12 Fast Food Drinks That Aren’t Worth the Calories

12 Fast Food Drinks That Aren’t Worth the Calories
Photo: Pond5

In 1955, the standard “large” fountain drink cup at McDonalds was seven ounces. Today, the smallest cup — a child’s size — is 12 ounces, and the adult cups range in size from 16 to 30 ounces. Head to other fast food joints, and you can find servings as large as 64 ounces. (For those counting at home, that’s more than double the capacity of the average human stomach!) That means you can order up a vessel of soda that’ll cost you up to 700 calories a pop.

To make matters worse, soft drinks aren’t the only beverages served in mega-sized containers: Additive-packed smoothies, fat-filled shakes, and sugar-loaded coffees also come in these gigantic sizes. And with the longer ingredient lists come hundreds of additional calories.

To help you choose more wisely, we rounded up 12 of the most calorie-packed beverages out there, along with an easy, healthy substitute you can make at home. We’d say saving as many as 700 calories per drink is worth 10 minutes in the kitchen, wouldn’t you? So pass on the calorie bombs and whip up these tasty alternatives instead!

How to Make a Healthier Smoothie King The Hulk Strawberry
Photos: Pond5; Lacey / A Sweet Pea Chef

1. Smoothie King The Hulk Strawberry

Nutrition Facts: A large (40 oz) contains 1,928 calories, 64 g fat (26 g saturated fat), 250 g sugar and 50 g protein.

Consider yourself warned: This gargantuan smoothie packs as many calories, fat and sugar as most adults require in an entire day. (It probably doesn’t help that the second ingredient listed in this “Fitness” smoothie is butter pecan ice cream.) And while the shake’s “Weight Gain Blend” might be a good idea for some customers — namely those looking to put on pounds — most people should do without. Don’t be fooled by the “make it skinny” option on this menu, either: It only cuts 200 calories and 44 (of 250!) grams of sugar, while the fat content remains the same.

Make It Healthier: Take a load off with this skinnier Strawberry Protein Shake made with almond milk, frozen strawberries, Greek yogurt and protein powder for an extra boost of energy. The finished product: a more reasonable 308 calories, 33 grams of sugar and a whopping 37 grams of protein.

How to Make A Healthier Dunkin' Donuts Frozen Mocha Coffee Coolatta
Photos: Pond5; Perry Santanachote / Life by DailyBurn

2. Dunkin’ Donuts Frozen Mocha Coffee Coolatta

Nutrition Facts: A large (32 oz) contains 990 calories, 47 g fat (29 g saturated fat), 125 g sugar and 8 g protein.

Say it with us, folks: A coffee drink should never contain upwards of 900 calories! The killer in this drink is the added sugar, and the fact that it contains about as much fat as the average adult should consume in an entire day. The modest eight grams of protein is respectable, but you can do better — without all the extra artificial stabilizers and preservatives.

Make It Healthier: A small version of this Dunkin’ Donuts treat made with skim milk instead of cream isn’t the worst indulgence, coming in at 300 calories, 0 grams of fat and 68 grams of sugar. But this homemade Mocha Protein Shake is a much more nutritious choice thanks to the addition of a dairy-free protein powder, clocking in at 254 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, 17 grams of sugar and 28 grams of protein.

How to Make A Healthier Jamba Juice Peanut Butter Moo'd Shake
Photos: Pond5; Perry Santanachote / Life by DailyBurn

3. Jamba Juice Peanut Butter Moo’d Shake

Nutrition Facts: A large (28 oz) contains 980 calories, 29 g fat (6 g saturated fat), 131 g sugar and 26 g protein.

Peanut butter is basically a health food, right? Not quite. While a small half-cup serving of this PB, chocolate and banana shake might be an acceptable dessert, it doesn’t qualify as a healthy breakfast or snack in any size. (Even the smallest option has 72 grams of sugar and almost 500 calories!) The use of nonfat frozen yogurt might help keep the fat content a bit lower, but that can often mean additional sugar is needed to enhance flavor — not always a fair trade.

Make It Healthier: Add some protein powder, cut out the fro-yo, and we’re on our way to a much healthier alternative with this Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Shake. For 20 ounces, you’re looking at 485 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, 33 grams of sugar (nearly 100 grams less than the Jamba Juice shake!) and 32 grams of protein. While the calorie count may still be a bit high, consider this vegan and gluten-free alternative a nutritious breakfast replacement that will power you though the morning.

How to Make A Healthier Sonic Grape Slushie with NERDS
Photos: Pond5; Brittany Angell

4. Sonic Grape Slushie with NERDS Candy

Nutrition Facts: ARoute 44” size (44 oz) contains 970 calories, 0 g fat, 247 g sugar and 0 g protein.

The only beverage anyone should be enjoying in a 44-ounce cup is water — certainly not a bright purple drink that should probably be called “liquid sugar.” This gigantic slushie contains enough sugar to satisfy most adults’ recommended daily intake. And considering the World Health Organization suggests we cut sugar intake to less than five percent of total daily calories (11 percentage points less than Americans consume on average), maybe it’s best we avoid what Sonic calls “the added awesomeness of NERDS Candy.”

Make It Healthier: Forego the artificial coloring and added sugar in favor of this Easy Grape Slushie made from actual grapes. (Shocking — we know!) Sixteen ounces only sets you back about 123 calories and 29.9 grams of sugar that come solely from the fruit — this all-natural makeover has no added sugar.

How to Make A Healthier McDonald's Shamrock Shake
Photos: Pond5; Perry Santanachote / Life by DailyBurn

5. McDonald’s Shamrock Shake

Nutrition Facts: A large (22 oz) contains 820 calories, 23 g fat (15 g saturated fat), 115 g sugar and 18 g protein.

It only happens once a year, and we can count our lucky stars for that. A large McDonald’s Shamrock Shake packs a chilling 820 calories and 115 grams of sugar.  To put that in perspective, that’s more sugar than nine servings of vanilla ice cream! Factor in the dyes and additives also found in this St. Patrick’s Day indulgence, and it will leave you feeling a little green…

Make It Healthier: Luckily, we’ve cracked the code on making a lighter version of this treat at home. Thanks to fat-free frozen yogurt and heart-healthy avocado, our all-natural Healthy Shamrock Shake will hit the spot while saving you nearly half the fat and over 100 grams of sugar. A 16-ounce serving of our smarter substitute takes the sting off with 499 calories, 12.5 grams fat, 9 grams of sugar and 21 grams of protein.

How to Make A Healthier Starbucks Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha
Photos: Pond5; Katerina / Diethood

6. Starbucks Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha

Nutrition Facts: A venti (20 oz) contains 680 calories, 26 g fat, 94 g sugar and 19 g protein.

It may taste like Christmas in a cup — but it’ll cost you. Sugary peppermint syrup and fat-rich whole milk are the culprits in this calorie-bomb coffee drink that packs a scary 94 grams of sugar. Pro tip: Cut the whipped cream from any Starbucks drink, and you’ll save about 80 calories and eight grams of fat. Switch from whole milk to skim, and you can save another 90 calories and 12 grams of fat.

Make It Healthier: Whip up a slimmed-down version of the Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha at home (sans whipped cream) for just 336 calories, 6.6 grams of protein and 41.6 grams of sugar. All it takes is coffee or espresso, the milk of your choice, white chocolate chips and peppermint candies. Substitute a few drops of peppermint extract if you’d like to cut back on the sugar even more.

How to Make A Helathier Wendy's Frosty
Photos: Jordan Shakeshaft; Perry Santanachote / Life by DailyBurn

7. Wendy’s Chocolate Frosty

Nutrition Facts: A large (20 oz) contains 580 calories, 15 g fat (10 g saturated fat), 80 g sugar and 16 g protein.

In the grand scheme of things, the classic Wendy’s Chocolate Frosty isn’t the most terrible of sweet treats (and how can we put a calorie cap on nostalgia anyway?). But before making Dave proud, consider opting for the six-ounce “Jr.” size dessert, which has a more manageable 200 calories and 27 grams of sugar. Fries for dipping? Those will still cost you.

Make It Healthier: In the mood for the full-size treat? Break out the blender and make your own vegan Protein Frosty Shake. Sixteen ounces of this perfectly textured shake comes in at just 261 calories, 6.5 grams of fat, 26 grams of protein, and a modest 7.1 grams of sugar. Bonus: This combination of macronutrients make for a great pre- or post-workout snack, too.

How to Make A Healthier Starbucks Salted Caramel Mocha Frappuccino
Photos: Pond5; Amanda / Running With Spoons

8. Starbucks Salted Caramel Mocha Frappuccino

Nutrition Facts: A large (24 oz) contains 550 calories, 18 g fat (11 g saturated fat), 90 g sugar and 7 g protein.

Combine three flavored syrups, whole milk and whipped cream, and this festive Frappuccino becomes a sugar and fat bomb. (The caramel sauce and turbinado sugar topping don’t help, either.) For a healthier take on the same flavor combination at Starbucks, try a large iced coffee with one pump of toffee nut syrup and a splash of milk.

Make It Healthier: It may not exactly be a Salted Caramel Mocha, but we think the “cookie dough” in this Salted Caramel Cookie Dough Smoothie is just as delectable. It will slash the fat and calorie counts in half, setting you back a total of 254 calories, 6.5 grams of protein, 20 grams of sugar and 8 grams of fat.

How to Make A Healthier Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte
Photos: Pond5; Perry Santanachote / Life by DailyBurn

9. Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte

Nutrition Facts: A large (20 oz) contains 510 calories, 20 g fat (12 g saturated fat), 62 g sugar and 18 g protein.

Ah, the ultimate fall favorite! Unfortunately, at 510 calories, Starbucks’ beloved Pumpkin Spice Latte is more of a meal of its own than a drink to sip alongside breakfast. The spicy-and-sweet indulgence isn’t just packed with calories, sugar and fat — it’s full of artificial flavorings, too. Turns out, most pumpkin spice-flavored drinks don’t even contain real spices. Instead, the syrups are engineered using oils extracted from the spices, or artificial versions of them.

Make It Healthier: Our Healthy Pumpkin Spice Latte may have less protein, but if you enjoy it alongside a balanced breakfast the nutritional benefits will more than even out. Enjoy eight ounces for just 85 calories and two grams of fat. Plus, our version actually contains pumpkin, unlike most commercial versions out there.

How to Make A Healthier Dunkin' Donuts Pumpkin Latte
Photos: Pond5; Pond5

10. Dunkin’ Donuts Iced Pumpkin Mocha Latte

Nutrition Facts: A large (32 oz) contains 470 calories, 13 g fat (7 g saturated fat), 71 g sugar and 14 g protein.

This single cup goes overboard by using not one, not two, but three flavored syrups — mocha, pumpkin spice and caramel. Sounds delicious? Maybe so. But each is packed full of artificial colors and flavors, preservatives and high-fructose corn syrup — not exactly a breakfast of champions.

Make It Healthier: Here’s an easy at-home fix that provides the same flavor profile without the unnecessary additives. Brew pumpkin-flavored coffee to your desired strength. Chill the coffee, and shake it up with ice, unsweetened cocoa powder and milk of your choice. Add a pinch of stevia and, depending on the milk you choose, this treat will only set you back between 20 and 100 calories.

How to Make A Helatheir Seven-Eleven Fanta Wild Cherry Slurpee
Photo: messicanbeer; SkinnyMom

11. Seven-Eleven Fanta Wild Cherry Slurpee

Nutrition Facts: A Big Gulp size (32 oz) contains 263 calories, 0 g fat, 72 g sugar and 0 g protein. 

The label on this convenience store favorite may as well just list one ingredient: sugar. Well, high-fructose corn syrup, to be exact. Grab a Big Gulp-sized serving and you’ve got the equivalent of more than 17 teaspoons of sugar — about the same amount as in four Betty Crocker chocolate cupcakes!

Make It Healthier: Here’s an easy way to put a fresh spin on the roadside classic: Use real frozen cherries, vanilla yogurt, and fresh citrus juice. This DIY Cherry Limeade Cream Slush rolls in at 113 calories and 16 grams of sugar. 

How to Make A Healthier Arizona Iced Tea with Ginseng and Honey
Photos: Jacqueline; Perry Santanachote / Life by DailyBurn

12. Arizona Green Iced Tea with Ginseng and Honey

Nutrition Facts: A tall can (20 oz) contains 175 calories, 0 g fat, 42.5 g sugar and 0 g protein.

Don’t be fooled by all-natural sounding ingredients like “ginseng” and “honey.” Store-bought flavored teas can be as bad in the nutrition department as soda! Whether they’re packed with sugar or artificial sweeteners, bottled beverages are often packed with unnecessary additives. (And don’t be fooled by “diet’ options — researchers believe artificial sweeteners might be just as bad for us as real sugar.) While tea boasts plenty of benefits all its own, this drink loses its health cred with the addition of eight-and-a-half teaspoons of sugar (yes, you read that correctly).

Make It Healthier: Here is a refreshing drink you won’t have to feel guilty about: Matcha-Cucumber Lemonade. The combination of cucumbers, mint, water, lemon juice, agave and matcha green tea powder create a flavorful, hydrating and healthy beverage that will leave you happy and hydrated. Ten ounces contains just 117 calories — that’s not going to break the calorie bank!

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