Smoothies refreshing, but be aware of hidden calories

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 Internet ad for a smoothie chain. Given that smoothies cost at least as much as a premium cup of coffee, it's a good deal.

But unless you choose wisely, you could be getting a meal's worth of calories as part of that bargain.

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

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

One strategy is to choose an icy beverage that is protein-rich. A British study published earlier 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 a half-hour before dining, so that researchers could measure the effect on how much food was consumed at lunch.

When participants drank the protein-rich beverage, they took in fewer calories at the lunch table than after they drank either the high carbohydrate beverage or the dairy fruit drink.

With those findings in mind, here are some of the popular 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 also has 350 calories and a medium wildberry smoothie packs 550 calories. Instead, stay cool with a Coffee Coolatta with skim milk that has 170 calories, or a vanilla iced latte lite with just 80 calories.

• McDonald's. The large, 32-ounce Hi-C Orange Lavaburst has 350 calories. Choose the small size, which is 16 ounces, and save more than half the calories. The 32-ounce hazelnut iced coffee may look tempting but it will load on 270 calories. Better choice: either a small (16 ounce) iced hazelnut coffee or a small iced caramel coffee with 130 calories each.

• Starbucks. The grande, (16-ounce) iced, caramel macchiato will set you back 230 calories. The White Chocolate Mocha Frappuccino with light blended coffee has 410 calories. Go with an Iced Caffe Latte and slice those calories down to 130.

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

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

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