The dessert market is loaded with products that are advertised to be “healthy” alternatives to foods like ice cream and baked goods.
Although these items may be lower in calories and sugar than traditional treats, some contain ingredients like artificial sweeteners and fillers that aren’t great for your overall health.
If you take a stroll down the frozen food and snack aisles at your local grocery store, you’re sure to see a number of items labeled “keto-friendly,” “sugar-free,” “gluten-free,” “low-fat,” or “fat-free.”
They’re made with fat-free or low fat ingredients to keep calorie and sugar content lower than sweets made with high calorie or high sugar ingredients like cream, oil, butter, sugar, and high fructose corn syrup.
Brands that cater to people following specific dietary patterns such as paleo usually put more focus on the individual ingredients of their products rather than the calorie count.
For example, paleo dessert products — which are free of grains, dairy, and artificial sweeteners — are often more calorie dense than diet or low calorie versions of these foods.
This is because these items are made with higher calorie ingredients like nuts, nut butters, and coconut rather than fat-free milk, refined grains, and artificial sweeteners.
Many people assume that just because a product is low in calories and sweetened with zero calorie sugar alternatives, it must be healthy. However, this isn’t always the case.
When it comes to deciding whether an item is truly healthy, it’s more important to look at the ingredients over the calorie content.
Just because a snack or dessert item contains few calories per serving doesn’t mean it’s a better choice for your health.
Diet items often contain a laundry list of ingredients in order to mimic the taste and texture of the real thing.
For example, most low calorie ice creams are highly processed and packed with nondigestible fibers, sugar alcohols, thickeners, flavorings, oils, and other ingredients that keep calorie content low.
The high amount of fiber found in these “healthy” ice creams can lead to an upset stomach in some people.
Plus, artificial and natural non-caloric sweeteners commonly used to give these items a sweet taste have been shown to alter gut bacteria composition, which may negatively impact your overall health.
Not to mention the taste and texture is nothing like that of real ice cream.
What’s more — although these items are typically lower in calories per serving than traditional products, consumers are often encouraged to eat the entire pint of ice cream rather than just a single serving.
For instance, Halo Top is a popular diet ice cream that has the calorie content of the entire pint displayed on the label. Eating an entire pint of Halo Top will provide you with between 280–380 calories, plus a large amount of added sugar.
Alternatively, eating a normal 1/2 cup of regular ice cream will deliver less calories and will likely be more satisfying.
Choosing foods based solely on their calorie content is doing your health a disservice.
While calorie intake matters in terms of reaching and maintaining a healthy weight, nourishing your body with nutrient dense foods over low calorie items packed with artificial ingredients is much more important for promoting overall health and longevity.
If you want to make your diet healthier, choose products that use natural, nourishing ingredients over items that rely on artificial sweeteners, added fibers, and sugar for taste and texture. Or better yet, make your own at home.
For example, rather than spending money on low calorie ice cream that’s basically just fiber, sugar alcohol, and thickeners, make your own ice cream at home with this recipe that uses nutritious ingredients like frozen bananas, cocoa powder, and nut butter.
And remember, desserts are meant to be enjoyed and eaten occasionally in small quantities.
Although low calorie desserts are marketed as a smart way to cut calories and promote weight loss, if you’re regularly eating entire pints of the stuff, it’s defeating the intended purpose.
If you have a dessert that you truly love, such as a favorite ice cream that’s made with simple ingredients like milk, cream, sugar, and chocolate, go ahead and enjoy a serving once in a while.
This will not derail your weight loss success or negatively impact your health so long as you follow a well-balanced, nutrient dense diet.