So we’re watching the Tour De France, and during a break, I notice McDonalds is selling “Real Fruit Smoothies”. Now, I’m a certified smoothie addict, I have certificates stating as such (Oh, and I will post proof or retract… don’t test me), so I immediately hit up McDonalds website and go to check it out. My wife’s curious too, and after a little investigation, we find the McDonalds “nutrition” site. On a side note, you know, it’s at least commendable that McDonalds puts so much effort into making their nutrition information available. They actually have links to a couple of PDFs that you can download which are pretty informative. One (here) has ingredient information, and the other one (here) has nutritional information.
When we got the nutrition information, my wife wanted me to check real quick and see what the nutrition information was for McDonalds Caramel Frappe. Apparently she likes those things. So we scroll down a bit and are stunned. A twelve ounce serving of McDonalds Caramel Frappe (the “small” size) has a whopping 450 calories. But it gets worse. It has 20 grams of fat. Oh, but it gets even worse, and here’s the kicker. This 12 ounce cup of caramel goodness contains an amazing 57 (yes, “fifty seven”) grams of sugar.
Now let’s just step back here a second. First off, you should always try to avoid added sugar. I mean, I understand it’s not realistic to think that you could eliminate all added sugar in your diet, I’m not a fool. But the idea is to minimize it. Secondly, let’s put this into perspective. Let’s say you were going to eat about 2,200 calories a day (we’re just using an average, baseline calorie count here, and 2,200 is a good, solid number for most people, your results may vary). You should be looking to eat about 44 grams of sugar for the entire day! Let’s also please not forget, that’s NOT “added sugar”. That’s sugar that occurs naturally in fruits, breads, carbohydrates, etc. If that wasn’t enough to convince you, let’s also point out that a gram of sugar is about 4 calories. So this one little 12 ounce drink contains about 230 calories, or more than 10% of your daily caloric intake from sugar. A quick look at the ingredients list gives us a hint why the nutrition information is so crazy. It lists the ingredients as “Caramel Coffee Frappe Base, Ice, Whipped Cream, Caramel Drizzle”. I know what “Ice” is, I’m pretty sure I know what “Whipped Cream” is, but I’ve never seen “Caramel Coffee Frappe Base” or “Caramel Drizzle” in the supermarket. But fear not, they list the ingredients for both of those, and sure enough, the “Caramel Coffee Frappe Base” contains, “Water, cream, sugar, milk, high fructose corn syrup, coffee extract, natural (botanical source) and artificial flavors, mono- and diglycerides, guar gum, potassium phosphate, disodium phosphate, carrageenan, carob bean gum” and the “Caramel Drizzle” contains, “Corn syrup, sweetened condensed milk (milk, sugar), high fructose corn syrup, water, butter, sugar, salt, pectin, disodium phosphate, artificial flavor (vanillin, ethyl vanillin), caramel color (with sulfites), potassium sorbate (preservative)“. I’m no rocket scientist, but I don’t need a slide rule to see how many different ways sugar appears in that list.
That’s stunning. I can’t believe that people drink those… and that’s a “small”. Don’t even bother looking at the 16 ounce serving, you’ll shit yourself.
So we scroll a little further, and get to the “Real Fruit Smoothies”. I’m pleasantly surprised to see a moderate nutritional hit for those. The 12 ounce version of the “Wild Berry Smoothie” has 210 calories and half a gram of fat. But something just doesn’t jibe when I look over on the far right and see 44 grams of sugar. That seems like a lot of sugar for a real fruit smoothie. A quick check of the ingredient list shows that the smoothie contains “Wild Berry Fruit Blend, Low Fat Yogurt, Ice”. Okay, so here we go again, right? Let’s take a look at what’s in a “Wild Berry Fruit Blend” because I know what those other ingredients are (also, you do have to be somewhat mildly impressed with such a small ingredients list). Sure enough, it’s a Fruit Blend with a little bit of added sugar, containing “Strawberry puree, water, sugar, blackberry puree, blueberry puree, concentrated pineapple juice, concentrated apple juice, contains less than 1% of the following: cellulose powder, xanthan gum, colored with fruit and vegetable juice, natural (botanical source) and artificial flavors, pectin, citric acid.” Again, it’s not really bad, it’s just that it could’ve been better. I’d have been happier to see a puree that didn’t list sugar as the the third ingredient before blackberry puree and blueberry puree, two berries by the way, which are well known for their sweetness, taste, and low sugar content in addition to their excellent antioxidant content. Again, just to put that into perspective, consider that a cup of strawberries (16 ounces) contains only 7 grams of sugar.
I’m not really knocking McDonalds. After all, they’re actually making an effort here to be both transparent and healthier. I guess what’s most disappointing is that most consumers can’t be counted on to do any sort of due diligence, and would probably just go ahead, get themselves a 16 ounce fruit smoothie and think to themselves, “well, that was a healthy choice”. To be fair, it is a “healthier” choice, but it’s still a long way to go. All things in moderation, of course, and if I were going to treat myself to a desert, this would probably be one of the better things I could go to a fast-food restaurant and walk out with. So maybe one afternoon, after a nice long ride, when my legs’ glycogen stores are all used up, this might be a nice break from a typical recovery drink.
I’ll just make sure I avoid that “Caramel Frappe” like the plague, though.
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