How to Make a Healthy Version of a Shamrock Shake


In March of 1970, McDonald's introduced the world to its homage to St. Patrick's Day, a pale green potion of mouthwatering magnificence, known as the Shamrock Shake.

Since its creation, the Shamrock Shake has morphed into a seasonal icon, spawning countless copy cats and generating an avid following.

The problem is that, like many things fast food, the beverage isn't especially healthy.

According to nutrition information found on the McDonald's website, a 12 ounce Shamrock Shake contains 530 calories, 15 grams of fat (10 of them saturated fat), 73 grams of sugar, and 160 milligrams of sodium.

But, that doesn't mean that the nutritionally-conscious, or even the chronically ill, must be forced to forgo one of the springtime's most anticipated culinary creations. Caregivers and seniors alike can celebrate their inner Irishmen with a healthier, homemade version of this iconic drink.

The secret to a senior-friendly Shamrock Shake

Making sure your loved one gets the right nutrition can be tricky, there are a lot of seemingly healthy foods that elderly people should never eat.

There's also well-documented disagreement in the elder care community regarding the health benefits of shakes and smoothies for seniors. Many nutritionists warn that highly-processed meal replacement shakes are not a good source of nutrition for aging adults.

However, a homemade smoothie can be a wonderful way for a person who has trouble swallowing or specific dietary needs to enjoy a tasty snack. The key is to make sure that you only use elder-friendly ingredients. "Making your own shakes can also save a lot of money," says Ruth Frechman, R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Here's a recipe based on McDonald's minty creation:

  • 6 ounces plain, low fat yogurt
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 tsp. peppermint extract
  • All-natural sweetener to taste
  • 2-3 drops green food coloring
  • 5-7 ice cubes

Directions: Toss all of the above ingredients into a blender, press "blend," and wait until the mixture has achieved the right thickness. Pour into a glass, or, if you really want to get into the spirit, a drinking horn, and enjoy.

Healthful modifications

Of course, there's no guarantee that a homemade shake will taste the same as the fast-food version, but it's certainly a healthier option for seniors.

Replacing the reduced fat vanilla ice cream used by McDonald's with a yogurt and milk combination cuts down on the fat and may up the amount of bone-strengthening calcium and digestion-regulating probiotics in the drink. Opting for fat free or 1 percent milk can save even more calories, according to Frechman, author of, "The Food is My Friend Diet."

Using a small amount of natural sweetener such as raw honey, agave nectar, or Stevia (a calorie-free natural sweetener derived from the stevia plant) significantly reduces the shake's sugar amount and calorie count. It also makes the drink more diabetes-friendly because these sweeteners have low glycemic indexes, which means that, while they will raise blood sugar some, they won't cause dangerous blood sugar spikes.

Of course, this recipe (while healthy and yummy) is still somewhat plain. There are ways to customize this basic formula to better fit your loved one's specific nutritional needs.

Here are a few examples of healthful add-ins to jazz things up a bit and add specific health benefits to a DIY Shamrock Shake:

  • Promote bone health: Eating foods with adequate amounts of calcium is essential for maintaining bone health and preventing osteoporosis as you age. Adults 50 years and older should aim to consume anywhere between 1,000 and 1,200 milligrams of calcium every day, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Depending on which brands you buy, the six ounce serving of yogurt and 3/4 cup of milk called for in the recipe above can bestow anywhere from 40 to 70 percent of this amount. To be fair, the largest size of Shamrock Shake (22 ounces) can provide 60 percent of the daily recommended amount of calcium. Unfortunately, it comes with a price tag of 820 calories and 115 grams of sugar. Adding a cup of spinach to the shake not only contributes additional calcium, it also offers vitamin K—a nutrient that helps prevent bone loss. "Spinach can be used to naturally give the shake a gorgeous green color, instead of adding artificial coloring," says Frechman. Tossing in a frozen banana can contribute a bit of healthy sweetness as well as various nutrients which can aid calcium absorption.
  • Boost immunity: Foods high in vitamins A, B and C are champions at upping your immune system's functioning. Strawberries, blueberries, kiwi and spinach are all good sources of these various vitamins. Chucking a few berries or pieces of kiwi into the blender will add a naturally-sweet immune boosting punch. Another surprising way to beef up the disease-fighting benefits of a homemade shake is to make a pot of green or black tea, freeze it and use the frozen tea as a substitute for the ice cubes. Both black and green tea contain copious amounts of L-theanine, an immune system strengthening amino acid.
  • Healthy weight gain: It's not uncommon for a person to struggle to maintain a healthy weight as they age. There are many reasons why your aging parent may not be eating properly. Seniors often lose their appetites due to medications, chewing problems, reduced senses of taste and smell, and digestive issues. Unfortunately, being underweight can cause a host of health problems for an aging adult. Indeed, thinner seniors appear to have an increased overall death risk, according to a 2006 study conducted by researchers from the University of California Irvine. Introducing sources of healthy fats is a great way to keep the skin on an elder's bones. To easily add "good" fats to the above recipe you can make the yogurt full-fat, throw in half of an avocado for a creamy source of heart-healthy Omega-3s, or grind up a handful of almonds in the food processor and then mix them into the finished shake.
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Thank you for all the wonderful tips for cooking for the elderly! A friend has asked me to cook for her parents and this article has been extremely helpful.
Or, you could just go to McDonald's and pick up a Shamrock Shake. I assume this is not going to become the mainstay of the daily diet.
You've got to admit the idea of including avocado in a shamrock shake sounds awful......Sometimes we over-think things, an occasional treat is not going to hurt most of us!