Millions of people flock to McDonalds every St. Patrick’s day for a Shamrock Shake. They are green, minty, festive, frosty and delicious. As this shake is so popular the franchise locations often run out of them. There are even web sites dedicated strictly to finding the elusive emerald green milk shake!
Where did the now famed Shamrock Shake come from? The first McDonald’s mint shake was made in 1975. According to the McDonald’s website, “it all began with a little girl, a football team, and a visionary doctor.” Philadelphia Eagles tight end Fred Hill’s daughter was diagnosed with leukemia and began treatment. The Hills camped out on hospital benches and in waiting rooms and saw other families doing the same — families that traveled long distances and could not afford hotel rooms. So the Hills decided to do something about it.
The team rallied to raise funds. Jim Murray, the team’s general manager, called a friend from McDonald’s advertising and suggested they team up during the next promotional event, which was St. Patrick’s Day. The shake was perfect for the cause. It was green, like the Eagles’ uniforms. Enough funds were raised to buy a four-story house, which became the first Ronald McDonald House.
From 1975 on, a portion of each Shamrock Shake sold went to the Ronald McDonald House Charity.
Ok, we all know they taste good. But are they good for you? Or even relatively healthy? Lets examine. A small 11.3oz Shamrock Shake has 416 calories of which 88.2 come from fat with 9.4g of protein. As for the actual ingredients McDonald’s lists these as whole milk, sucrose, cream, nonfat milk, corn syrup solids, mono and diglycerides, guar gum, imitation mint flavor, carrageenan, cellulose gum, and vitamin A palmitate. With the Shamrock shake there is additionally green No. 3 & Blue No. 1 food dyes.
Most of us read that and pretty much hear milk, blah blah blah, sugar, and tune out. But lets look at this. Green No. 3 known as Fast Green FCF is prohibited in the European Union and some other countries. It is the least used of the approved dyes here in the USA. Within green No. 3 the FDA states that it certain percentages of arsenic, mercury and lead permissible and expected as inclusions! This substance has been found to have a tumorigenic effect (capable of forming tumors) in animals as well as a mutagenic effect (physically changes the DNA ) in both animal and human studies. With Blue No. 1, though there have been no reported deaths due to general use, it has caused several reports of toxicity including death when used medically as an internal dye during testing spurring several lawsuits.
Lets go through these ingredients one at a time.
Whole milk – Check.
Sucrose – Sugar derived from sugar cane or beets.
Cream – check.
Non-fat milk – check.
Corn syrup solids – Through manufacturing 97% of the water is removed from the corn syrup leaving an even more sugary dehydrated version of the syrup.
Mono-and diglycerides – are common food additives used to blend other ingredients that normally will not mix (for example water and oil). They are break down products of fat and generally come from soy. Almost all soybeans now grown are a genetically modified food that poses its own set of health risks.
Guar gum – is a fiber from the seed of the guar plant. It is used as a laxative. In food however it is used as a thickening agent. There is some interest in guar gum as a possible weight loss agent as it gives a false sense of fullness.
Imitation mint flavor, ok so we know it’s not from a mint leaf… where does it come from? Wood by products and chemicals.
Carrageenan which comes from red algae is used as an emulsifier. There is some debate as to the nutrition and healthfulness of this additive, but so far the over all ruling is that it is safe.
Cellulose gum – is used as a stabilizer which keeps the liquids mixed together. It passes through the human digestive system with no effect. It is not in itself edible but not harmful either.
Vitamin A Palmitate– This is a synthetic version of vitamin A retinyl palmitate and is used because it is the only version of vitamin A which is stable in milk.
So essentially a good portion of this shake will not digest and just passes through you. So will marbles or coins. I don’t see you eating those. Another portion of it may actually be poisoning you. Sounds delicious! Why not try a healthier version this St. Patrick’s day? *We recommend leaving out the green food-coloring if you can, or using chlorophyll instead to eliminate the dangers present with green No. 3 and blue No. 1. *Chlorophyll will work for green beer as well!
Healthy Alternative – Shamrock Shake Recipe!
2 cups all natural vanilla ice cream or 2 cups soy ice cream or rice ice cream
1-1/4 cups 2% low-fat milk, soy milk or rice milk
1/4 teaspoon real mint extract
8 drops Chlorophyll
Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend on high speed until smooth.
Stop blender to stir with a spoon if necessary to help blend ice cream.
Pour into 12-ounce cups and serve each with a straw.
So while the Ronald McDonald house is a worthwhile and nobel charity, you may just want to donate and skip the shakes all together.
Happy St. Patricks Day!