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Is that right? McDonald's real fruit smoothies

As this blog has noted time and again, the world is chock full of beverages whose manufacturers claim they provide several servings of fruit or are packed with powerful antioxidants, both offered as signs that the drink at hand is really good for you. Usually we end up poking holes in those claims.

But this week we're taking a slightly different tack, looking at a product for which no outlandish claims are being made -- even though they plausibly could be. This is a surprising happenstance, as the beverage is the Real Fruit Smoothie, and the maker is McDonald's.

You'd think that given the pounding McDonald's regularly (and often deservedly) receives for its fat- and sodium-heavy menu, it would take any opportunity to tout as healthful a new item that can actually claim to be made from good-for-you ingredients. It may not be perfect -- more on that in a moment -- but I think these smoothies are a decent addition to the McDonald's menu.

McCafe Smoothies come in two varieties -- strawberry banana and wild berry -- and three sizes, small (12 fluid ounces), medium (16 ounces) and large (22 ounces). Small smoothies have 210 calories, half a gram of fat, 3 grams of fiber, and 44 grams of sugar. A large strawberry banana smoothie has 330 calories (the wild berry version has 320), 1 gram of fat, 4 grams of fiber, and 70 grams of sugar. (To see for yourself, click here and then go to the McCafe section to find a PDF file of nutrition data.)

The smoothies provide a nice dose of the antioxidant Vitamin C -- ranging from 70 percent of the Daily Value for that nutrient to 120 percent, plus a little bit of calcium and iron.

Yes, there's more sugar in these smoothies than I would choose (I don't add any sweetener to the fruit smoothies I make at home), and I wish sugar weren't the second ingredient in the yogurt they use in these drinks. But it's only the third or fourth (depending on the variety) ingredient in the fruit blend -- and in both varieties, real fruit puree is the first ingredient. Bear in mind that fruit, including the strawberries and bananas in these drinks, has calories and sugar and contributes to the tallies for both in these beverages.

(To see what the Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 say about sugar-sweetened beverages, click here, then scroll down to Section 5: Carbohydrates and to page D5-29. The bottom line: Science hasn't shown that consuming sugar-sweetened beverages necessarily leads to weight gain.)

It's easy to take potshots at the world's most iconic fast-food chain. But in this instance, I'm inclined to give McDonald's credit for offering a not-bad product without making a big deal about all the antioxidants and other nutritional benefits it confers. It's just a nice cold smoothie -- to be enjoyed, if you're so inclined, in moderation.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  July 30, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Is That Right? , Nutrition and Fitness  
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I would like this column to address food safety issues involving outdoor produce markets, such as the ones that sell fruits and veggies on the weekends all over the DC area. Exactly how safe it is for fruits and veggies to left out in this kind of heat for several hours? I've seen clearly dehydrated "organic and natural" fruit and veggies for sale at these markets, and they look worse than the stuff at Giant. I'm left wondering if the heat is damaging the produce, either in terms of depleting the food of its nutrients or allowing it to start to decompose.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | July 30, 2010 8:50 AM | Report abuse

"half a gram of fat, 3 grams of fiber, and 44 grams of sugar."

They may have natural fruit in it but they'll still help you on the road to diabetes and make you fat.

Posted by: cmecyclist | July 30, 2010 8:53 AM | Report abuse

Compared to some of the other smoothie makers out there (Smoothie King, in particular, comes to mind) or milkshake and frappacino offerings (from Starbucks, Dunkin Doughnuts, or Five Guys) this one is much healthier calorie and fiber wise! Yes, 44 grams of sugar is a lot, but one smoothie will not make you fat. I am not going to eat one every day, but I am inclined to try it. The trick is that they lure you into the place, and what else are you going to get along with that smoothie? The regular diet of burger & fries with the smoothie is what will lead to being overweight...if I walk in to get a smoothie and walk out it will be a delightful hot afternoon treat!

Posted by: lclcl33 | July 30, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse

I'm sorry... I'm an American and I didn't understand one of the words you used up there... what does "mod-er-ation" mean?

I'm gonna go get me FIVE of these babies.. liquid diet time!

Posted by: Bush--notrelated | July 31, 2010 7:05 AM | Report abuse

I don't plan on buying one simply because I think they're too expensive, regardless of the nutritional benefits of the "fruit" in the smoothies.

Want to get your RDA of fruit? Go to your local farmers market and buy an apple, some blueberries, a peach. Fresh fruit is better for you.
While you're at the farmers market, buy some fresh veggies for your dinner. YUMMMY!!!!

Posted by: momof20yo | July 31, 2010 8:02 AM | Report abuse

You didn't talk about the additives in the drinks.

I applaud McD's for not using artificial dyes. Even if you don't buy the evidence that these colorings cause behavioral problems, allergies, cancer, etc., they still mess with kids' heads.

If I let them, my kids would consistently choose foods that are bad for them and choose too much simply based on their bright colors. This is how they are wired - brightly colored fruit is ripe, healthy fruit. These dyes serve no other purpose but to make unhealthy food look healthy and to trick people into overeating. I would like to see more on this issue.

McD's did opt for artificial flavors. Unfortunately the FDA doesn't think we deserve to know what that means, so McD's doesn't tell us. Could simply be flavoring from something edible other than fruit. Could be petroleum based, and carry all the risks of the dyes. We just don't know. I'd like to know more about this too.

Posted by: jackaroe | July 31, 2010 9:42 AM | Report abuse

How about mentioning the PROTEIN content? One of the reasons people get smoothies (with yogurt), instead of just fruit juice, is that they include protein. It would be helpful in assessing the nutritional value to understand how much protein is in these smoothies. I wonder why you neglected to mention this basic nutritional component.

Posted by: BrianBoru1 | July 31, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Medium Coke (21 fl oz): 0 fat, 58 carb, 0 fiber,0 protein, 210 Cal
Smoothie (22 fl oz): 1 fat, 77 carb, 4 fiber, 3 protein, 320 Cal
Shake (21 fl oz): 18 fat, 45 carb, 5 fiber, 18 protein, 770 Cal.

This makes the Coke look pretty good, though I don't think anyone will be advertising it as health food anytime soon! A smoothie is probably a better choice than a shake, though the shake does have a lot of protein.

Posted by: Virusguy | July 31, 2010 7:18 PM | Report abuse

How much do they cost?

Posted by: rjma1 | July 31, 2010 11:27 PM | Report abuse

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