A girl just wants to eat ice cream. I’ve loved ice cream since I was a tot, and (un)fortunately my parents learned to limit my intake. As I grew up, I learned to steer away from the ice cream aisle because once I go down that path, there’s no going back. It’s comforting to know others have had the same struggles.
A pint of “normal” ice cream (e.g. Ben and Jerry’s, Häagen Dazs), usually has 240 calories per serving (about one-half cup). So one whole pint would be around 1,000 calories if you were to accidentally guzzle it down in one sitting.
I began this endeavor when I saw a post on Facebook about Halo Top, a low-calorie ice cream brand. Low calories? Ice cream? “Impossible!” I said.
But according to Halo Top’s director of sales, Justin Ball, CEO Justin Woolverton “just wanted to make a healthy ice cream that tasted great, more as a treat for himself than a product on which to found a company.”
I can get behind that. And once I saw the calorie count (240 calories for a whole pint!), I was all in.
From there, I went on a quest — what other low-cal ice cream delicacies could I find? And do these products even taste good?
I started with a better known, widely available brand: Skinny Cow.
With several products and flavors, Skinny Cow is available in most grocery stores. It advertises a “sinfully rich taste” and “happiness in every mouthful.” At the Walgreens near the Water Tower Campus (900 N. State St.), I had a choice between one of the chocolate-coated bars or the cookie sandwiches.
I took on the cookie sandwiches and the results were average. The product was just chocolate cookies with vanilla ice cream, so there’s nothing overly spectacular about that. The cookie taste overwhelmed the ice cream, but the sandwiches weren’t bad. Most products made with sugar and cream turn out to be pretty good, but Skinny Cow’s sandwiches didn’t go the extra mile.
Also, it doesn’t seem that much “skinnier” than traditional products. A Klondike cookie sandwich has about 180 calories and 5 grams of fat.
With a few sandwiches left, I saved the box for a later date — a 150 calorie dessert doesn’t sound too bad for a late-night snack, but then again, I could totally go for a Klondike.
Is it ice cream? Is it frozen yogurt? It’s kefir!
Eastern Europeans have known about this creamy, tangy delicacy far longer than us Americans. But Lifeway actually came to Chicagoland in 1986. Russian immigrant Michael Smolyansky began making kefir in his basement in Skokie. The healthy dairy drink was popular in Russia, and he was determined to make it popular in the United States.
But what the heck is kefir? In an email to The Phoenix, Lifeway’s media manager, Kelly Oakes stated, “Kefir is a live and active cultured dairy beverage with a tart and tangy taste and creamy consistency.”
The word “tangy” often throws me off. I’m a fan of the words “sweet” and “creamy,” but something that’s tangy reminds me of orange juice. But not only is kefir “tangy,” it’s also refreshingly delicious.
Lifeway has several products available at local grocery stores, but the company also has a separate cafe called Starfruit, which serves shakes and soft serve kefir. Lucky for me, there’s a Starfruit located in the Merchandise Mart (222 W. Merchandise Mart) and the employee behind the counter was helpful with my newbie kefir endeavors.
The two flavors available were original and hibiscus, both of which I was allowed to sample before buying. Hibiscus had a fun, fruity flavor, but I figured going for the original would be best. I topped off the 8 oz. medium serving (which was only 120 calories!) with strawberries and granola. The result was life-changing. I had to keep my willpower in check as I brought the cup home, careful not to eat the whole thing at once.
Although I’ve indulged in the occasional frozen yogurt, it just doesn’t stand up to kefir. Froyo typically uses artificial sweeteners and dry powders. Kefir is an all-natural, pure creamy goodness. Better yet, the natural sweetness drives down the calorie count far more than most frozen yogurts.
“[Kefir also] contains probiotics, which are live microorganisms that may provide health benefits when consumed in adequate amounts,” Oakes stated. “It’s safe for the entire family to enjoy, including pregnant and nursing women.”
Well, I’m not pregnant or nursing, but I have a feeling kefir will be in my future (and I’ll probably become Starfruit’s number one customer within a year).
According to Ball, Halo Top was born out of the necessity for healthy ice cream. CEO Woolverton made the product himself by taking a shopping trip to Whole Foods. The result, in my opinion, is revolutionary.
I’ve tried two flavors (strawberry and lemon cake) and each was impressive. If someone were to set a bowl of Halo Top ice cream in front of me and tell me it’s regular ice cream (loaded with fat and calories), I’d probably believe it. But a pint of Halo Top is about 240 calories. That’s right — read that again and soak it in.
“The main thing we do is cut almost all of the sugar and replace it with organic stevia, which is a natural sweetener extracted from the stevia leaf,” Ball stated in an email to The Phoenix.
No sugar? Blasphemy! But I couldn’t even tell the difference. I’ve eaten a whole pint of Halo Top by myself without feeling the guilt that normally sets in when I eat copious amount of ice cream. In fact, I felt light — not bogged down with heavy cream in my stomach.
As of now, the product is mainly found at Whole Foods, but Ball said the company is looking to expand. There’s been an increased demand for the delicious low-calorie goodness — so much demand, in fact, that each time I’ve gone to Whole Foods, there has been a limited supply of Halo Top. I’m usually a chocolate kind of gal, but all of the chocolate pints had flown off the shelf.
I’ll settle for the limited supply for now, but I can’t wait until more flavors (chocolate mocha chip, birthday cake and more) become available at other grocery stores.
Arctic Zero seems to have it all. Almost anyone with a common food allergy or “intolerance” could enjoy any of the variations of this dessert.
The company’s founder Greg Holtman is similar to Woolverton: Both men wanted frozen dessert options that were low in calories. Holtman also wanted his products to be available to those with dietary restrictions.
In an email to The Phoenix, Arctic Zero CEO Amit Pandhi described Arctic Zero products as having “a special blend of ingredients — including whey protein and monk fruit (a natural sweetener that’s 150 times sweeter than sugar, so a little bit goes a long way) — and a manufacturing process that creates the creamy, sweet taste people want in frozen desserts without all the calories.”
With only 150 calories in one pint and flavors such as cool mint chip and peanut butter, I was eager to try this product.
Sadly, the ice cream was unimpressive. The pints I bought from Chicago Health Foods (22 W. Maple St.) were icy, which is probably due to storage problems, but it made it difficult to enjoy. Even without the iciness, the ice cream was dull. I could tell that some ingredients were missing, such as the traditional milk and heavy cream that usually makes ice cream tasty.
The first ingredients listed on the chocolate peanut butter pint are purified water (which also might explain the iciness), whey protein concentrate and organic cane sugar. I couldn’t jump on board with the flavors I bought and I didn’t feel like finishing off the pint (which is a rarity for me).
But I’m not going to give up on Arctic Zero. Other flavors include the 300-calorie “chunky” varieties, which sounds a little more promising.
“We’re always innovating and we’re determined to get our product flavors and textures just right,” Pandhi stated. “As long as there are frozen dessert cravings to satisfy … we will always be looking for new ways for people to indulge with zero guilt.”