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Dear Brand Doctor,
I would really appreciate some information on sugar-free ice cream. I found a few popular brands that offer sugar-free varieties. Call me crazy, but can these actually be better for you? By the way, what exactly do they put in them to make up for the lack of sugar?
Signed, Nancy R.
Hey Crazy (sorry, we couldn’t resist),
Thanks for your question – it’s actually a really good one. Here’s why. There are so many “sugar-free” products lining the grocery store shelves these days. It’s important to understand what’s in ‘em before you try ‘em!
For starters, when manufacturers remove the stuff that makes their products taste extra yummy, they have to replace it with something that makes up for the loss of sweetness. So, when you see “sugar free” anything (cookies, cakes, ice cream, etc.), this usually means the product is packed with artificial and refined sweeteners and other junk ingredients.
Our food sleuths did a full-on comparison between Breyers All Natural Vanilla Ice Cream (regular variety) and Breyers Vanilla Ice Cream – No Sugar Added. Take a look.
Breyers Vanilla All Natural (Regular)
(Serving Size: ½ cup 140 calories, 7g fat, 4.5 sat fat, 15g sugar, 3g protein)
INGREDIENTS: MILK, CREAM, SUGAR, NATURAL FLAVOR, NATURAL TARA GUM.
Breyers Vanilla No Sugar Added
(Serving Size: ½ cup, 80 calories, 4g fat 2.5 sat fat, 4g sugar, 4g sugar alcohols, 2g protein)
INGREDIENTS: MILK, SKIM MILK, CREAM, POLYDEXTROSE, MALTODEXTRIN, SORBITOL, WHEY, GLYCERINE, LACTITOL, MONO AND DIGLYCERIDES, CELLULOSE GEL, CELLULOSE GUM, NATURAL FLAVOR, GUAR GUM, TARA GUM, XANTHAN GUM, CAROB BEAN GUM, SUCRALOSE (SPLENDA® BRAND), ACESULFAME POTASSIUM, ANNATTO, VITAMIN A PALMITATE.
Decoding the Fine Print
Our food sleuths compared the two varieties by the ingredients list, the Nutrition Facts Label (NFL), and taste. Here’s what they discovered.
Ingredients: The Breyers regular variety has only 5 ingredients – and none are harmful junk ingredients. The sugar-free version has 21 ingredients for the same half-cup serving!
Let’s dig a little deeper. Of the 21 ingredients in the sugar-free variety, three are natural (milk, skim milk and cream), three are sugar alcohols (polydextrose, sorbitol, and lactitol), three are artificial sweeteners (sucralose, acesulfame potassium, and maltodextrin), and the remaining 12 ingredients are a mish-mash of random fillers, thickeners and preservatives. It chills us to the bone!
Fun Fact: Sugar-free products that contain sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners will sometimes have the fine print warning: “Excessive consumption may cause a laxative effect.” This laxative effect is triggered by the sugar alcohols that aren’t easily absorbed. Uncomfortable side effects can range from gas to diarrhea. Nothing says yummy like a good dose of stomach cramps!
Nutrition Facts Label: With that amount of artificial sweet stuff padding out the ingredients list, you’d think the savings in calories, fat, and sugar would be tremendous, right? Um, not so much. The NFL reveals that the sugar-free variety provides a mere savings of 60 calories and 3 grams of fat! We think that’s hardly worth the trade-off for ingesting 16 additional chemical additives. But hey, that’s just us.
Taste: Putting aside the excessive amounts of artificial sweeteners and other chemical additives, and the not-so-great calorie and fat savings, the deal breaker for our food sleuths was the TASTE. The sugar-free ice cream just didn’t have the same great creamy texture that the regular variety had. Oh, and it left a slightly weird aftertaste. Hmmm, did we just pay extra for that?
Bottom line: There’s just no sugarcoating it…the Breyers Vanilla Sugar-Free ice cream was more like taste-free in our book, and has earned our Healthy Food Imposter status!
The “sugar-free” hype is totally misleading! It implies that such varieties are somehow healthier than their natural sugar counterparts. The cold hard fact is this couldn’t be further from the truth. Junk food is still junk food, with or without the sugar. The sugar-free varieties are still void of any nutritional benefits and should be consumed in moderation.
Here’s our recommendation: If you’re trying to be healthier or to lose a few unwanted pounds, fill up on plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. And then, if you’re craving something sweet like ice cream, go for a really good variety that uses all-natural, real ingredients like milk, cream and sugar. Limit your portions and you can enjoy every creamy bite!
Remember, when you’re armed with a little eBrandAid know-how, you’re in control at the grocery store.