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Choosing Healthy Popsicles

Choosing Healthy Popsicles

Popsicles are a favorite summer treat with many brands offering healthy looking fruit options. However, how healthy are popsicles? And what are the healthiest popsicle brands?

This comprehensive guide details what to look for and what to avoid when choosing frozen fruit pops.

The healthiest popsicles have:

  • Real fruit as the first ingredient
  • Minimal added sugar
  • No gums or thickeners
  • No artificial sweeteners, preservatives, or colors

Ideally, fruit should be the first ingredient in a fruit pop.  However, most commercially available fruit popsicles tend to have long ingredient lists.  

What to look for when choosing a healthy popsicle

1. Fruit is the first ingredient in healthy popsicles

Healthy fruit roll ups made with real fruit

Fruit should be the first ingredient in healthy fruit popsicles. Whole fruit is a nutrient dense and naturally sweet snack.

How do you know if a fruit flavored popsicle contains real fruit?  Read the ingredient list.  Fruit, sometimes in the form of a puree, should be the first ingredient.

You can also look for fiber on the Nutrition Facts label.  Real, whole fruit contains fiber. In general, the more fiber a popsicle contains, the more whole fruit in the treat.

However, some popsicle brands contain added fiber, so fiber is not always a good proxy for the amount of whole fruit a popsicle contains.

Recommendation: Only buy popsicles where fruit is the first ingredient.

2. Healthy popsicles have minimal added sugar

Healthy almond milk should contain little to no added sugar

A little added sugar is okay in a healthy diet. However, the typical American eats almost a half cup of added sugar each day and this excess sugar consumption is making us overweight and chronically ill.

Corn syrup, tapioca syrup, and cane sugar are all forms of added sugar that are common ingredients in fruit popsicles. 

Apple and pear juice concentrate sound healthy, right?  Think again!  The FDA considers fruit juice concentrates to be a form of added sugar. (1)  

concentrated fruit juice is a form of added sugar according to the FDA

However, companies don’t have to list fruit juice concentrates as added sugar if they include enough water to dilute the concentrate to juice.

Recommendation:  When choosing a frozen treat, look for one with minimal added sugar. Most fruit popsicles contain 12 grams or more of added sugar. That is a tablespoon of sugar and almost half of the daily recommended amount of added sugar for a child.

3. Healthy Popsicles Avoid Gums and Other Thickeners

healthy almond milk should avoid gums and thickeners

Frozen treats often contain gums and other thickeners to prevent ice crystal formation and improve texture.

Gums and thickeners are highly processed and can sometimes cause gastrointestinal discomfort.

Typical gums and other thickeners in fruit popsicles include guar gum, xanthan gum, locust bean gum (also called carob bean gum), cellulose gum, cellulose gel, soluble corn fiber, and modified corn starch.

Guar Gum.  Guar gum is a polysaccharide (polymer of sugar) made from the seeds of the guar plant. It is a soluble fiber that our bodies can not digest. However, gut bacteria can ferment guar gum. (2)

Xanthan Gum. Like guar gum, Xanthan gum is a polysaccharide made when bacterial ferment glucose and other sugars. Xanthan gum is a soluble fiber that our bodies can not digest. (3)

Locust Bean Gum.  Locust Bean Gum a polysaccharide extracted from the seeds of the Carob Tree. Also called carob bean gum, locust Bean Gum is a soluble dietary fiber that our bodies can not digest. (4)

Soluble Corn Fiber. Also called resistant maltodextrin, soluble corn fiver is a non-digestible soluble fiber made from corn starch. It thickens foods and is a sugar replacement in low sugar foods. (5)

Avoid these gums and thickeners

Cellulose Gum and Cellulose Gel.  Also called carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC), cellulose gum is polysaccharide manufactured from cellulose, found in the cellular walls of plants.

The FDA considers CMS a “generally regarded as safe” food additive. However, growing research links CMC to inflammatory conditions, including inflammatory bowl disease. (6)

Modified Corn Starch. Our bodies rapidly digest starch into sugar. As such, all forms of food starch are high Glycemic Index (GI).  Eating predominantly high-GI foods is associated with chronic disease and strongly associated with heart disease. (7,8)

Recommendation: Avoid cellulose gum, cellulose gel, CMC and modified corn starch.

While it is best to avoid foods containing gums and other thickeners, small amounts of guar gum, xanthan gum, and locust bean gum are probably fine unless you experience gastrointestinal discomfort or are following a specific diet.

4. Healthy Popsicles Avoid Artificial Sweeteners

artificial sweetener logo liquid drop coming out of an eye dropper

Most no-sugar-added popsicles use artificial sweeteners to achieve low calorie levels. However, these frozen fruit treats are still not a healthy choice even though they contain minimal or no added sugar.

Typical artificial sweeteners in fruit popsicles include sucralose, aspartame, and acesulfame potassium.

Sucralose. Brand name Splenda®. Sucralose is a non-caloric sweetener about 600 times sweeter than table sugar. (9)

Aspartame. Brand names Nutrasweet®, Equal®, and Sugar Twin®. Aspartame is a non-caloric sweetener about 200 times sweeter than table sugar. (9)

Acesulfame Potassium. Brand names Sweet One® and Sunnet®. Acesulfame potassium, also called Ace-K, is a non-caloric sweetener about 200 times sweeter than table sugar. (9)

It is best to avoid artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners still affect our bodies, even though they are essentially calorie free and do not contain any added sugar.

Artificial sweeteners can negatively impact our perception of how foods taste. Vegetables often taste excessively bitter and naturally sweet foods may not taste sweet enough. (8)

More importantly, artificial sweeteners can change microbiome composition, increase appetite, and affect insulin secretion. (10) These changes can result in increased calorie consumption and weight gain.

Are Non-Nutritive Sweeteners Healthy?

Some popsicle brands include natural non-caloric sweeteners. Typical plant derived non-nutritive sweeteners in popsicles include stevia leaf extract, monk fruit extract, and allulose.

Stevia Leaf Extract. Stevia is a non-caloric sweetener made from the Stevia rebaudiana plant, native to South America. The FDA recognizes stevia extracts to be Generally Regarded to Be Safe (GRAS) and permits extracts with at least 95% purity to be used in food. Stevia leaf extract is 200 to 400 times sweeter than table sugar. (9,11)

Monk Fruit Extract. Monk Fruit Extract is a non-caloric sweetener made from the Siraitia grosvenorii plant, native to Southern China. The FDA recognizes monk fruit extract to be Generally Regarded to Be Safe (GRAS). Monk fruit extract is 100 to 250 times sweeter than table sugar. (9)

Allulose. Allulose is a low-calorie sweetener found naturally in some fruit. It has a molecular structure similar to fructose but does not metabolize like sugar. Though considered a carbohydrate, the FDA does not require listing allulose as a sugar on nutrition labels. (12)

Are these naturally non and low-calorie sweeteners healthy? Like artificial sweeteners, most are significantly sweeter than table sugar and likely will affect our taste, making bitter foods like vegetables less palatable.

Also, how these sweeteners affect our microbiome is just now being studied. An initial study indicates stevia extract interferes with gut bacteria communication. (13) Further research is definitely needed.

Recommendation: Avoid foods with artificial sweeteners and only eat natural nutritive sweeteners in moderation.

5. Healthy Popsicles Avoid Artificial Colors and Preservatives

icon of flask for healthy popsicles avoid artificial colors and preservatives

Most popular popsicle brands are now made with natural colors (often from fruit or vegetable juice) and natural preservatives.

In fact, all of the frozen fruit pops we evaluated are free of artificial colors and preservatives!

However, some brands still contain artificial colors and preservatives. So read the ingredient list carefully to avoid these unnecessary ingredients.

Our evaluation of healthy Freezer Pops provides detailed information on artificial colors and artificial preservatives.

Which popular frozen fruit bars are healthy?

We evaluated popular strawberry frozen fruit popsicles based on the following criteria. (14-22)

Criteria used to evaluate Strawberry Popsicles

Criteria used to evaluate fruit popsicles.  The healthiest popsicles have fruit as their first ingredient, minimal added sugar, and no gums or thickeners

All information below is for 1 serving, which varies in size. To compare between brands, added sugar is listed in total grams, teaspoons (red spoons), and percent of frozen treat.

Types of added sugar are red.  Types of non-nutritive sweeteners are in red italics.  Thickeners and gums are in italics. Artificial sweeteners are bold.

Examples of healthy popsicles

Unfortunately, none of the frozen strawberry fruit bars we evaluated can be considered truly healthy. All popsicles contain some form of sweetener in addition to fruit.

However, to be realistic, popsicles should have a little added sugar. They are a treat. I have tried to make homemade strawberry fruit bars without added sugar. They were an epic failure, even when made with the sweetest just-picked strawberries.

The healthiest popsicle brands

Realistically, no store-bought popsicles should be eaten daily as a part of a healthy diet. However, a few strawberry fruit bars are perfectly okay for the occasionally treat.

The following popsicles are the healthiest store-bought brands. Popsicles are listed in order of least amount of added sugar and other additives to most.

Modern Pop Strawberry Lemonade

Modern Pop Strawberry Lemonade popsicle nutrition information

Modern Pop Strawberry Lemonade Ingredients: Strawberries, water, organic agave, organic lemon juice

Reasons to consider Modern Pop Strawberry Lemonade Popsicles:

  • Strawberries are the first ingredient
  • Added sugar makes up only 10% of the fruit pop, the lowest amount of added sugar in all popsicles evaluated
  • Free of highly-processed gums and thickeners

Chloe’s Strawberry Pops

Chloe's Strawberry Pops nutritional information

Chloe’s Strawberry Pops Ingredients: Strawberry purée (strawberries, lemon juice), water, cane sugar

Reasons to consider Chloe’s Strawberry Popsicles:

  • Strawberries are the first ingredient
  • Free of highly-processed gums and thickeners

Reasons why you may want to think twice about buying Chloe’s Strawberry Popsicles:

goodpop Strawberry Fruit Bars

goodpop Strawberry Fruit Bars nutritional information

goodpop Strawberry Fruit Bars Ingredients: Strawberries, water, organic cane sugar, organic guar gum

Reasons to consider goodpop Strawberry Fruit Bars:

  • Strawberries are the first ingredient

Reasons why you may want to think twice about buying goodpop Strawberry Fruit Bars:

  • Each popsicle contains 12 grams (a tablespoon) of added sugar
  • Contains guar gum, a highly-processed gums and thickeners

Outshine Strawberry Fruit Bars

Outshine Strawberry Fruit Bars nutritional information

Outshine Strawberry Fruit Bars Ingredients: Strawberries, water, cane sugar, citric acid, guar gum, carob bean gum, ascorbic acid, strawberry juice from concentrate (water, strawberry juice concentrate), natural flavor, beet juice color, turmeric oleoresin color

Reasons to consider Outshine Strawberry Fruit Bars:

  • Strawberries are the first ingredient

Reasons why you may want to think twice about buying Outshine Strawberry Fruit Bars:

  • Each popsicle contains 12 grams (a tablespoon) of added sugar
  • Contains guar gum and carob bean gum, highly-processed gums and thickeners

Popsicles to avoid:

Several store-bought popsicles are not healthy options.  They often contain too much added sugar or other additives that are best avoided in a healthy diet.

However, not all popsicles categorized as “avoid” are equal. Some popsicle brands are free of additives, but contain too much added sugar. Other popsicles are free of added sugars but contain highly processed thickeners and other undesirable ingredients.

The following strawberry fruit bars should be avoided or eaten only after thoughtful consideration.  These popsicles are listed in order from least to most undesirable ingredients.

Popsicle Strawberry Fruit Pops

Popsicle Strawberry Fruit Pops nutritional information

Popsicle Strawberry Fruit Pops Ingredients: water, strawberries, cane sugar, ascorbic acid, natural flavor

Reasons to consider Popsicle Strawberry Fruit Pops:

  • Free of highly-processed gums and thickeners
  • Low amount of added sugar, though added sugar makes up 16% of the popsicle by weight

Reasons to think twice before buying Popsicle Strawberry Fruit Pops:

  • Strawberries are not the first ingredient

Chloe’s No Sugar Added Strawberry Pops

Chloe's No Sugar Added Strawberry Pops nutritional information

Chloe’s No Sugar Added Strawberry Pops Ingredients: White grape juice from concentrate (water, white grape juice concentrate), strawberry puree, allulose, natural flavors, lemon juice concentrate, monk fruit juice concentrate

Reasons to consider Chloe’s No Sugar Added Strawberry Pops:

  • Low amount of total sugars. However, contains fruit juice as first ingredient instead of fruit
  • Free of highly-processed gums and thickeners

Reasons to think twice before buying Chloe’s No Sugar Added Strawberry Pops:

  • Strawberries are not the first ingredient
  • Misleading claim of 0% added sugar. When diluted with water, grape juice concentrate is not labeled as added sugar
  • Sweetened with non-nutritive sweeteners allulose and monk fruit juice concentrate

Outshine Organic Fruit Bars Strawberry

Outshine Organic Fruit Bars Strawberry nutritional information

Outshine Organic Fruit Bars Strawberry Ingredients: water, organic strawberries, organic cane sugar, citric acid, organic fruit and vegetable color, organic guar gum, organic carob bean gum, ascorbic acid, natural flavor

Reasons to think twice about buying Outshine Organic Fruit Bars Strawberry:

  • Strawberries are not the first ingredient
  • 20% of each popsicle is sugar
  • Contains guar gum and carob bean gum, highly-processed gums and thickeners

Enlightened Strawberry + Chill Fruit Infusions

Enlightened Strawberry + Chill Fruit Infusions nutritional information

Enlightened Strawberry + Chill Fruit Infusions Ingredients: Water, strawberries, non-GMO soluble corn fiber, tapioca syrup, vegetable glycerin, lemon juice concentrate, natural flavors, elderberry juice for color, cane sugar, guar gum, carob bean gum, monk fruit extract, xanthan gum, botanical chill blend (lavender, chamomile, lemon balm)

Reasons to think twice about buying Enlightened Strawberry + Chill Fruit Infusions:

  • Strawberries are not the first ingredient
  • Contains soluble corn fiber, guar gum, carob bean gum and xanthan gum
  • Contains glycerin, a sugar alcohol. Also called glycerol, glycerin is 75% as sweet as sugar. Glycerin does not count as “added sugar” on the FDA label requirements
  • Sweetened with non-nutritive sweetener monk fruit extract

Halo Top Strawberry Fruit Pops

Halo Top Strawberry Fruit Pops nutritional information

Halo Top Strawberry Fruit Pops Ingredients: Water, soluble corn fiber, strawberries, sugar, strawberry puree, strawberry juice concentrate, citric acid, salt, malic acid, stevia leaf extract, cellulose gel, cellulose gum, carob bean gum, guar gum, beet extract for color, annatto extract for color

Reasons to think twice about buying Halo Top Strawberry Fruit Pops:

  • Strawberries are not the first ingredient
  • Contains soluble corn fiber, cellulose gel, cellulose gum, carob bean gum and guar gum
  • Sweetened with non-nutritive sweetener stevia leaf extract

Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value Strawberry Fruit Bars

Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value Strawberry Fruit Bars nutritional information

Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value Strawberry Fruit Bars Ingredients: Strawberries, water, cane sugar, guar gum, carob bean gum, citric acid

Reasons to avoid Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value Strawberry Fruit Bars:

  • Each popsicle contains 20 grams of added sugar, 100% of the AHA’s daily recommended maximum intake of added sugar for children
  • Contains guar gum and carob bean gum, highly-processed gums and thickeners

Kroger Strawberry Fruit Bars

Kroger Strawberry Fruit Bars nutritional information

Kroger Strawberry Fruit Bars Ingredients: Water, strawberries, strawberry puree, sugar, cellulose gum, modified corn starch, natural flavor, citric acid, guar gum, locust bean gum, ascorbic acid, beet juice extract and turmeric (for color)

Reasons to avoid Kroger Strawberry Fruit Bars:

  • Each popsicle contains 19 grams of added sugar, almost 100% of the AHA’s daily recommended maximum intake of added sugar for children
  • Contains cellulose guar gum and locust bean gum, highly-processed gums and thickeners
  • Thickened with modified food starch. Starches rapidly convert to glucose during digestion

Popsicle Simply Strawberry

Popsicle Simply Strawberry nutritional information

Popsicle Simply Strawberry Ingredients: Water, cane sugar, citric acid, beet juice, guar gum, natural flavor, ascorbic acid, annato extract and tumeric oleoresin (for color)

Reasons to avoid Popsicle Simply Strawberry:

  • This popsicle is simply sugar water with flavoring. It contains no fruit!
  • Contains guar gum, a highly-processed thickeners

Outshine No Sugar Added Strawberry

Outshine No Sugar Added Strawberry nutritional information

Outshine No Sugar Added Strawberry Ingredients: Water, strawberries, sorbitol, maltodextrin*, glycerin, grape juice from concentrate*, polydextrose, citric acid, ascorbic acid, guar gum, sucralose, strawberry juice from concentrate, carob bean gum, natural flavor, acesulfame potassium, beet juice color, turmeric oleoresin color

Reasons to avoid Outshine No Sugar Added Strawberry:

  • Misleading claim of 0% added sugar. When diluted with water, grape juice concentrate is not labeled added sugar
  • Sweetened with artificial sweeteners sucralose and acesulfame potassium
  • Contains guar gum and carob bean gum, highly-processed gums and thickeners
  • Sweetened with sorbitol and glycerin, types of sugar alcohol. Neither count as “added sugar” on the FDA label requirements. Sorbitol can cause digestive distress
  • Sweetened maltodextrin, a polysaccharide that turns into sugar when digested.

Popsicle Red Classics Strawberry

Popsicle Red Classics Strawberry nutritional information

Popsicle Red Classics Strawberry Ingredients: Water, glycerin, maltodextrin, citric acid, vegetable juice, guar gum, natural and artificial flavor, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, ascorbic acid, tumeric oleoresin, cherry juice concentrate, locust bean gum

Reasons to avoid Popsicle Red Classics Strawberry:

  • Sweetened with artificial sweeteners sucralose and acesulfame potassium
  • Sweetened with glycerin, a sugar alcohol
  • Contains maltodextrin, a polysaccharide that turns into sugar when digested
  • Contains locust bean gum, a highly-processed gums and thickeners

Conclusions about choosing a healthy popsicle

When it comes to finding a healthy-ish strawberry fruit bar, simple ingredients are best.  Look for a popsicle with minimal sweetener that avoids highly processed ingredients.

If you have the time, you can always make your own homemade strawberry popsicles.

Check out these other product evaluations:

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Pinterest image of popular strawberry popsicles packages.  Pinterest image of article evaluating healthiest store-bought popsicles

References:

  1. Definition of Added Sugar, FDA Federal Register, May 2016, § 101.9(c)(6)(iii) (link)
  2. Re-evaluation of guar gum as a food additive, EFSA Website, (link)
  3. Evaluation of xanthan gum as a food additive, EFSA Website, (link)
  4. Re-evaluation of locust bean gum as a Food Additive, EFSA Website, (link)
  5. Resistant maltodextrin related health claims, EFSA Website (link)
  6. The Role of Carrageenan and Carboxymethylcellulose in the Development of Intestinal Inflammation, Frontiers in Pediatrics, 2017, 5: 96 (link)
  7. Whole Grains and Fiber, American Heart Association Website (link)
  8. Always Hungry? Conquer Cravings, Retrain Your Fat Cells & Lose Weight Permanently, David Ludwig, MD, PhD (link)
  9. Additional Information about High-Intensity Sweeteners Permitted for Use in Food in the United States, FDA Website (link)
  10. The Association Between Artificial Sweeteners and Obesity, Current Gastroenterology Reports, December 2017, 19:64 (link)
  11. Safety of a proposed amendment of the specifications for steviol glycosides (E 960) as a food additive: to expand the list of steviol glycosides to all those identified in the leaves of Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni, EFSA Website (link)
  12. The Declaration of Allulose and Calories from Allulose on Nutrition and Supplement Facts Labels: Guidance for Industry, FDA Website (link)
  13. Is the sugar substitute stevia bad for our health? Medical News Today Website (link)
  14. Modern Pop Website (link)
  15. Chloe’s Fruit Website (link)
  16. goodpops Website (link)
  17. Outshine Snacks Website (link)
  18. Popsicle Website (link)
  19. Enlightened Website (link)
  20. Halo Top Website (link)
  21. Whole Foods Market Website (link)
  22. Kroger Website (link)