Halo Top is flying off store shelves. The low-calorie, high-protein, low-sugar ice-cream alternative is the best-selling pint in America. You may love it or you may hate it, but you definitely have an opinion about it. LIVESTRONG.COM food editor (and Halo Top skeptic) Erin Mosbaugh, LIVESTRONG.COM marketing specialist (and Halo Top superfan) Candace Kim and c__linical nutritionist Jennifer Cassetta weigh the pros and cons of America’s frozen dessert obsession.
Food Editor: Is America’s best-selling ice cream, Halo Top, a dieter’s holy grail, or is it everything that’s wrong with the country’s eating habits? The seal on top of the carton cheekily suggests that you “stop when you hit the bottom.” Sure, you could eat the entire pint — which ranges from 240 to 360 calories, depending on the flavor — but isn’t that encouraging bad eating habits like binging?
Nutritionist: It depends on the person. There are unicorns out there that can eat just one serving of ice cream, potato chips or other indulgences — but they are rare. The serving size for ice cream is half a cup, which for most people is a bit unrealistic. But eating a whole pint of ice cream, regardless of the brand, is overkill and can lead to and exacerbate poor eating habits like binging.
The truth is that Halo Top contains less actual ice cream per serving than a full-fat, premium ice cream. A pint of full-fat ice cream weighs almost double of what a pint of Halo Top weighs. Regular ice cream weighs more because it contains more sugar and fat than Halo Top. Less is more in the case of regular ice cream.
Halo Top’s popularity is partially due to being marketed as low in calories and high in protein (20 grams per pint). I have news for you: Most Americans are not protein-deficient and certainly don’t need protein at dessert too, especially when that protein is coming from milk protein concentrate (MPC). MPCs are what’s left over when you process milk and remove the lactose (milk sugar) to make it lower in carbs. It’s then dried to make a powder. It’s not exactly a healthy whole food.
Halo Top Fan: If I’m going to have the whole 300-calorie pint, it’s going to replace a meal. I’ll have Halo Top as my dinner. I look at it and I look at things like a protein shake, and it’s kind of similar nutrition-wise, so I’m like, “f*ck it — it’s kind of like having a protein shake for dinner.” Halo Top is low in carbs, low in fats and mostly protein, and that’s what I aim for in most of my meals.
Food Editor: What happened to sitting down with a scoop of your favorite creamy, full-fat ice cream and telling yourself, “This is a treat. I deserve this. I don’t do it every night, but it’s worth it when I do”? What happened to portion control? Maybe, just maybe, when a treat is higher-quality and higher in fat, you can eat less and be satisfied.
Nutritionist: Full-fat foods do satiate more than low-fat versions of those same foods. (Remember the SnackWell’s cookie craze?) Therefore, in theory, it is correct that you could eat less and be satisfied on a physiological level. However, many times we go for sweets for emotional reasons. We treat ourselves as a reward or comfort ourselves after a hard day. When this is the case, we tend to overindulge because “we deserve it.” Coming to grips with emotional eating can be tough, and foods we are encouraged to overeat (“stop when you hit the bottom” comes to mind) are the foods emotional eaters should try to avoid.
It can take our brain about 20 minutes to register fullness, but by then we could have downed an entire pint of ice cream. The trick here is to eat indulgent treats slowly enough for the brain to catch up with the stomach. Take smaller bites, put your spoon down in between bites and acknowledge that you are indulging in a treat. Sit down and eat mindfully instead of wolfing it down while standing beside the fridge.
Halo Top Fan: Sure, eating real ice cream would probably be more satisfying. But, for whatever reason, I’d still have some amount of guilt associated with it. Halo Top satisfies that ice-cream craving, but I don’t feel too guilty about having eaten it afterward.
Food Editor: In my humble opinion, the consistency of Halo Top is off-putting — it’s like mousse that was left to sit out and dry up — and the added sweeteners, stevia and erythritol, taste cloyingly sweet to me. And what about the danger in consuming those sweeteners? Erythritol is said to cause diarrhea and headaches in some people, especially when consumed in large quantities. (I’m just making assumptions here, but I think an entire pint qualifies as a “large quantity,” so don’t blame me when you go running to the toilet.)
Nutritionist: Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that does not get metabolized by the body and therefore doesn’t cost you any calories. Sugar alcohols have been blamed for gastrointestinal distress when consumed in large amounts. I would agree that a pint of Halo Top is a large amount. If you do have digestive issues after eating any product, you should probably stop eating said product. Again, it’s probably not a good idea to eat a whole pint of ice cream, regardless of the sweeteners used.
Halo Top Fan: I know sugar substitutes probably aren’t the best, but I don’t really consume much of them in the first place, so I don’t feel bad consuming them sparingly. In terms of taste: It’s not real ice cream — I can tell that it’s not — but it’s pretty damn close. And it’s a lot creamier and a lot less watered down than other healthy ice creams I’ve tasted.
Food Editor: Ultimately, I think Halo Top is a perfect representation of our culture’s confusing relationship with food. Americans have been conditioned to think quantity is more important than quality. We’ve lost the ability to sit with a reasonable portion of a real, whole, high-quality food and savor it slowly and mindfully. I’ll be the first to admit that I sometimes have a problem doing this — but I don’t think eating a low-calorie ice-cream substitute by the pint is the solution to my mindless eating habits.
Nutritionist: I’m with you on this one. American culture does seem to ignore portion control, and it’s evident in the size of our meat, starch and dairy dishes. We’ve become obsessed with calories and grams of protein, and we tend to ignore the quality of foods actually consumed. Mindless eating is rampant, and we have come so far from knowing where our food comes from and how it is made. I think a shift toward mindfulness and knowing a food__’s origin could make a huge impact on the obesity rates and disease statistics in this country.
My biggest issue with Halo Top (and many other ice creams, for that matter) is the nonorganic dairy they use. The cream and milk protein is not organic, which means that it comes from cows that probably eat GMO feed and are pumped with antibiotics. Fortunately, Halo Top does claim that its product is free of synthetic growth hormones. If I’m going to indulge in ice cream, I try my best to consume organic dairy whenever possible. Therefore, I won’t be filling up my shopping cart with Halo Top anytime soon.
Halo Top Fan: I don’t know what the average Halo Top customer is like, but most of the people that I know who are fans of it — myself included — are health-conscious. We see it as a way to satisfy an ice-cream craving without feeling bad about it. For me, the alternative is not having ice cream at all.
What Do YOU Think?
Have you tried Halo Top? Are you a hater or a superfan? Let us know in the comments!