Contributor: Gillian Culbertson, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition Therapy
The dog days of summer are upon us, and cool, refreshing beverages beckon.
Everywhere you go, you see the frozen treats: fruit smoothies, slushies, iced coffees, milkshakes. Some provide a nutritional boost with added vitamins and minerals. Others are nutritional nightmares, adding significant calories and fat to your diet.
With the vast array of beverages available in restaurants, convenience stores and coffee houses, what’s a body to do? Here are four tips:
1. Shop carefully for smoothies
These are the perfect refresher for summer, with fresh produce plentiful. Smoothies can offer a variety of vitamins, minerals and fiber. But just because fruit is in their name doesn’t make them healthy. Look for fruit smoothies that are just that: fruit smoothies.
Small smoothies with added sugars from fast food restaurants can be more than 200 calories. And larger smoothies can easily be over 400 or 500 — a whole meal’s worth of calories! One popular “real fruit” smoothie has 730 calories and 160 grams of sugar!
Try making your own smoothies to cool off and get the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. For the greatest nutritional boost:
- Blend a variety of frozen fruits and vegetables (such as carrots, cucumbers or spinach).
- Add Greek yogurt for protein and calcium.
- Try flax or chia seeds for heart-healthy omega 3s.
- Add strongly brewed green tea or pomegranate juice for antioxidants.
- Consider kefir for calcium and probiotics.
- Try tofu or whey for added protein.
2. Be selective with slushies
These ever-popular summertime treats are often pure sugar, with added creams and fats. They offer no nutritional benefit, and lots of calories and saturated fat.
However, there are better options than what you’ll find at the convenience store. Look for slushies with natural ingredients, or low-calorie slushies made with Crystal Light® beverages.
The healthiest option of all is to make slushies yourself at home. Prepare them as you would a fruit smoothie, freezing the blended fruit for a couple of hours to achieve that “slushy” consistency.
3. Watch calories in iced coffee
Iced coffees, lattes and café mochas are a great alternative to hot beverages when you need a little jolt of caffeine. But they range from a minimum of 100 calories to a maximum of 600 calories when loaded with sugars, plus total and saturated fats.
For the healthiest option:
- Choose a small size.
- Ask for skim milk or soy milk.
- Hold the extras, like whipped cream and chocolate.
- Ask for it sugar-free, then sweeten as desired.
As always, you can make iced coffee drinks healthier and more economically at home. It’s also a great way to use up leftover coffee. Just chill in the fridge until you’re ready to create. Try adding vanilla, almond or another extract for flavor. Make it creamy by adding skim or soy milk — or even Greek yogurt, blending for a protein boost — and sweeten as desired.
4. Modify your milkshakes
Nothing says summer like ice cream and milkshakes! And yes, you can fit them in your diet as an occasional treat. But to make them a staple will lead to excessive calories and weight gain — not to mention extra fat, saturated fat and cholesterol.
A milkshake can have as many as 2,000 calories and 125 grams of fat! So what’s your best option? You guessed it: Going homemade.
- Use skim or 1% milk, soy milk or almond milk.
- Blend with fat-free or low-fat frozen ice cream or yogurt.
- Add berries or other fruit, or flavoring extracts for variety.
When you aren’t able to make your frozen treat at home, ask for nutrition information before you order out. You’ll find it at most restaurants and on the Internet. The information can be enlightening and will help you make better choices.
So go on and enjoy the rest of the summer with healthy ice-cold beverages — without putting on extra pounds.