Ice cream is my weakness. Not just ice cream, but all the frozen milky confections in the freezer aisle. Gelato, frozen yogurt, frozen custard, smoothies, and frappuccinos. I love them in all their incarnations. And while I especially love the high fat yummmm of brands like Haagen Dazs and Ben and Jerry’s, my waistline has nudged me to satisfy my craving with the low-fat or no-sugar-added offerings of brands like Breyers and Edys. But even these have plenty of calories and if a certain journalist ate her fill, she’d start putting on the pounds.
My ice cream life changed when somebody figured out how to turn whey protein into a creamy ice-cream-like confection. Ice cream 2.0 is much, much lower in calories. How much lower? The first brand I tried way back in 2010 was Arctic Zero. Instead of 250 calories a scoop for Haagen Dazs vanilla, it was about 150 calories a PINT for Arctic Zero. And this was a pint of a high-protein food, which meant even yours truly, a sometime ice cream glutton, could not eat a whole pint.
Now, Arctic Zero had issues when it first came out. It was rock hard right out of the freezer and you had to wait for it to soften before you could scoop it. If you tried eating it right from the carton, you’d just end up bending the spoon. (Ask me how I know.) It has gotten better, but it is still pretty solid when you first pull it out. At least now, the container has a nice message on the lid telling you to wait.
The other issue was flavor. There wasn’t much. My personal palate said vanilla was passable but only the mint was good. Back then, I tried all the flavors my local store carried and was at a loss why most of them tasted like the memory of a flavor. And though the flavors may have been pale, the texture, once softened, was creamy, dreamy and so I kept buying. I can forgive much in order to have my ice cream and keep my waistline.
So Arctic Zero went into my shopping cart every time I went grocery shopping until more brands came out. I tried many of them but didn’t like how overpowering the artificial sweetener flavor tasted in popular brands like Enlightened and Breyers Delights. I do know people who are fans of those brands, maybe because of the different sweeteners each uses. A sweetener that to one person tastes like sugar, to another grates with a metallic aftertaste. Also, these brands have no added real sugar. Some others like Arctic Zero and Halo Top (which I’ll talk about in a minute) do have some sugar along with the artificial ones. I think that’s why, paradoxically, the ones without any tasted way too sweet to me. I suspect they were compensating for the lack of of the lovely top notes in real sugar, making them overpoweringly sweetened.
Then a brand called Halo Top entered the market with much better texture right out of the freezer. The flavors were stronger and sharper, too. And while the calories were not as low, mid-200s for an entire pint is still okay by me, especially since these whey protein ice creams are much, much, much more filling than regular ice cream. However, if you wanted a complex flavor, something like peanut butter cups or chocolate fudge brownie, you’d have to pony up for more calories per spoonful. It wasn’t just me who liked Halo Top. The brand leapt to the top in a food space that had plenty of big competition.
Then a fantastic late-comer entered the field: Nick’s. Coming along after the novelty of the whey protein frozen desserts had been written about, you don’t see Nick’s in many of the articles that result from a Google search to compare brands. Nick’s isn’t carried in as many places as the other brands but it is gaining because it is so good. Happily, my local store carries it and Nick’s is such a favorite and I almost never buy the others anymore.
Nick’s wins out for me on texture, flavor, and sweetness. First off, it is creamy straight from the freezer. The creaminess is never gummy the way some of the others can be if you let them soften too much. Many of the flavors (but not all) are strong and have real depth. The regular Swedish chocolate is classic chocolate ice cream flavor while the triple chocolate is dark and bittersweet like most Italian gelato chocolate. The mint chip has the right ratio of chocolate bits to ice cream. For a change, I will sometimes get the butter pecan or the pistachio, and if I want to splurge on a 370 calorie pint, I’ll get the peanut butter cup. But mostly it’s mint chocolate chip for me.
Finally, on the issue of sweeteners, Nick’s handles the aftertaste problem by using a little bit of four different sweeteners. That way, they also combine to fill in the gaps in the sugar profiles of the others other while none of them are strong enough individually to leave a noticeable aftertaste.
My only complaint about Nick’s is that I didn’t find any of the fruit flavors satisfying. All of them had the generic blandness of taffy flavors. If strawberry is for you, then Halo Top is the top choice.
All these ice creams are pricey. Boutique foods, particularly diet foods made using new technology, are always going to be more expensive than generic or standard brands. To save a bit, I wait until there’s a great sale and then stock up.
If you want your dessert but don’t want the calories, these are far and away the best way to satisfy your sweet tooth while sticking to you diet. Pick your favorite flavor from whatever brand is having a sale and give it a try. If you can, start with Nick’s. If you don’t like the first one, move to another brand.
One last note. All the ice cream I talk about in this article I bought with my own money. Nobody gave me free pints. I didn’t try all the flavors because… budget. So keep in mind that, while this is an unbiased snapshot of one ice cream lover’s personal experience, it is not comprehensive or fully up to date. I suspect that many brands have adjusted their flavors and textures thanks to the competition. (I read that Enlightened switched from aspartame to erythritol/monk fruit but I haven’t tried it recently.) It may be that I will revisit them and write more on each brand. But for now, Nick’s is my choice for the best of these whey protein low calorie ice creams.
all photos ©Susan diRende