What’s in a Shamrock Shake?

I usually get a couple reactions to this question. The first is the “ignorance is bliss” mindset: “I don’t want to know. PLEASE don’t tell me.” The second is more honest: “Probably a lot of ingredients that are REALLY bad for me.” Which is, unsurprisingly, very true. Now let me get something straight: I’m not here to tell you that Shamrock Shakes are bad for you and that you would be better off celebrating St. Patrick’s Day month in an alternative way (i.e. NOT taking pleasure in these). This is true, but you probably don’t need me to tell you that. I don’t think most people go to a drive-through fast food restaurant because they want to eat healthy. What I disagree with is the “ignorance is bliss” mindset. I see this in my group nutrition classes when I’m talking about the negative effects of artificial sweeteners (i.e. diet pop), or when I’m in a coaching session with a client and we get to one of their favorite foods that they’re against giving up. We have weird attachments to food, don’t we? Why is it that sometimes we would rather not know what we are putting into our body? I think the mature approach is being informed about the ingredients in your food, learning how different foods affect the body, and making your decisions based on knowledge. You can still have your Shamrock Shake or your diet soda— but at least you’ll have a better understanding of why you feel like crap an hour or two after. Knowledge is power.

While I don’t intend for this post to simply tell you that Shamrock Shakes are unhealthy, I also don’t mean for this to be a post aimed at singling out the Shamrock Shake. There are a number of popular food items that could have played the main character in this story. The reason I’m bringing up the Shamrock Shake is because this is one of those many crowd-pleasing food items that’s tied with traditions. And I can relate: it used to be a ritual that I honored every single year. I knew Shamrock Shakes were only in McDonald’s stores for 8% of the year, so I was going to take advantage of all 31 days of March by maximizing my potential (aka drink Shamrock Shakes like they were going out of style…because, well, they were). (Even I fell for their clever marketing tactic with this seasonal item.) It wasn’t even out of character for me to stop at a McD’s on Valentine’s Day to ask if a batch of the enslaving Shamrock Shakes happened to be brewed up yet. So…what happened? Why don’t I drink them anymore? What’s one Shamrock Shake gonna do to me?

Let me enlighten you. What it does to you depends on your unique biochemistry. I have clients who can’t look at a cookie or piece of cake without falling deep into that pit and having a very difficult time getting out. I also have clients who like to enjoy their favorite foods from their “old way of eating” on certain occasions— sometimes even on one splurge day per week (I’m not endorsing this; I’m simply stating the fact that everyone is different, and resilience to chemical-laden, sugar bombs is different.)

So here’s what’s in one of those delightful, cool minty flavored shakes with the bright green color and whipped cream and maraschino cherry on top. In just a SMALL, 12 ounce one of these puppies, you’re looking at 73 grams of sugar! And 86 grams of carbohydrate. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, divide the total grams of carbs by 4 to get teaspoons of sugar: 21.5 teaspoons. To give you a better visual, a full cup of sugar has 48 teaspoons of sugar, so when you drink a small Shamrock Shake, it’s like pouring a half cup of sugar into your bloodstream. And if you decide to really splurge and go for a large, you’ll be ingesting 115 grams of sugar. GROSS. And sugar isn’t all that in these atrocious indulgences. Here’s the full list of the ingredients in the four not-so-simple parts of the Shamrock Shake (from McDonald’s website). Read the ingredients, then read my solution in the last two paragraphs:

Breakdown: What’s in a Shamrock Shake

1) Vanilla Reduced Fat Ice Cream
Milk, sugar, cream, nonfat milk solids, corn syrup solids, mono- and diglycerides, guar gum, dextrose, sodium citrate, artificial vanilla flavor, sodium phosphate, carrageenan, disodium phosphate, cellulose gum, vitamin A palmitate.

2) Shamrock Shake Syrup
High fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, water, sugar, natural flavor (plant source), xanthan gum, citric acid, sodium benzoate (preservative), yellow 5, blue 1.

3) Whipped Cream
Cream, nonfat milk, water, corn syrup, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, mono-and diglycerides, carrageenan, polysorbate 80, beta carotene (color), natural (dairy and vegetable source) and artificial flavor, mixed tocopherols (vitamin E) to protect flavor. Whipping Propellant (nitrous oxide).

4) Maraschino Cherry
Cherries, water, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, malic acid, citric acid, natural (plant source) and artificial flavors, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate (preservatives), red 40, sulfur dioxide as preservative (contains sulfites).

For something that seems so simple, these are a heck of a lot of ingredients that I can’t even pronounce and certainly don’t want in my body. Remember, friends: Our bodies were designed to eat real foods. Don’t put yours to the test to see what it does with non-food items and chemicals, like those found listed above. Chances are, you won’t like the end results, and in my personal opinion, it just isn’t worth it.

Lastly, I’m not all about making “less bad” versions of junk food, but I do know of a good, healthy balanced snack with the minty flavor and creamy texture that you might want to be a satisfying alternative to one of these! It’s simple: full fat greek yogurt (I prefer the Greek God’s brand in the green container,) with one scoop of the original “mint” flavor of Dynamic Greens. You’ll get satisfying protein, healthy fat and nutritious carbohydrates (PFC!) along with antioxidants, fiber and probiotics, and NO insane spike and crash in your blood sugar levels. This is something I feel a LOT better about putting into my body, and that my friends, is why I no longer indulge in the disgusting, chemical-laden Shamrock Shake. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day month, and if you want a few other ideas for green foods to help celebrate the season, click here!

About Cassie Bjork, RD

Cassie is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian, Nutrition and Fitness Expert and health coach, who is passionate about exposing people to healthy nutrition with real food. Cassie focuses on debunking rumors, diet myths and fads and teaches how to eat healthy by breaking down research-based material into practical forms that can be implemented into any lifestyle.

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Disclaimer

This article is for informational purposes only, and is educational in nature. Statements made here have not been evaluated by the FDA. This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Please discuss with your own, qualified health care provider before adding in supplements or making any changes in your diet.