to know whether something is generally healthy or not, it’s best to start with the ingredients.
Halo Top offers many different flavors and all have different ingredients. Rather than cover every single flavor, I’ll isolate one of the “cleaner” flavors an compare it to one of the flavors with more ingredients.
Halo Top Vanilla Bean – Ingredients
Milk and cream, eggs, erythritol, prebiotic fiber, milk protein concentrate, organic cane sugar, vegetable glycerin, vanilla extract, vanilla beans, sea salt, organic carob gum, organic guar gum, organic stevia.
Issues: I’m not a fan of sugar alcohols (erythritol) and I’m not a fan of a lot of gums (carob gum, guar gum).
I have no issues with stevia (natural, sugar-free sweetener) or any of the other ingredients.
For comparison, Häagen-Dazs Vanilla Bean has cleaner ingredients: Cream, Skim Milk, Cane Sugar, Egg Yolks, Ground Vanilla Beans, Vanilla Extract.
Halo Top Candy Crunch – Ingredients
Milk and cream, eggs, erythritol, milk protein concentrate, organic cane sugar, prebiotic fiber, roasted peanuts, vegetable glycerin, caramel swirl (corn syrup, nonfat milk, sugar, butter, salt, natural flavor, soy lecithin), chocolate swirl (sugar, sweetened condensed skim milk [sugar, water, nonfat milk solids], corn syrup, coconut oil, cocoa [processed with alkali], butter, bittersweet chocolate [chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa, soy lecithin, natural flavor], sea salt, natural flavor), high fat cocoa, sea salt, natural flavors, organic carob gum, organic guar gum, organic stevia.
Issues: The same issues I mentioned with the vanilla bean ingredients, plus corn syrup & soy lecithin.
Do I think you should avoid this product because it has gums, sugar alcohols, corn syrup, and soy lecithin? I’m not saying that. I’ll give you a full conclusion in a moment.
What I *will* say is that you’ll be hard-pressed to find a complex ice cream flavor from any brand that has cleaner ingredients.
How does Halo Top ice cream taste sweet if it’s so low calorie?
Most ice cream is delicious because it’s super creamy (and fatty) and rich (sugar). That typically leads to one conclusion: calories for days.
Halo Top has taken a very managed approach to their product. Their success comes from these factors:
- They didn’t try and go fat-free. That would have ruined the creaminess.
- They didn’t try to go sugar-free. That would have been disgusting and/or resulted in Halo Top being a chemical shit storm.
- They didn’t go ultra-low-cal. That would have required a combo of the first two points.
- They didn’t go vegan or dairy-free. Again, that would have been nasty.
In terms of achieving the proper sweetness without a ton of calories and sugar, the success comes from a 3-point combination of real sugar, sugar alcohol, and stevia.
Real sugar by itself would be high calorie and more metabolically destructive.
Sugar alcohol by itself wouldn’t achieve the right flavor profile (and would cause more digestive issues – more on that in a moment).
Stevia by itself would not achieve the right flavor profile.
The combination-approach is how Halo Top achieved the taste without all the calories. It’s well done and I applaud them for not using chemical sweeteners like Sucralose.
Sugar Alcohols – A potential Achilles heel for Halo Top?
Sugar alcohols are polyols – a naturally occurring carbohydrate. They’re used heavily in sugar-free gums because they’re sweet to the tongue, aren’t disruptive to blood sugar, and are naturally resistant to fermentation by oral bacteria.
Our gut bacteria do ferment sugar alcohols though and the results can be quite, umm, disruptive for many people. Common side effects of sugar alcohol consumption (or over-consumption) include bloating, gas, and abdominal pain. For this reason, I wouldn’t recommend Halo Top ice cream for people with sensitive guts or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
There are many different sugar alcohols. Halo Top uses erythritol, so we’ll take a closer look at that one.
Erythritol is almost non-caloric (0.2 calories per gram) and about 60-70% as sweet as sugar. It has a glycemic index of 0, so it won’t spike your insulin or your blood sugar (but don’t forget that Halo Top contains cane sugar as well).
The best part about erythritol is that it appears to have the fewest instances of gut disruption. When it comes to sugar alcohols, it’s one of the best.
If you’re sensitive, though, Halo Top probably isn’t a good idea. There are multiple videos of Halo Top eaters on YouTube complaining about the side effects and claiming that they had to stop consuming the product altogether.
It should be noted that most of these people seem to have been eating Halo Top every day. If you’re not abusing Halo Top, you may not have any issues. This is an area where you have to pay attention to your individual body. If you start experiencing issues, stop eating it.
Is Halo Top an eating psychology train wreck?
I’m less interested in scrutinizing ingredients and more interested in human behavior.
Most failure in health and fitness can be attributed to mindset and psychology, not calories, ingredients, and sugar. If you don’t have a healthy relationship with food, you’re not going to win long-term. Period.
This is why our Decode Your Cravings program is so popular. It’s the most powerful eating psychology program available online and the missing the link for men and women who struggle with consistency and long-term success.
With that said, here are my 5 biggest criticisms of Halo Top ice cream:
- A pint may easily become the new “serving size” for you. Halo Top promotes this explicitly (“stop when you get to the bottom”) so it’s likely you’ll take heed.
- A pint may easily become the new daily dessert for you. You know you can’t eat regular ice cream every day and still reach your goals. But Halo Top isn’t like regular ice cream, is it? The wheels of rationalization turn quickly.
- Halo Top might cause many additional cravings for you. At 20g of sugar per pint, Halo Top is still going to put you on the blood sugar roller coaster. This means follow-up cravings where you’re very likely to reach for destructive foods.
- Halo Top may be less about ice cream and more about rationalization for you. “I shouldn’t medicate/cope/etc. with ice cream, but Halo Top isn’t really ice cream.” … “I can’t normally have ice cream on a healthy eating plan, but a little Halo Top won’t hurt.” … “I’ll just have a little bit each day.” Halo Top, like cheat days, puts you in danger of never shedding your old relationship with food.
- Halo Top may disconnect you from your needs. With regular ice cream, it’s important to listen to your body and know why you’re wanting ice cream. Do you want it for pure enjoyment or are you using it as a crutch? All the rationalization that comes with Halo Top is likely to lead you to skip that “check in” process – ignoring your body/Self and diving in without regard.
Make no mistake, those are legit concerns. Many won’t pay attention to the points I’ve made here because they can’t connect with the importance.
I’ve worked with thousands of men and women in over 35 countries around the world. When I say that these are the most important factors to consider, I mean it.
Don’t take this lightly. Halo Top can easily do untold destruction to your relationship with food.
The best part about Halo Top ice cream that I didn’t expect from a “healthy” ice cream.
Let’s be honest – it’s really difficult to make a healthier ice cream.
The truth is, you have to cheat a little bit. A few gums here, some sugar alternatives there. I get it.
Halo Top has done the “healthy dessert” thing better than almost any other brand though. Why? Because they stuck with real milk, cream, and whole eggs.
Most “healthy” snacks and desserts focus intently on calories and fat. They’re typically very high in sugar in order to be low in fat (or they use nasty fake sugars like Sucralose and aspartame).
They use poor quality fats and inflammatory oils because they’re deathly afraid of using saturated fat (for no good reason).
Halo Top has done none of this nonsense. The main ingredients are the real deal and I give them props for not screwing that up.
Halo Top ice cream flavors ranked lowest to highest in calories.
While I encourage everyone to stop focusing on the calories-in, calories-out model of weight control, it can still be helpful to know which choices are better than others (assuming your goal is to not overeat).
With that said, here are the Halo Top flavors ranked lowest calorie count to highest calorie count…
|Pancakes and Waffles||280|
|Chocolate Covered Banana||280|
|Chocolate Mocha Chip||320|
|Cookies and Cream||320|
|Sea Salt Caramel||320|
|Peanut Butter Cup||320|
|Chocolate Almond Crunch||320|
|Mochi Green Tea||320|
|Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough||360|
|Pumpkin Pie (seasonal)||360|
Halo Top ice cream flavors ranked lowest to highest in sugar.
Keep in mind that these are grams per serving, not per pint…
|Flavor||Sugar content in grams||**Sugar Alcohol in grams|
|Chocolate Almond Crunch||5||5|
|Mochi Green Tea||5||5|
|Chocolate Mocha Chip||6||6|
|Peanut Butter Cup||6||5|
|Chocolate Covered Banana||6||5|
|Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough||7||5|
|Cookies and Cream||7||5|
|Sea Salt Caramel||7||5|
|Pancakes and Waffles||7||5|
|Pumpkin Pie (seasonal)||7||5|
Be wary of the ingredients in these Halo Top flavors…
Not all Halo Top ice cream flavors are created equally. If you’re going to go for some Halo Top, I’d recommend keeping it simple.
Here are the flavors that have the most not-so-stellar ingredients. Limit these more than the others…
- Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
- Birthday Cake
- Chocolate Mocha Chip
- Peanut Butter Cup
- Cookies & Cream
- Sea Salt Caramel
- Red Velvet
- Cinnamon Roll
- Pancakes & Waffles
- Chocolate Covered Banana
- Mochi Green Tea
- Candy Bar
- Caramel Macchiato
- Pumpkin Pie
Where can I buy Halo Top ice cream?
Halo Top ice cream is probably stocked in your local grocery store, especially if that store has a natural foods section.
If you can’t find it, you can request that your story carry it (talk to the manager) or go to Halo Top’s website and search for stores near you.
Founder of Rebooted Body and host of The Rebooted Body Podcast. Kevin helps men and women finally get a body and life they love with his unique blend of real food, functional movement, and psychology. To work with him personally, choose a program.