Making Lemonade…Really

My beverage of choice is coffee. I drink several cups every morning and another cup or two in the afternoon. Later in the day, however, I want something without the caffeine. When an ice-filled glass of water or a soft drink won’t do, a refreshing glass of lemonade really hits the spot.

In the past, lemonade rarely turned up in my grocery basket. At most, I’d buy a can or two of frozen concentrate once or twice a year. I bought my first carafe of Simply Lemonade maybe a year ago, and now I’m addicted. I’ll swirl every sip of the delicious liquid around my mouth, swallow, and then exclaim, “Delicious!”

It’s delicious because eight ounces has 28 grams of sugar (seven teaspoons), clocking in at 120 calories. Damn! That’s a lot of sugar for a little eight ounce serving — more than the soft drinks I pass up for what I thought was a healthier choice. Shows how much attention I pay to labels. Sprite has 26 grams (6 1/2 teaspoons) of sugar at 104 calories for eight ounces. The same amount of ginger ale is about 80 calories with 21 grams (5 1/4 teaspoons) of sugar.

I keep an assortment of eight ounce cans of soft drinks in my refrigerator. They’re great for company, keep a long time, and satisfy my occasional craving for a carbonated beverage. The single-serving cans limit my intake because my pride prevents me from opening a second can. Simply Lemonade comes in a 59-ounce carafe I’ll knock off in a day or two — tops — for a lovely little bonus of 840 extra calories I really don’t need.

Switching to the low-calorie version of Simply Lemonade holds no appeal for me. Having survived this long without artificial sweeteners, I see no reason to add these suspicious chemicals to my diet now. No offense, but do you ever see skinny people drinking diet drinks? According to the National Institute of Health, “overweight and obese adults who drink diet beverages consume significantly more solid food calories — particularly from snacks — than those who drink sugary beverages.”

Eating better and exercising for an hour or more just about every day has pushed my Body Mass Index out of the obese range. I’m still overweight, however, which puts me in the high risk group for excess snacking — like I don’t already have the problem. Besides, artificial sweeteners taste bad to me, and any I’ve ever tried gave me a whopping headache.

I decided to try making my own lemonade. My goal was a delicious, tangy beverage with less sugar per eight ounce serving than ginger ale. I searched online for recipes, all of which came down to heating water and sugar in varying proportions to make a simple syrup and adding lemon juice.

I bought a squeezer and a bag of lemons and started experimenting. When filled with ice, my lemonade glass holds one eight ounce soft drink. My plan was to squeeze lemons directly into the glass, fill with ice, and top with about eight ounces of simple syrup.

The average lemon contains a little less than 1.5 grams of sugar. I squeezed two lemons into the bottom (three grams of sugar from the fruit) and filled the glass with ice. So far, so good.

For my first batch of simple syrup (before finding out about the seven teaspoons of sugar in a glass of Simply Lemonade), I added one teaspoon (4 grams) for every eight ounces of water. With just seven grams of sugar, my lemonade clocked in at only 28 calories per eight ounce serving. Bonus! Because of all the puckering, sucking down a glass burned even more calories.

The food experts at work recommended cutting back on the lemon juice. One lemon should be plenty. Doh! I figured since lemons were bigger than grapes but smaller than oranges, one wouldn’t be enough. Bonus Tip: Be careful not to over-squeeze the lemon in attempt to get every drop of juice or bitter oils from the rind will taint the flavor beyond repair.

Every day I increased the sugar about half a teaspoon for my simple syrup, stopping at three teaspoons (12 grams) per eight ounces of water. The resulting glass of lemonade was delicious, and only 54 calories a serving — less than half the calories of Simply Lemonade. If you’re hooked on Simply Lemonade, a few glasses  with one teaspoon of sugar per cup should be enough to make three teaspoons per cup taste great.

Is making my own lemonade cost effective? Nah. But when it comes to food, cost isn’t always the most important consideration. Take delivered pizza, for example. Because I’ll eat everything I order, I’m willing to pay more to get less. Same with value meals — just the sandwich for me, thanks. Avoiding temptation works. Resistance is futile.

Convenient? Not in the least, and that’s the best part. I make my lemonade by the glass now. No more getting up in the middle of the night and polishing off the jug. When my one glass is gone, I switch to water. On occasion, I’ll have a second glass, but that’s still a few calories shy of one glass of Simply Lemonade.

Better quality? Depends on the lemons. I picked lemons on a trip to California years ago and was shocked to find the differences from store-bought and home-grown to be about the same as for tomatoes or peaches. I’d love to use freshly picked lemons rather than the store bought variety. I wonder how a potted lemon tree would do….