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Is 'Skinny' Ice Cream as Healthy as You Think?

Here's the skinny on those diet ice cream products...

Skinny, or "diet," ice creams seem to be multiplying by the minute. Take a walk down the frozen dessert section of your local supermarket, and you'll see dozens of different types of seemingly healthy ice cream varieties. And the reason why is a no-brainer: it's so easy to believe that "skinny" or diet ice cream is a guilt-free indulgence. It's skinny, it's right there in the name! The reality though: skinny ice creams aren't all that they claim to be. A scoop of good old-fashioned, full-fat ice cream may actually be better for your waistline.

Is diet ice cream actually healthy for you?

Well, the first, and grossest fact to point out: Many of these diabolical diet products contain questionable ingredients, including propylene glycol, which is better known as antifreeze. The chemical, which doesn't occur in nature, is added to certain frozen foods to improve their texture. And one of them is diet ice cream. Yikes.

There's also the big problem that low-fat foods can actually make you gain weight. When fat is taken out of food, sugar is often put in its place. It's smarter to have a scoop of full-fat ice cream, which will satiate you, than sugary low-fat ice cream, which will cause your blood sugar to spike then crash, making you crave more—you guessed it—sugary, junky carbs.

Contrary to what we were taught as kids, fat alone doesn't make you fat—eating more calories than you burn does. In fact, nutritionists now recommend that you skip skim dairy altogether and switch to full-fat milks and yogurts. The satiety they provide mean you'll consumer fewer calories overall. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who ate the most full-fat dairy products had the lowest incidence of diabetes, while people who ate the most low-fat dairy products had the highest.

Skinny ice cream might also contain artificial sweeteners such as aspartame or acesulfame potassium, which conspire to make you pack on the pounds.

"Artificial sweeteners affect our sense of satiety," says Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, of Isabel Smith Nutrition. "Our bodies have evolutionarily developed to expect a large amount of calories when we take in something exceedingly sweet, and those artificial sweeteners are from 400 times to 8,000 times sweeter than sugar. It causes a couple of things to happen: The muscles in your stomach relax so you can take in food, and hormones are released. With artificial sweeteners, your body says, 'Wait a minute, you told me you were going to give me all this high-calorie food.' It can actually send some people searching for more food, out of lack of satisfaction."

So don't be seduced by diet ice creams that advertise an amazingly low-calorie count per pint, encouraging you to eat the whole thing in one sitting. That's not the right attitude to have toward food, and it defeats the purpose of thinking of the frozen dessert as something you treat yourself to once in a while. Any diet based on deprivation—or its flipside, "guilt-free" bingeing—is bound to fail. Instead, concentrate on working as many non-processed foods into your diet as possible, with the occasional treat. It'll have a positive domino effect—you'll feel better, have more energy, and realize your weight-loss goals that much faster.

Still not convinced? If you want to sample some skinny ice cream, here are the brands to try and the ones to leave in the cold. Look for one with the fewest additives possible—and be wary; some of these "skinny" treats pack more sugar than a donut! And that just defeats the purpose of smart snacking, doesn't it?

The easy guide to cutting back on sugar is finally here.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a seasoned writer and editor with a passion for helping people make life-improving decisions. Read more about Michael