I recently took a trip back home to Vermont and I got into a discussion about how different Ben & Jerry’s and Halo Top were, not just as brands, but about which one may be the healthier ice cream.
There’s more to healthy eating than what’s on a label
If you go by the numbers, Halo Top is clearly the better brand for the health conscious. It has fewer calories, less sugar, less fat and less saturated fat per serving than Ben & Jerry’s by far.
The numbers are convincing, but there’s a lot more to the healthiness of a product than what’s on the nutrition label. Ingredients count too.
Looking at the Halo Top label we see that erythritol is one of the first ingredients. A quick Google search points out that this is an artificial sweetener which helps Halo Top taste sweet without the calories and sugar.
The Ben & Jerry’s ingredient list read like a diet warrior’s worst nightmare with types of cream and sugar making up most of the main ingredients.
On one hand, you could say Ben & Jerry’s is less healthy because of the calorie laden ingredients it has. On the other, you could say Halo Top is less healthy depending on your views of artificial sweeteners.
We could debate over food labels all day long on this one. Are full fat cream and real sugar better than something artificial? Does the wholesomeness of an ingredient automatically make a food healthy or unhealthy?
There’s a lot of perception about what causes a food to be healthy or not. Public opinion wanes with the rise and fall of fads and trends. One day fat is bad, the next it’s good. Today sugar is bad, tomorrow it may be good. Or it might be that certain types of sugar are bad and other’s are good and the debate will roll back and forth about that too. Personally, I don’t really care either way.
Never let nutrition interfere with a healthy diet
Sometimes, I think nutrition can interfere with a healthy diet. What I mean by that is when we let what’s on a food label become more important than how we actually feel and experience the food itself.
A good example is something I call permission eating. It happens when we chose to either eat or abstain from eating something just to follow the rules of a dietary dogma while, at the same time, ignoring how that food actually makes us feel. Call me crazy, but I believe how a food makes you feel is much more important than what an expert believes about an ingredient on a label.
Most of what makes your diet healthy aren’t what the food brings to you, it’s what you bring to the food. What are you thinking, feeling and wanting when you open up a pint of ice cream? Those are the factors that carry far more influence than sugar or calorie count.
There was a time when I carried a different set of thoughts, feelings, and beliefs to a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. Those were the times when I would think nothing of eating an entire pint without blinking. Sometimes I would even eat 2-3 pints in a single day. Now, I might go through a pint of Ben & Jerry’s every 4-6 weeks. Nothing changed about the ice cream, it wasn’t at fault. I wasn’t eating whole pints because Ben & Jerry was trying to make their food addictive (check out my post on the myth of food addiction here). It was entirely an inside job. I’m healthier now, not because I changed what I ate, but why I ate what I ate. And make no mistake, I almost never choose to eat or not eat something just because of its nutritional value. Very few foods are inherently healthy or unhealthy. Their effects, both good or bad, depend more on whether or not you eat them in a healthy or unhealthy way.
One of the ways I was able to do that was realizing that the whole point of a healthy diet is to remove stress and satisfy the appetite. As I explain in my book, Fitness Independence, the more your diet satisfies your four primal appetites, the healthier it is. One of those appetites is the desire to satisfy the palette and enjoyment of food. It doesn’t matter if a food is supposedly good for you or what’s on the label. If it doesn’t satisfy your desire for what you really want it’s not all that healthy.
This is where the debate over “light” foods, like Halo Top and Ben & Jerry’s come into play. The real healthiness of either depends on how well each one satisfies you. If you feel more satisfied after a 1/4 pint of B&J than a whole pint of Halo Top than the B&J is healthier. With the richer ingredients, it’s easy to see what that might be the case.
But don’t let my opinion sway you. If you feel more satisfied after eating Halo Top than B&J then eat the Halo Top. It’s not about what I, or anyone else thinks or claims is healthier. It’s about what helps you look and feel your best.
The most important thing is to make choices that optimally satisfy you rather than the dogmatic rules claiming how you’re supposed to eat right.