Heard of the popular protein-packed ice cream brands flying off supermarket shelves?
Brands include Halo Top, Chilly Cow, Enlightened and big name producers like Breyers. There are many others.
They’re marketed as healthy ice cream, containing skim milk, protein and far less sugar. Flavors range from oatmeal cookie to chocolate-covered banana – and there are dairy-free versions, too. The cost is around $6, compared to the average $4 for a pint of typical ice cream.
Could it be too good to be true?
Fans of protein ice cream say it’s healthy due to the reduced fat and sugar within the average serving size, along with the added protein. One protein ice cream brand has an average of 2 grams of fat and 6 grams of sugar, while competitors have 16-17 grams of fat and 20 grams of sugar. However, the trick is getting protein ice cream to be as creamy and delicious as the original stuff we know and love.
Registered dietitians help us make smart choices.
“Proceed with caution. At the end of the day, it is still ice cream. It should still be considered a treat.” said Kimberly Spatola, a registered dietitian at Novant Health.
Spatola said while it is healthier to have the recommended half cup serving size of protein ice cream compared to traditional ice cream, moderation is key. “I do not recommend eating the whole pint,” she said.
“Rather, look for a different treat with the shortest ingredient list possible. Make sure you can read all of the ingredients.”
Protein ice cream uses skim milk in production, while typical ice cream brands use cream. Skim milk and protein powder – another ingredient – add up to around 5 grams of protein for the average half cup serving size. That compares to 3-4 grams for traditional ice cream.
Spatola said consumers are better off getting their protein from other sources. “Go for more of a whole food base, with chicken, meat and beans for plant-based protein. You’ll get the most protein per volume.”
Spatola noted that some protein ice creams use substitute sweeteners, including sugar replacements. “Sugar alcohols are used to sweeten the product and for a lot of people it can cause stomach problems. It makes something sweet but your body cannot digest it. It can cause some gas and bloating. It is not something good long term for the digestive system.”
At the end of the day, protein ice cream is still a treat and should be treated as one. Portion control is still important.