Lemonade, Lightened Up

by in Meal Makeovers, June 29, 2009

There’s nothing better than than an icy glass of lemonade on a hot day, but who needs all those extra calories from added sweeteners? Instead of turning to sugary, packaged mixes, make your own light and fresh versions. Here are our tricks.

Citrus Squeeze
A glass of sweetened lemonade (typically 8 ounces) that comes from a mix or carton has about 120 calories and about 7 teaspoons of sugar. When I checked out the options at my local grocery store, I found most are sweetened with tons of sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, while the low-calorie version are drowning in artificial sweeteners.

Go for the real deal — lemons, a small amount of sugar and water are all you need. Not only do you skip the preservatives and processed ingredients, but fresh lemon juice has a hefty dose of vitamin C and some potassium. Stick with fresh lemon (pass on the bottled stuff) — it’s a little more time consuming to do the squeezing, but you’ll taste the difference. An average lemon yields about 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) depending on the size. Use a juicer or a handy reamer to get every last drop.

A Sprinkle of Sweetness
When you make your own, you can control the amount of sweetener — and sugar’s not your only option. If sugar is your top choice, opt for the superfine variety, which dissolves into drinks better, or make a simple syrup. This way the sweetness distributes evenly in every glass — no watery lemonade at the top of your pitcher and inches of sugar sinking to the bottom. You can also infuse your simple syrup with herbs like mint, basil, or orange peel for some extra (calorie-free) flavor.

Honey and agave nectar are some other sugar alternatives to try. Some of these sweeteners are actually sweeter than sugar, so you’ll most likely need to use less. Start by swapping half the recommended amount of sugar (for example, if the recipes calls for 1 cup of sugar, then use no more than 1/2 cup of agave nectar). Then let your taste buds decide — you can always add it a bit more. Since most of the calories in lemonade come from sweeteners, keep portions to a few teaspoons per person max.

Adding a splash of fresh fruit juice is my favorite way to add sweetness — not to mention it boosts vitamins and antioxidants and gives your drink a dash of color and a bit more zing. I found this Food Network Magazine recipe that mixes mashed fresh strawberries, guava juice and lemon juice to make an interesting combo.

And then, of course, there’s always the “Arnold Palmer,” which is when you mix your lemonade with some iced tea.

TELL US: Do you like your lemonade straight or pepped up with other flavors?

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Comments (78)

  1. Ann Porter says:

    How about a lime-ade recipe?

  2. danawhite says:

    Hi Ann –
    My favorite limeade recipe is one part simple syrup and one part fresh lime juice in a glass with ice, then fill to the top with sparkling water and garnish with a lime wedge – cool, bubbly and delicious.

  3. Tiana Hampton says:

    Our family favorite is using agave nectar to sweeten lemon or limeade. It has a low glycemic index unlike sugar but doesn't have that fake sweetener after taste like artificial sweeteners. We taught our 10 year old how to squeeze the fresh citrus juice, add water and agave nectar and he loves doing it! He even makes his own variations by using lemons, limes, oranges and even pineapple!

  4. Bob Lipscomb says:

    i use splenda baking mix to make a lemon simple syrup in a glass measuring cup (16oz), 3-1 mixture and use a veg-peeler to pull off strips of lemon skin for the oil, ( no white ptih=bitter),
    i use filtered tap water,like a brita=less $ than bottled., i use 2 lemons juiced to a large lemonaide and 1oz syrup. crush ice + a slice fill with water and a straw,,it sounds involved but once you prep this up it is easy to make it for a crowd. the syrup is the key. very simple old fashioned, savannah,ga

  5. Lori Angelo Viets says:

    I LOVE CITRUS ANYTHING and fresh lemonade is the best. Thank you for the reminder that fresh is the only way to go!!!

  6. Howard says:

    I know this is probably an old question but is simple syrup one cup of sugar to one cup of water and then heated to desolve the sugar?

  7. Bob Lipscomb says:

    good question howard, i`m a former barman, and it can really be made to strength. in this case i made it a bit more syrup-e,, the lemon oil from the skin, notice i did`nt say peel, is incredible, the oils of the skin is really where the flavor is.
    you can certainly boil it ,etc. one of the few times i use a microwave.
    i`m a personal chef so really i encourage people to add their own signature.
    i made a variation os htis for a alcohol free dinner drink last nite.
    1/2 individual cup of (ciao bella) blood orange sorbet, and less ice. it really drew raves and refills

  8. danawhite says:

    Hi Howard –
    One cup sugar to one cup water is a good ratio for a basic simple syrup, but I agree with Bob's comment, you can adjust it to your taste.

  9. Cheryl says:

    I like a spicy lemonade to rev up my metabolism and quench my thirst. Half a lemon, touch of stevia or a dash of pure maple syrup, a few dashes of cayenne, and about a 1/4 tsp. of ginger in a tall glass. Great tonic for the liver and yummie too!!

  10. Bob Lipscomb says:

    cheryl, yes that is a great tonic, i have friends that use in weight loss diets and it works. it is very close to the tonic used by "celeb diets and models". the tonic in it`s origional form was created by a doctor in the 1930`s around the time of dr kellogg and was friends of his at his famous "health farm", good movie.
    i have yet to try sativa, but i do take maca, a roots herb extract from the andes, it has amazing effects on
    your enegry/mental clarity and stamina., really like it in my job.
    But Lemons have such wonderful properties in terms of cleaning up your internal body functions.
    alot of people take the juice of a lemon straight every morning to detoxify.
    but with the ginger ( love it) that much bring out a zing. i will have to include my recipe for "ginger beer"cheers!!

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