I’ve often talked about the “best-of-intentions” diet which goes something like this: breakfast of dry toast or bagel, cup of coffee; lunch of salad with fat-free dressing; afternoon snack (because you are starving) of candy bar; dinner of dry baked fish and broccoli. By eight in the evening, you are so starved for fat that you go to the freezer and eat a whole quart (or even half gallon) of ice cream standing in front of the freezer.
If that quart of ice cream is Häagen Dazs, it will contain about the same amount of saturated fat as one and one-third sticks of butter! If you are going to get the saturated fat you need from ice cream, then Häagen Dazs is the way to go—it is the most natural ice cream on the market and contains the most cream (ingredients in chocolate ice cream are cream, skim milk, sugar, cocoa processed with alkali, egg yolks). But remember you will also be getting almost one cup of sugar from that quart of ice cream—double that if you eat a whole half gallon. You will also be eating quite a bit of anti-freeze (toxic to the kidneys)—added to ice cream to make it soft, and never listed on the label.
The point is, if your body is so starving for fats that you have to wolf down a whole quart of ice cream in one sitting (or one standing), why not just eat wholesome butter (without all that sugar) throughout the day. I guarantee that if you eat a high-fat breakfast (such as eggs, bacon and toast with butter), put real olive oil and high-fat cheese on your salad at lunch, and smother your fish and broccoli in melted butter for dinner, you probably won’t even think of going to the freezer for ice cream, or if you do, you won’t be able to eat a quart, or even a pint.
And by eating plenty of butter throughout the day, you won’t have to deal with the guilt and gluttonous feeling of eating so much ice cream. But now the food manufacturers have come up with a way to get you to eat ice cream without the feeling of guilt! It’s called low-calorie, high-protein ice cream, pioneered by a company called Halo Top but also manufactured by Breyers, Arctic Zero and Enlightened. Although a serving is officially ½ cup, Halo Top emblazons the number of calories (280) per pint (4 servings) on its carton and prints not-so-subtle messages on its seals: SAVE THE BOWL and STOP WHEN YOU HIT THE BOTTOM.
“I just like the concept of being able to eat the whole pint,” says 25-year-old Alexis Brana, quoted in the WSJ article. “It’s almost too good to be true,” says Ali Reap of Bergen County, New Jersey. She scoops the ice cream into a bowl and then “piles on the peanut butter, sprinkles and whipped cream on top.” She doesn’t feel guilty because her favorite chocolate-chip cookie dough flavor has only 400 calories compared to 1120 calories in Ben & Jerry’s pint of the same flavor. She could even eat three pints of Halo Top and convince herself that it’s OK because three pints is giving her the same amount of calories as one pint of Ben & Jerry’s.
Plus, it’s healthy! That’s what the PR for Halo Top leads people to believe. “Finally, Healthy Ice Cream. . . That Tastes Like Ice Cream,” says the website. “And we’re not joking. While Halo Top is low-calorie, high protein, and low-sugar, we use only the best ingredients to craft our ice cream so that it tastes just like regular ice cream. We know it sounds too good to be true, so don’t just take our word for it—dig in and see for yourself just how good healthy ice cream can be.”
So just what are the “best ingredients” in Halo Top ice cream and other brands like it? Here they are:
Milk and cream, eggs, erythritol, prebiotic fiber, milk protein concentrate, organic cane sugar, high fat cocoa, vegetable glycerin, sea salt, organic carob gum, organic guar gum, organic stevia.
The first thing to notice is the listing of “milk and cream.” By putting these two together, you have no clue as to how much cream—could be just a smidgen, but by combining “milk and cream,” they don’t have to list cream as a minor ingredient in the label. We know it’s a minor ingredient because there are only 4 grams of saturated fat in a pint, which translates to 1 ½ teaspoons of butterfat. The milk of course will be pasteurized (or maybe ultra-pasteurized) skim milk. Then come eggs, whole eggs, not egg yolks—remember that the whites can be highly allergenic for some folks.
The third ingredient is erythritol, described as a harmless, low-calorie sweetener—note that there are three sweeteners in Halo Top ice cream, two of which are “low- or non-caloric” sweeteners and the other is regular cane sugar. That way they can cut the amount of real sugar in half and achieve the “low-calorie” status.
Erythritol—called a sugar alcohol–is produced industrially beginning with enzymatic conversion of the starch in genetically modified corn to generate glucose—this is similar to the process whereby manufacturers ferment starch from corn to make high fructose corn syrup. Erythritol then undergoes a second fermentation process that uses yeast or another fungus to transform glucose into the sugar alcohol.
Erythritol may cause digestive problems. According to the ADA website: “All [sugar alcohols] are absorbed slowly and incompletely from the intestine by passive diffusion. Therefore, an excessive load. . . may cause diarrhea. . . . Incomplete absorption causes indirect metabolism of [sugar alcohols] via fermentive (sic) degradation by the intestinal flora.”
(An excessive load is considered to be 50 grams, but may be less in sensitive individuals. There are 20 grams of erythritol in a pint of Halo Top. If you eat two pints, you are getting close to that excessive load.)
Sugar alcohols are not broken down in the stomach, so they enter the intestine intact. It is here that the “passive diffusion” takes place, meaning that the presence of the sugar alcohols draws water into the bowels. This leads to fermentation by undesirable bacteria and a resultant partial degradation or “metabolism” of the sugar alcohols. The result can be severe stomach cramping and diarrhea. Children are especially sensitive to the gastrointestinal side effects and children who regularly consume sugar alcohols also seem to have an increased incidence of childhood obesity.
Other problems that can occur include candida overgrowth and metabolic acidosis, which can lead to acid reflux and an increased risk of cancer of the larynx. Sugar alcohols also promote dehydration and loss of electrolytes, creating feelings of excessive thirst. Headache is another side effect. And erythritol does raise blood sugar levels, although not as much as sugar. Raised blood sugar is indeed a likely side effect of eating Halo Top because it is so low in fat.
According to a 2014 study, erythritol functions as an insecticide, toxic to the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, impairing motor ability and reducing longevity even when nutritive sugars are available.
Moving along to the next ingredient, “prebiotic fiber.” This is likely inulin. Erythritol has a cooling effect and food manufacturers have discovered that inulin can counteract this with a warming effect. Inulin also has a propensity to cause gas and bloating in moderate to large quantities, in particular in individuals unaccustomed to it.
Inulin is a complex starch consisting of chains of fructose molecules. Jerusalem artichokes contain a lot of inulin, and they need a very long, slow cooking to break down the inulin chains—otherwise this vegetable can cause a lot of cramping and flatulence. Another source is chicory, notoriously hard to digest. Inulin is considered a FODMAP, a class of carbohydrates that are rapidly fermented in the colon, producing gas and drawing water into the colon, a real problem for individuals with irritable bowel syndrome. Combine the 20 grams per pint of inulin in Halo Top with 20 grams of erythritol, and you have a recipe for digestive problems.
Next we come to milk protein concentrate, probably the most disgusting ingredient in the food supply. Here’s a description from Wikipedia on how it is made: “To make milk protein concentrate, whole milk is first separated into cream and skim milk. The skim milk is then fractionated using ultrafiltration to make a skim concentrate that is lactose-reduced. This process separates milk components according to their molecular size. Milk then passes through a membrane that allows some of the lactose, minerals, and water to cross through. The casein and whey proteins, however, will not pass through the membrane due to their larger molecular size. The proteins, lactose, and minerals that do not go through the membrane are then spray dried. Spray drying and evaporation further concentrate the remaining materials to form a powder. Depending on the purpose of the final product, different heat treatments can be used to process ultrafiltered or blended varieties of MPC.”
The main use of MPC is as the major ingredient in cheap cheese for pizza—you can tell it’s MPC if the cheese gratings don’t melt but maintain their shape after heating. MCP also serves as an ingredient in “nutritional” beverages, “nutritional” and dietary products, infant formulas, protein bars, yogurts, cultured products and frozen desserts like Halo Top ice cream. According to Wikipedia “MPC can be financially advantageous to producers of milk for cheese production, as its addition increases the protein level of the product achieving greater cheese yield for less capital investment.” In other words MPC is a very cheap way to increase the protein content of a food. It also acts as a kind of emulsifier so that manufacturers can add air to a product and make it seem creamier—that’s why a pint of Halo Top contains only 280 grams per pint compared to over 400 grams in a pint of regular ice cream.
The other ingredients in Halo Top may also cause problems, but I think we can stop here. It’s obvious that this product cannot nourish the human body and should never be called “healthy.” It’s loaded with questionable ingredients, likely to cause digestive disorders among other symptoms, and doesn’t even supply much butterfat, which is the real reason people go to the freezer to get out that pint of ice cream.
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