Saturday, March 17, 2012

On Darby O'Gill, Uncle O'Grimacey, Rotten Apples and Low-Carb Shamrock Shakes

Once upon a time, when I was a kid, society made a bigger deal of St. Patrick's Day than a parade and an excuse to get drunk. For example, there was usually some kind of acknowledgment in the public school I attended (today, a day honoring a Catholic saint would probably be verboten, but back then most of my classes were filled with Catholic kids, either Irish, Italian, Polish, Lithuanian and a few Portuguese families thrown in for good measure). Those of us non-Catholic kids (and our parents) who attended Lutheran, Congregational, or Methodist churches and even the few Jehovah's Witnesses and Jewish kids didn't find it terribly offensive, and most even found it kind of fun because they were learning about something that wasn't too familiar to them. Some teachers would wear green, and on TV, Captain Kangaroo would have Mr. Green Jeans on to teach kids about the history of the first Irish Saint, and inevitably, reruns of Disney's 1959 movie Darby O'Gill and the Little People would show on one of the independent (non network-affiliated) broadcast TV stations. It was a simpler time, to be sure.

Along the way, in 1970 in fact, a rapidly-growing fast-food chain named McDonald's introduced a seasonal product that gained something of a cult following which is akin to the peculiar McRib sandwich (which is supposedly a barbecue pork sandwich that has been periodically sold by the chain, but was introduced long after the item I'm referring to): a minty-flavored, green milkshake in honor of St. Patty's Day: the Shamrock Shake.

The Shamrock Shake, unfortunately, rightfully deserves a place on the company's already lengthy list of bad-for-you foods, even though the item is one of those things people who might otherwise never go to McDonald's might step in (or Drive-Thru) for. Indeed, if memory serves me, they were quite tasty! There have been some complaints about changes to the formula in 2010 with McDonald's introduction of the McCafe concept, specifically that they now taste less minty and more like vanilla and are less solidly green in color, but I can't comment as to whether those are accurate. But take a look at the Nutrition Facts panel from 12-oz sized Shamrock Shake in 2012, and you might want to reconsider indulging for the green!! (this item may disappear from the products list after the spring, so I'll list the nutrition facts from 2012 for the Shamrock Shake here, too, for reference):

Serving Size 12 fl oz cup (the smallest size) of McDonald's Shamrock Shake (2012)

Calories: 540
Calories from Fat: 150
Protein: 10 g
Fat: 16 g
Saturated: Fat 10 g
Trans Fat: 1 g
Carbohydrates: 88 g
Sugars: 74 g
Dietary Fiber: 0 g
Cholesterol: 45 mg
Sodium: 160 mg
Calcium: 350 mg
Iron: 0 mg
Vitamin A: 960 IU
Vitamin C: 0 mg

Not only is this item super-caloric, but also has a host of other bad-for-you items, including cream which is indulgent to begin with, and the small size also includes a whopping 88 grams of carbohydrates (74 grams of which come directly from sugar or sugar-like substances), and 45 mg of Cholesterol! The minty syrup itself is made from high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated fats, two other not-so-great food choices. Fortunately, this item is only sold once a year, but with a nutrition profile like this, even that may be too frequently!

When the product originally launched in 1970, and the sizes were much smaller, and served in paper cups (including a tiny child's size small!), so the super-sizing is definitely not a myth in this case. Today, it's served in a jumbo plastic cup and the small is twice the size of the original. Supersize me, indeed! The early marketing for the product featured Grimace's Irish Uncle O'Grimacey (Kerri Sparling of Six Until Me once did an infamous post on Grimace which I still wonder what prompted, so I'll spare you the intimate details of who or what a Grimace is by simply providing the link to her October 2007 post HERE).

Still, as a nostalgia buff, I can admit that I have memories of my grandmother, who wouldn't be caught dead in McD's for anything else, making a pilgrimage to the Golden Arches for the sweet, green concoction. She has long since passed away (she died of cancer in 1980), but even my mother will occasionally mark the season in her honor with a Shamrock Shake.

Given the fairly toxic nutritional profile of even the smallest-sized Shamrock Shakes, I haven't had one of these in a long, long time, but I saw a TV commercial last night suggesting that Shamrock Shakes were now around across the U.S. for a limited time.

Low Carbers Re-Invent the Shamrock Shake ... For the Better!

I happened to catch a very interesting post this week from the low-carb blog "Your Lighter Side" which offered a very low-carb remake of this toxic, green treat with a much, much healthier version. She uses iced, mint tea as the base, and the ice does most of the rest, although she adds some high-calorie cream which I'd say could be replaced with a lower calorie version without much difficulty (some thoughts: a few tablespoons of plain, Greek-style yogurt gives it some creaminess). Have a look at low-carb blogger Jamie Van Eaton's remake of the sweet, green treat, which she's dubbed "Mint Tea Frappuccino", and contains just 1.7 grams of net carbs!! Seriously, it's worth trying! I've copied her recipe (and her commentary on that creation) below for easy reference:

Mint Tea Frappuccino

As soon as I saw McDonald's had Shamrock Shakes available for March, I wanted one in the worst way. I went one better; why not a Shamrock Frappuccino? It's pretty yummy, so bless yer lucky charms for that!

Really, though. Seriously. Right now. Do it ... I'll even share ... yours ...

Some ideas:

You can sub dairy for nondairy in this beverage. Almond milk, coconut milk, you name it; the real thickener is the ice, so go a little lactoseless if need be.

You can skip the green food coloring. The real color of this frappe is a bone white (yes, I'm the person who hugs the paint swatches at Home Depot). I just like the color, especially around St. Patty's Day. The only thing green and funky around my house shouldn't be the laundry. Am I wrong here?

This drink is seriously, superbly low carb, at only 1.7 net carbs for the drink. It's filling and I didn't even go for the heavy whipped cream or the chocolate. I went full frontal minty. I might not even brush my teeth now.

Mint Tea Frappuccino

4 ounces warm water
Spearmint tea bag
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 Tbsp sugar equivalent in a substitute
1-1/2 cups crushed ice

Optional: Chocolate syrup
Optional: Sweetened Whipped Cream

1. Combine powdered sweetener, tea and water. Let steep for 5 minutes. Squeeze excess tea bag into water after removing to get the most of the flavor and color.

2. Crush ice in blender (or, better yet, use the crush setting on the ice maker). Combine all ingredients in blender and mix until frothy.

3. Top with whipping cream and chocolate syrup if desired.

Makes 1, approx 12 ounce frozen frappuccino.

Nutritional information (without the cream and chocolate): Calories: 103, Carbohydrates: 1.7g, Fat: 3g

Nutritional information (with the cream and chocolate): Calories: 206, Carbohydrates: 2.7g, Fat: 6g

URL for this blog post:

Again, I would avoid the heavy cream and choose a lower-cal version myself, but like everything on her site, the goal is to be creative in the kitchen!

Other Variations

To be sure, there are a variety of ways you could go with this, and there are other versions online. Another one is the Hungry Girl's recipe makeover of this green favorite. She swaps reduced-fat vanilla ice cream with light soy milk and peppermint extract for a more guilt-free take on this seasonal treat.

Catch her post at:

However, she still relies on sugar-free ice cream. As an alternative, might I suggest the yogurt instead (frozen is even better, but plain or plain Greek-style works)? She also includes 1 tbsp. of Coffee-mate Sugar-Free French Vanilla powdered creamer to make it slightly thicker (Coffee-mate does have hydrogenated fats, but a tablespoon is unlikely to do serious damage), and she also uses peppermint extract to give it more intense minty flavor which I highly recommend. Again, the point with this St. Patty's day pilgrimage is to encourage experimentation in the kitchen. It's usually always better to make it yourself since you have complete control over what goes into your recipes.

With that, I'll sign off with a TV commercial featuring the long-lost Uncle O'Grimacey, or catch the YouTube video at

Rotten Apples?

On a totally unrelated note, I was a bit shocked this week that a bunch of rotten Apple addicts were camping out in front of Apple retail stores for a new version of the iPad (see for the news story). Most were (legal) adults, too, and some even had college degrees, too.

Seriously?! WTF?

I sort of camped out for a product once for a product, but only for about an hour before my local Atari 2600 dealer got the first-ever home version of Pac Man way back in 1982. But I was like 12 or 13 years old at the time, and being one of a limited number of people who had Pac Man at home did make me king of the nerds for a brief window of time. And it's a different story when you want concert or event tickets for which there are only a finite number available - ever. But what do these iPad owners get, a few marginally-improved new product features over the old version?

Big freakin' deal.

The average person cannot distinguish the old iPad from the new one, and I would dare say that it's not worth camping out for a new $600 device that will be widely available soon anyway. People in China are working almost around the clock to make more of them, folks. Don't give up your job at Applebee's anytime soon for a new iPad because it's not all that special, and in a few months, you'll find plenty of them in your local Walmart or Target store anyway.

My household has an iPad, and while it's a competent tablet computer, it is hardly worth camping out for a newer version of it. Often, the device remains plugged in its charger for days at a time.

The cult-like following for these products is impressive ... for Apple shareholders ... but the people doing this are what could only be called morons. What kind of curmudgeonly old person would I be if I didn't denounce this kind of behavior? I don't want to hear about it on my TV newscast, or read about it in the paper. It's not news, it's stupidity, folks.

Anyway, before I get too far off topic about Apple groupies, get back to your blenders to try some of these low-carb Shamrock Shakes, and have a Happy St. Patty's Day!!


Jenny said...

Revisionist food history?

I'm old enough to have drunk the occasional fast food milkshake in the late 1960s, and they were far from tiny. They were also delicious. The coffee shake from Burger King still lingers in my memory as being close to perfection. But they had stopped selling real shakes by the 1990s and replaced them with chemical goo.

I'd be very surprised if the 2012 version contains more than a teaspoon of real cream. Most likely it's "creme" made with vegetable oil and lab created additives.

It's safe to say that anyone who can drink a medium (or large!) and get a normal blood sugar an hour later need never worry about developing abnormal blood sugars. It's even more likely such people are very rare!

Mike Hoskins said...

Great post, Scott!!! Thanks for the St. Paddy's Day post! Interesting to reflect on the McD's shake history and find that low-carb alternative. And I'm on the same page as you with the IPAD - totally not worth it, in my Kindle book. :))

Kate Cornell said...

Crikey! I think my glucose rose just reading about the shake. Great info and I'm really glad to have the low-carb version. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

I feel sad to read about the bad effects of fast food that are so rapidly been devoured by the young generation...these food facts should be circulated to make them aware at least.