Think Before You Drink

(Photo: Elaine Thompson/AP)
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By Sally Squires
Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Food costs a lot these days, so bargains catch the eye more than ever. And when the bargain is for a tempting, icy liquid concoction on a hot, steamy day, it can be hard to resist.

That came to mind when a two-for-one smoothie offer popped up in a recent Robeks Internet ad. Given that smoothies cost at least as much as a premium cup of coffee, a deal is worth looking for.

But unless you choose wisely, you could be getting more than you bargained for in terms of calories. Robeks Green Tea Sensation Smoothie has 222 calories for the 12-ounce size. The P-nut Power Shake has 422 calories, while the 800 lb. Gorilla Protein Shake clocks in at 375 calories. Even the light-sounding Lemon Freeze smoothie has 279 calories.

"Some of these smoothies just have an outrageous amount of calories," says Barbara Rolls, a professor of nutrition at Pennsylvania State University. "People need anywhere they can to try cut the calories."

Nor is Robeks alone in offering high-calorie frozen liquid treats. Nearly every coffee vendor and fast-food chain now has a creamy, cold drink that looks tempting on a blistering summer day.

Besides the extra calories that these concoctions provide, there's the fact that sipping rather than chewing food might mean that the brain doesn't register the calories accurately. That could interfere with how full you feel after eating and with when you're likely to feel hungry again. The bottom line is that your bottom could be a little larger if you're adding smoothies and other frosty beverages to your day without compensating for their extra calories.

One strategy is to choose an icy beverage that is protein-rich. A British study published this year by University of Sussex scientists tested the effects of giving 18 lean, healthy men various drinks before lunch. Each beverage contained the same number of calories, but one was high in protein, one high in carbohydrates and one was a combination dairy and fruit drink. The men drank the beverages on different days either two hours or just half an hour before lunch so that researchers could measure the drinks' effect on how much the men ate at lunch.

Participants who drank the protein-rich beverage consumed fewer calories at lunch than those who drank either the high-carbohydrate beverage or the dairy/fruit drink.

With those findings in mind, here are some of the coolers, smoothies and iced drinks you're likely to encounter this summer along with some lower-calorie options that can keep your thirst quenched without necessarily expanding your girth.

Dunkin' Donuts . Unless you need a meal, skip the smoothies. A small strawberry banana smoothie (that's the 16-ounce size) has 350 calories. A 16-ounce Coffee Coolatta with cream has 350 calories, and a medium wildberry smoothie packs 550 calories. Instead, stay cool with a Coffee Coolatta with skim milk, which has just 170 calories, or a vanilla iced latte lite, with just 80 calories.

McDonald's. The large Hi-C Orange Lavaburst has 350 calories. Choose the small size, which is 16 ounces, and save more than half the calories. The large hazelnut iced coffee might look tempting, but it will set you back 270 calories. Better choice: either a small (16-ounce) iced hazelnut coffee or a small iced caramel coffee, each with 130 calories.

Robeks . The chain's "naturally light" smoothies are billed as having one-third fewer calories, sugar and carbohydrates. A 12-ounce raspberry banana drink, for example, has 158 calories, the Banana-Mango has 157 calories and the Strawberry-Pineapple has just 126 calories.

Starbucks. The grande (16-ounce) iced caramel macchiato with 2 percent milk will set you back 230 calories. The white chocolate mocha frappuccino with light blended coffee has 180 calories. Go with an iced caffè latte and slice those calories down to 130.

Wendy's. A Nestle Toll House Cookie Dough Twisted Frosty packs 480 calories, including 10 grams of artery-clogging saturated fat. An M&M Twisted Frosty has 560 calories -- enough for a meal, with 12 grams of saturated fat. Healthier frozen options include: small Original Chocolate Frosty with 320 calories or a small vanilla Frosty for 310 calories.

Make your own. You can save money and calories. Take a cup of ice, a cup of berries, half a banana and a cup of nonfat plain yogurt. Place ingredients in a blender and mix. Voila! A smoothie for 150 to 200 calories, depending on the fruit used.

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