Every child dreams of eating ice cream for breakfast. Then they grow up and realize that they can eat ice cream whenever they want — if they’re willing to sweat out the consequences at the gym. Several new dessert brands want to make your childhood dreams come true: They’ve turned ice cream into a health food. Kind of.
Brands such as Halo Top and Enlightened offer ice cream so low in calories that you could eat a whole pint without guilt. Some of these companies have infused their ice creams with protein and other nutrients. And even though the calorie counts are displayed prominently, they have attractive branding that’s suggestive of a more indulgent product — not a sad diet “frozen dessert.”
Some of the ice creams also promise that they taste just like regular, full-fat ice creams. So, we put them to the test, staging a blind tasting of four brands of healthful ice creams, each chocolate-flavored, with some regular Häagen-Dazs thrown into the mix. The taste-testers were not alerted to the presence of full-fat ice cream. If these brands really tasted like real ice cream, would their scores rival the Häagen-Dazs, which has nearly 1,000 calories in a single pint?
Ha ha. Hahahaha. Oh, bless their hearts. You will be shocked — shocked! — to learn that when we totaled up the scores, the full-fat ice cream was the clear winner, scoring an average of 3.8 points out of 5. That’s nearly twice as many points as the second-place brand. “This tastes like ice cream!” one of our poor, duped testers commented, excitedly. Sweetheart, that’s because it was.
The rest of the diet ice creams — some are dairy-free “frozen desserts” — did not fare nearly as well. Still, some were better than others. In order from worst to best:
Arctic Zero Fit Frozen Dessert — Purely Chocolate
Average score: 1
Calories per pint: 150
Attributes: 3 grams of protein and 2 grams of dietary fiber per serving, gluten-free, lactose-free, nonfat, low glycemic index, “made with the finest quality whey protein” and “antioxidant-rich monk fruit,” “nutrition-packed to boost energy [and] improve muscle tone.”
Found locally in select locations of Target, Whole Foods, Giant, Safeway, Streets Market.
Our tasters said: “Consistency of a very bad fudgsicle.” “There is no indulgence in this.” “Chalky and horrible.” “This sucks all the fun out of dessert.” “Nobody should eat this.”
Cado Avocado Frozen Dessert — Deep Dark Chocolate
Average score: 1.05, a virtual tie for the bottom
Calories per pint: 600
Attributes: Soy-free, gluten-free, vegan, 220 milligrams of potassium and 4 grams of dietary fiber per serving, “A whole avocado in every pint!”
Found locally at Wegmans.
Our tasters said: “It’s like way overripe fruit bathed in canola oil.” “Petroleum.” “I spit it out.” “Weird greasy banana chocolate.” “Am I in a secret CIA prison?”
Enlightened, ‘The Good-For-You Ice Cream’ — Triple Chocolate
Average score: 1.3
Calories per pint: 360
Attributes: 5 grams of dietary fiber and 7 grams of protein per serving, low glycemic index, sweetened with erythritol and monk fruit, “more protein, less sugar,” “Notice: Due to extreme deliciousness, high likelihood of consuming entire pint upon tasting.”
Found locally in select Whole Foods, Yes! Organic Markets, Mom’s Organic Markets, GNC.
Our tasters said: “No chocolate flavor, really.” “The chips make it seem fancier.” “Bad aftertaste.” “Decently creamy texture.” “Overchurned, cardboard- flavored butter.”
Halo Top Light Ice Cream — Chocolate
Average score: 2.2
Calories per pint: 240
Attributes: 2 grams of dietary fiber and 6 grams of protein per serving, gluten-free, no artificial softeners, “good source of protein,” “vegetarian friendly.”
Found locally in select Whole Foods, Giant, Safeway, Streets Market.
Our tasters said: “Very cocoa-y.” “Pretty good for Weight Watchers, I bet.” “Don’t care for mouthfeel.” “More of a gelato texture.”
We chose chocolate as the taste-test flavor because it was the one that all four brands had in common. But, let’s be honest: It’s not the most exciting one. So we also tried a selection of each brand’s other flavors, which range from pistachio to red velvet. Here are the other flavors we liked:
Halo Top birthday cake: This flavor reminded us of children’s funfetti-filled birthday cakes. “Delivers as promised!” one taster, who hated the Halo Top chocolate ice cream, raved. “Not overly sweet.”
Enlightened peanut butter chocolate chip: Of all the Enlightened pints we tried, this one rang the truest as regular ice cream to us. “It’s got that Reese’s thing,” said a tester, who appreciated the consistency of the chocolate chunks.
Halo Top sea salt caramel: It wasn’t until we tried this flavor that we understood how people could eat a whole pint of this stuff in one sitting. This was the most indulgent of all the healthful ice creams.
Cado simply lemon: Avocado didn’t blend well with chocolate (and it especially didn’t taste good with mint — “I don’t know what the hell they were doing there,” said one taster), but it plays nicely with lemon. This sorbet-like dessert made us feel like we were eating something good for us, but it still satisfied a craving for sweets.