Treat Yourself, Wisely Balance is key in navigating culinary trends

Food trends abound with frappuccinos, frozen yogurt, smoothies, bubble tea and other gotta-have-it items. From social media to mother-daughter dates, I see the evidence almost daily of these fads; we are bombarded almost as frequently with dietary information and misinformation about them. I consulted with Kathryn Violette, RD, LDN, to help me separate nutritional fact from fiction. Violette also coaches elite swimmers at North Baltimore Aquatic Club. She is passionate about what we are consuming and how it can fuel—or foil—healthy lifestyles.

Were you among the hysterical masses to snag an elusive, color-changing, “unicorn frappuccino” from Starbucks? I wasn’t heartbroken when my daughter found them sold out, as I had heard it packed the sugar of six Snickers bars. Violette busted that rumor as an exaggeration, but warns that some frappuccinos do add up to staggering numbers. A venti java chip frapp made with whole milk and topped with whipped cream has 600 calories and 88g of sugar. For comparison, a standard Snickers has 250 Calories and 27g of sugar. Violette’s advice: Stick with a tall, skim, no whip, and ask for fewer pumps of syrups.

“FroYo” exploded in popularity with self-serve custard and topping bars that price by weight. Violette surveyed info from popular chain Sweet Frog as an example. She says froyo can offer fewer calories than that fancy frapp, but is still an easy path to demolishing your daily sugar recommendations. An important point to keep in mind is that most establishments base their nutrition information on a ½ cup serving size, an amount most people easily exceed. With added toppings and sauces, “this cool treat can become a sugar bomb,” Violette says.

Not all smoothies are created equal…or even made with actual fruit. Many chain store smoothies are little more than fruit-flavored slushees, using syrups and sugary juice blends more than real, whole fruits and veggies. A reputable juice bar will let you know exactly what is in your cup and help you make good decisions. Better still, making smoothies at home gives you the control. It’s easy with a decent blender and some frozen fruit! Experiment with fresh ingredients and boost nutritional density by adding Greek yogurt, protein powder, etc.

Smoothie bowls are on trend as well. The thicker, spoonable base is more like a sorbet, layered with granola, honey, chopped fruit, chia seeds, nuts, yogurt … use your imagination. Just watch portion sizes and balance your carbs, proteins and fats.

This trendy drink (also called boba tea or pearl milk tea) can be customized for taste and nutrition. The base tea is low-calorie. It’s the add-ins that can get you in trouble. When ordering bubble tea, cut sugar and calories by asking for fewer pumps of flavor syrups and low-fat milk or a non-dairy variety. The tea’s namesake “bubbles” (bobas) are sweet, chewy little tapioca balls added to the mix. Try making your own bubble tea at home with naturally-flavored teas and popping bobas you can purchase through Amazon.

I was confident that the “no calorie/no sugar/no fat/low sodium” seltzer my family loves is a great alternative to sodas, sugary punches or high-calorie fruit drinks. To my dismay, I recently heard of a study in the International Journal of Pediatric Dentistry, noting that the acidity of sparkling waters can lead to tooth enamel damage. Still, it is arguably a superior choice over sodas, so we compromise by limiting consumption to one or two cans per day, with a lot of the standard non-fizzy variety otherwise.

According to The American Heart Association, added sugars should be limited daily to 25g for women, 38g for men and a range of 12-25g for children, depending on age and activity level. U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend calories from added sugars not exceed 10% of any total daily caloric intake.

“That can be a hard prescription to follow,” Violette says. “When trying to navigate the world of trending food and drink, it is probably best to follow the 80/20 Rule: 80% of the time try to find another option; 20% of the time, enjoy your treat in small portions.” Many restaurants offer nutritional info on their websites. Research your favorites. Armed with knowledge, you can better tailor your indulgences to achieve balance.

Violette cautions against labeling foods as inherently “good” or “bad,” as that can create detrimental emotions of guilt associated with food and eating. “There can be room for all kinds of food in a healthy and balanced eating pattern. What is important is portion size and how frequently it is consumed,” she says.

That’s food for thought for the whole family!


About Courtney McGee

Courtney McGee is a freelance writer, cancer warrior, runner/triathlete and compulsive Candy Crusher. She lives in Towson with her husband, their three children and their high-maintenance rescued hound dog.

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