This Is Why You Should Never Drink A McDonald’s Shamrock Shake
St. Patrick’s Day is fast approaching, which means that
in a few weeks McDonald’s will release has released their annual green, minty and sweet “harbinger of Spring,” the annual Shamrock Shake. Also known as The McCafe Shamrock Shake, the McDonald’s Shamrock Shake is a classic drink that has an almost cult-like following. Each year, thousands of people eagerly await the shake’s return months in advance. Actually, if you are reading this article now, you may be someone who is more than ready to rekindle a love-affair with the McDonald’s minty March phenom known as the Shamrock Shake.
If you are not familiar with the Shamrock Shake’s popularity, and want to fully understand the McDonald’s Shamrock Shake fever that is brewing this season, all you have to do is perform a search on any social media platform, like Twitter. Search, “Shamrock Shake” and you will see for yourself how thousands of people are jonesing to get their hands and mouths on a creamy McDonald’s Shamrock Shake.
The Shamrock Shake evokes nostalgic feelings for many and since its introduction in the 1970s, over 60 million Shamrock Shakes have been sold. I credit McDonald’s marketing strategy – it’s rather brilliant. However, there’s more to this shake than what you can see with your eyes. The Shamrock Shake isn’t as straight-forward as it looks – one would think there are about 4 ingredients that make up the Shamrock Shake – ice cream, syrup, whipped cream and cherry, right? Well, yes…and no…. Heavy emphasis on the no.
We all know that a sweet treat from McDonald’s is not going to be “healthy” by any means. Great… but do you know how unhealthy this particular indulgence is? If not, hold onto your shakes, folks. I am about to reveal the truth of what is in that minty, sweet trip down memory lane. It is then up to you to decide if you will continue drinking Shamrock Shakes or quit them. For those of you who have already decided that the cons outweigh the pros of this drink, keep reading, because there are some healthier alternatives listed in this article.
The McDonald’s Shamrock Shake may be festive and fun, but it is a “whopper” (pun-intended – yes, I know, I know… Whopper belongs to Burger King) in the nutrition department. It is a fast-food calorie-bomb that consists of a staggering number of ingredients (33), including obscure additives and dangerous chemicals.
Here’s a closer look:
Nutrition facts for McDonald’s Shamrock Shake (McCafe Shamrock Shake)
Just in case you were thinking about grabbing a large, 22-ounce McDonald’s Shamrock Shake today… you may want to know that it contains:
- 820 calories
- 23 grams of fat (35% U.S. recommended daily value (RDV)
- 15 grams of saturated fat (73% RDV)
- 1 gram of trans fat
- 115 grams of sugar (The AHA recommends consuming no more than 24-36 grams/day)
- 260 milligrams of sodium (11% RDV)
This is roughly the same amount of calories as:
- 1.5 Big Macs, or
- 3, 6.3 ounces, Hot Fudge Sundaes, or
- Nearly 3 Egg McMuffins
If you downsize to a medium, 16-ounce Shamrock Shake, you will consume:
- 660 calories
- 19 grams of fat (29% RDV)
- 12 grams of saturated fat (61% RDV)
- 1 gram of trans fat
- 93 grams of sugar
- 210 milligrams of sodium (9% RDV)
If you order a small, 12-ounce Shamrock Shake, you will drink:
- 530 calories
- 15 grams of fat (24% RDV)
- 10 grams of saturated fat (49% RDV)
- 1 gram of trans fat
- 73 grams of Sugar
- 160 milligrams of sodium (7% RDV)
If your mind is blown by these nutrition facts, hold onto your skull because there is more. The McDonald’s Shamrock Shake consists of 33 different ingredients! THIRTY-THREE ingredients for a SHAKE. I’d say that might be okay if those ingredients were natural, safe and straight-forward, but the sad thing is that they are not. Many of these ingredients are artificial, chemical-heavy preservatives that wreak havoc on our health. The ingredients that make up this creamy treat concern me more than its calories and fat content.
We all know that a dessert from McDonald’s is not going to be nutritious, but many people are unaware of how unhealthy some of these menu items truly are. After a quick glance, the four ingredients of a Shamrock Shake look innocent.
Theses main ingredients include:
- Vanilla reduced fat ice cream
- Shamrock Shake syrup
- Whipped cream
- Maraschino cherry
However, upon closer inspection, each main ingredient has several ingredients of its own – and the majority are chemicals in the form of additives, food dyes and preservatives. Yes, we and our environment are made up of chemicals, but I am talking about the chemicals that are not naturally found in whole foods – synthetic compounds that have been proven by science to be detrimental to our health.
Much of the food we consume (healthy and unhealthy) consists of more than one ingredient, but I want to emphasize that each of the main ingredients listed above has between 10 and 15 individual total ingredients, many of which are harmful.
Here is the full breakdown of what is in a McDonald’s Shamrock Shake:
(Note: Some ingredients such as sugar, high fructose corn syrup, carrageenan, and artificial flavors are repeated, which means that the final product has double and sometimes triple the amount of such ingredients. The ingredients below that are highlighted are linked to online resources.)
VANILLA REDUCED FAT ICE CREAM
- Nonfat milk solids
- Corn syrup solids
- Mono- and diglycerides
- Guar gum
- Sodium citrate
- Artificial vanilla flavor
- Sodium phosphate
- Disodium phosphate
- Cellulose gum
- Vitamin A palmitate
SHAMROCK SHAKE SYRUP
- High fructose corn syrup
- Corn syrup
- Natural flavor (plant source)
- Xanthan gum
- Citric acid
- Sodium benzoate (preservative)
- Yellow 5 (Banned in Norway and Austria)
- Blue 1 (Banned in Norway, Finland and France)
- Nonfat milk
- Corn syrup
- High fructose corn syrup
- Contains less than 1%: mono-and diglycerides
- Beta carotene (color)
- Natural (dairy and plant sources) and artificial flavor
- Mixed tocopherols (Vitamin E) to protect flavor
- Whipping propellant (nitrous oxide)
- Corn syrup
- High fructose corn syrup
- Malic acid
- Citric acid
- Natural (plant source) and artificial flavors
- Sodium benzoate (preservative)
- Potassium sorbate (preservative)
- Red 40
- Sulfur dioxide as preservative (contains sulfites)
A “shake” should have four-six ingredients and less than ten in total, not 33. With the Shamrock Shake and its 33 ingredients, McDonald’s is serving up a chemical shit-storm that is full of artificial preservatives and colorings that are toxic to your body’s systems.
Many of the ingredients in this drink have been linked to various health issues and behavioral traits including:
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Chronic inflammatory diseases
- Fertility issues
- Gastrointestinal issues such as colitis
- Headaches and migraines
- Immunity suppression
- Leaky gut syndrome
- Metabolic syndrome/obesity
- Skin conditions
- Weight gain
“Every time you eat or drink, you are either feeding disease or fighting it.” – Heather Morgan, MS, NLC
Obviously, drinking one McDonald’s Shamrock Shake is not going to send you six-feet under right now, but its ingredients (refined sugar, saturated fat, trans fat, additives and emulsifiers such as polysorbate-80) will very likely contribute to an inflammatory response within the body. Inflammation often begins in your gut, affects multiple aspects of your health and if not managed, will lead to disease and illness later on in life, sometimes sooner than you would think.
Many of us have chronic systemic inflammation for years before its symptoms become apparent or clinically significant. The shakes and lifestyle you choose now will impact your health in the future. Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), once said that “genetics loads the gun, and environment pulls the trigger.” I strongly believe there is truth in this statement.
Knowing the ingredients in the food you eat allows you the freedom to choose whether you will feed disease or fight it. Numerous things we come into contact with daily (traditional Western Diet, sedentary lifestyle, non-organic meats and veggies, depression, anger, stress and anxiety, cigarettes, alcohol and pollution) already contribute to chronic inflammation within the body. Why drink this chemical cocktail and add another trigger to the list?
Now do you understand why I think you should never drink a McDonald’s Shamrock Shake?
Be good to your body – make your own shamrock shake
If you are jonesing for a green, sweet-treat and care about your health, please stay away from McDonald’s and create your own Shamrock Shake. Here are three healthier alternatives:
- Traditional homemade shamrock shake recipe by Bamboo Core Fitness
- Paleo and dairy-free homemade shamrock shake recipe by The Healthy Beast
- Jonesing for a St Paddy’s Day shake by Delicious Perspective
Continue reading to learn more about each recipe.
1) Traditional homemade shamrock shake recipe
If you are craving a more traditional homemade Shamrock Shake with ice cream and CAN tolerate dairy, blend together the following ingredients:
- Vanilla ice cream (organic, full-fat and hormone/soy-free is best – the fewer the ingredients, the better)
- Milk (coconut, cashew or cow – make sure it is organic, hormone-free and not 0% or low-fat)
- Organic mint extract/flavoring (read the label – you want it to be free of preservatives)
- Mint leaves (optional)
Once the ingredients are blended together, you can top this shake off with homemade whipped cream.
Note: This recipe is much healthier than the McDonald’s Shamrock Shake, but is still high in sugar and calories. Remember – sugar and dairy contribute to inflammation. Also, be sure that you are mindful of food allergies and intolerances.
The traditional homemade shamrock shake recipe
- 2-3 large scoops of organic, vanilla ice cream (full-fat, hormone/soy-free ice cream is best - the fewer the ingredients, the better)
- 1½ cups milk full-fat coconut milk
- ½ teaspoon organic mint flavoring or peppermint extract (read the label - you want it to be free of preservatives)
- Handful fresh mint leaves (optional)
- Homemade whipped cream (optional)
2) Paleo and dairy-free homemade shamrock shake recipe #1
Visit The Healthy Beast to get her dairy-free and paleo shamrock shake recipe:
If you are dairy-free, as many of my readers are, and want a version with less sugar than a traditional shamrock shake recipe, this recipe by The Healthy Beast may be a good choice. It is paleo and dairy-free and uses five-six main ingredients. It has a total of seven ingredients, which is quite different than 33.
The recipe calls for almond milk, but I suggest omitting this ingredient (unless you make your own almond milk) due to the additives found in many of the store brands. You can substitute organic coconut milk for the almond milk. Buy as many ingredients organic as possible – especially the extracts.
The main ingredients of the homemade shake include:
- Chilled coconut milk (coconut extract, water)
- Vanilla extract (vanilla beans extractives, water, alcohol)
- Peppermint extract (water, alcohol, peppermint oil)
If you want to avoid alcohol, or are sensitive to it, you can substitute fresh vanilla beans and mint leaves for the extracts.
Granted, if you are used to the sugary-sweet version from McDonald’s, this shamrock shake is going to be a far cry from what you are used to… however, it may be a good alternative for people looking to improve their diets – just be sure you are not allergic to the ingredients. I have not made this version of the Shamrock Shake yet, but am looking forward to experimenting with it… hopefully the taste will be as good as the photos show it to be!
Note: Yes, the fat and calories from this shamrock shake recipe may be on the higher side of things due to the coconut milk and avocado, but I am not concerned with this because unlike that of the McD’s version, coconut milk and avocado are healthier sources of fat. Consuming these whole foods (provided you are not allergic) will create a less dramatic blood sugar reaction within the body, help you feel more satiated (making you less likely to overeat), and will provide anti-inflammatory benefits (eating fresh, whole foods fights inflammation and prevents illness). Obviously, don’t forget to balance this healthy eating with an active lifestyle.
3) Paleo and dairy-free homemade shamrock shake recipe #2
My article has inspired Pip Skinner from Delicious Perspective to share another healthy, dairy-free and paleo Shamrock Shake recipe with the Bamboo Core Fitness. Check out Pip’s homemade shamrock shake recipe:
… and let her know your thoughts.
The main ingredients in Pip’s homemade shamrock shake recipe include:
- Coconut milk
- Mint leaves
- Organic sweetener (or dairy-free ice cream such as FoMu Avocado)
While visiting the Delicious Perspective blog, be sure to read Pip’s post, “Shamrock Shake article brings out the naughty leprechaun in some” – in it she shares her perspective on the recent attention my article has received.
So there you have it – three alternatives to the McDonald’s Shamrock Shake. What do you think?
The Huffington Post has created an infographic that provides more details about the McDonald’s Shamrock Shake. Click “Shamrock Shake: What’s Really In McDonald’s St. Paddy’s Day Drink?” to view the document more clearly.
Mmmm mmm mmmm. After reading this information about the McDonald’s Shamrock Shake, are you still “loving it”…?! I know for sure that I am not. Blah!
This St. Patrick’s Day, say, “No” to the McDonald’s Shamrock Shake. If you want to splurge, eat a hearty Irish dinner (choose your meal – organic beef and cabbage, colcannon, shepherd’s pie, whiskey cake, etc.), and wash it down with a pint of your favorite, additive-free local brew, non-alcoholic beverage, or a homemade Shamrock Shake. Do your best to stick to high quality meats and veggies free of hormones and preservatives – and do your best to watch the sodium. Yes, you will probably consume some natural sugars and sodium with this meal, but it will be A LOT healthier (and for me, more satisfying) than a McDonald’s Shamrock Shake. Trust me on this.
Frustration with the food industry
I am saddened and frustrated that our food industry is so backwards and that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows this kind of crap to end up in consumers’ bellies. Yes, people have the option to buy or not buy (and eat, or not eat) foods like this, but sadly, many people are not aware of the dangers that lurk in these “food-like-substances.”
Lack of transparency
Often, things aren’t as straightforward and transparent as they look. Large corporations like McDonald’s use tricky marketing ploys to suck people into their establishments. Without the proper education about what’s in their foods, it can be rather confusing to navigate all of the nutritional information that is floating around us.
Become aware and take action
I write articles like this to enhance your awareness of restaurant (and fast-food) menu items so that you know what foods (or food-like substances) are on lurking on your and your children’s plates. I don’t think anyone should drink a toxic cocktail like this, but, in the end, it is up to YOU to decide what you will do with this information.
Get the word out
Knowledge is power. If you find any of this information appalling, surprising, useful and/or eye-opening, please help me spread awareness by sharing this knowledge with your friends, family and anyone else who will benefit… and skip the McDonald’s Shake this season. Just say no to the McDonald’s Shamrock Shake (McCafe Shamrock Shake). Instead, create a new tradition – quench your seasonal minty-green cravings with a homemade version instead.
What are your thoughts?
I would love to hear your opinion(s).
- Have you had a McDonald’s Shamrock Shake? If so, what do you think of its taste? Some say its amazing, others say it tastes like toothpaste and chemicals. What’s your take on it? Yay or nay?
- If you like (or love) its taste, will you continue to drink McDonald’s Shamrock Shakes, knowing that they each contain 33 ingredients, many that are harmful to your health?
- Are your McDonald’s Shamrock Shakes days over? Why or why not?
- Do you have a favorite homemade Shamrock Shake recipe? If you do, please share with the Bamboo Core family.
Please share your thoughts and/or recipes in the comment section below. I want to hear and learn from you!
Happy St. Paddy’s Day from Jen at Bamboo Core Fitness!
- Bray, G., Nielsen, S., & Popkin, B. (2004, April 1). Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity. Retrieved from http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/79/4/537.full#ref-list-1
- Chassaing, B., Koren, O., Goodrich, J., & Poole, A. (2015, January 14). Dietary emulsifiers impact the mouse gut microbiota promoting colitis and metabolic syndrome. Retrieved March 2, 2015, from http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature14232.html
- Food Additives ~ CSPI’s Food Safety. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2015, from http://www.cspinet.org/reports/chemcuisine.htm
- Melnick, M. (n.d.). Shamrock Shake: What’s Really In McDonald’s St. Paddy’s Day Drink? Retrieved February 27, 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/15/shamrock-shake-calories-nutrition-ingredients-mcdonalds-st-patricks-day_n_2885415.html
- McDonald’s USA Nutrition Facts for Popular Menu Items. Retrieved February 26, 2015, from http://nutrition.mcdonalds.com/getnutrition/nutritionfacts.pdf
- Product Nutrition – Shamrock McCafe Shake. Retrieved February 27, 2015, from http://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en/food/product_nutrition.mccaf.1056.Shamrock-McCafe-Shake-Large.html?itemName=Shamrock-McCafe-Shake-Large
- Tobacman, J. K. (2001). Review of harmful gastrointestinal effects of carrageenan in animal experiments. Environmental Health Perspectives, 109(10), 983–994. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1242073/pdf/ehp0109-000983.pdf