In March 1970, McDonald’s introduced a pale green sweet treat to celebrate St. Patrick’s day: the Shamrock Shake. Since its creation, the Shamrock Shake has morphed into a seasonal icon, spawning countless copycats and generating an avid following. The problem is that, like most items on fast food menus, it isn’t especially healthy.
According to nutrition information found on the McDonald’s website, a small Shamrock Shake contains 460 calories, 13 grams of fat (8 of them saturated fat), 63 grams of sugar and 150 milligrams of sodium. However, this doesn’t mean that health-conscious individuals or those on restricted diets must forgo one of springtime’s most anticipated culinary creations.
Moderation is key when it comes to indulging in sweet treats and fast food, but adapting much-loved recipes to be more nutrient-dense and conform to dietary restrictions can help satisfy cravings while minimizing the impact on one’s health. With a little bit of tweaking, family caregivers and seniors alike can enjoy a healthier, homemade version of the Shamrock Shake.
The Secret to a Senior-Friendly Shamrock Shake
Making sure an aging loved one eats a well-rounded diet can be tricky. Many nutritionists warn that store-bought meal replacement shakes are not ideal as a primary source of nutrition for aging adults, but homemade smoothies and shakes can be a wonderful option for a senior who has trouble swallowing (a condition called dysphagia) or specific dietary needs. The key is to make sure that you only use elder-friendly ingredients. “Making your own shakes can also save a lot of money,” notes Ruth Frechman, M.A., RDN, CPT, recent spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Frechman offers her recipe for a healthy Shamrock Shake you can make at home:
- 6 ounces plain, low-fat vanilla yogurt
- 3/4 cup milk
- 1/4 tsp. peppermint extract
- All-natural sweetener to taste
- 2-3 drops green food coloring (if desired)
- 5-7 ice cubes
Directions: Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until the mixture has achieved the desired thickness. Pour into a glass and enjoy.
Modifications to Meet a Senior’s Dietary Needs
Of course, there’s no guarantee that a homemade Shamrock Shake will taste the same as the fast-food version, but it’s certainly a healthier option.
Replacing the reduced fat vanilla ice cream used by McDonald’s with a yogurt and milk combination cuts down on the fat, increases the amount of bone-strengthening calcium and adds digestion-regulating probiotics. Frechman advises that opting for reduced fat milk can save even more calories.
Using a small amount of natural sweetener, such as raw honey, agave nectar or Stevia significantly reduces the amount of sugar and calories in the treat. It also makes this shake more diabetes-friendly, because these sweeteners have low glycemic indexes, meaning 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. Use the following suggestions to jazz up this shake and add extra health benefits:
- Promote bone health.
Eating a diet that is adequate in calcium is essential for maintaining strong bones and preventing osteoporosis. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Adults age 50 and older should consume anywhere between 1,000 and 1,200 milligrams of calcium every day. Depending on which brands you buy, the six-ounce serving of yogurt and 3/4 cup of milk in the recipe above can pack anywhere from 40 to 70 percent of this daily amount. To be fair, a large original Shamrock Shake provides 50 percent of the daily recommended amount of calcium, but it comes with nearly 800 calories and 112 grams of sugar.
Adding a cup of spinach to your homemade version of the shake contributes additional calcium and vitamin K, another nutrient that helps prevent bone loss. “Spinach can be used to give the shake a naturally gorgeous green color instead of adding artificial coloring,” says Frechman. It may sound unappetizing, but spinach has little effect on the taste of most smoothies and milkshakes.
- Encourage healthy weight gain.
It’s not uncommon for elders to struggle to maintain a healthy weight as they age, and there are many reasons why seniors refuse to eat. Older adults might lose their appetite due to side effects of medications, chewing problems, reduced senses of taste and smell, and digestive issues. Unfortunately, being underweight can cause a host of health problems. Introducing sources of healthy fats is a great way to increase a senior’s caloric intake and stabilize their weight. To easily add “good” fats to the above recipe, you can use full-fat yogurt and milk, throw in half of an avocado for a creamy source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, or grind up a handful of almonds or other nuts in the food processor and then mix them into the finished shake.
What kind of add-ins would you use in your DIY Shamrock Shake?