Great email question from Ann: Are smoothies healthy?
Answer: Well, no, usually not.
A lot of smoothies are purchased at coffee or smoothie shops and ice cream joints. The problem is that most of these blended drinks are full of sweeteners, some kind of milk or ice cream, artificial flavors, perhaps some food coloring and preservatives and a bit of pulverized fruit (if they contain any fruit at all). Though some smashed-up fruit can be healthy, the berries or bananas lose their nutritional punch when they’re whirled with a bunch of chemicals and sugars.
At Caribou Coffee, they’ve been hyping their “Acai Smoothie.” The signs at Caribou read: “Naturally Chill. Real fruit. Zero trans fats. And all that tropical anitoxidant goodness.” But, with 72 grams of sugar and 330 calories in the small size, the nutritional benefits get overshadowed by the calories and sugar rush.
Most research suggests that liquid beverages do not provide satiety like a food that must be chewed and swallowed. So, these high-calorie smoothies may not be squelching hunger like a healthy snack or a real meal could.
At a place like Jamba Juice, you could sip down 108 grams of sugar and 770 calories for the original size of the Peanut Butter Moo’d. The peanut butter will give you a bit more satiety from the fat (20 grams in this one). But, that’s a lot of calories for a snack… and not nutritionally happy enough to be a meal.
And of course, the ice cream shops are trying to blend fruit into their staple to create something “health conscious.” It’s really not working so well. Baskin Robbins brags on their website about their Mango Fruit Blast Smoothie,
“Delicious mango fruit blended with fat-free vanilla frozen yogurt for a refreshing taste of the tropics. It’s more than enough to make you say, ‘Yay!’ Made with real fruit and full of live and active cultures.”
I’m gonna have to say “Nay!” on this one. BR failed to inform us that the delicious mango fruit is also blended with (among many other ingredients) four types of sweeteners, preservatives, a bunch of thickeners, yellow 5 and yellow 6. For a grand total of: 144 grams of sugar and 620 calories (for a medium size).
But don’t give up on smoothies if you love them. If you’re out and about and want a smoothie, order the smallest size or split it with a friend. If you’re at a smoothie joint, you could request subbing the juices for whole fruit (e.g. sub mango chunks for orange juice) and sub a low-calorie milk for the ice cream or frozen yogurt. At Jamba Juice, you can often personalize your smoothie and make it low-cal and extra healthy. If you’re feeling frisky, you could even throw a wheatgrass shot into your blend.
At home, I make smoothies for snacks (and sometimes for breakfast) a few times per week. Here are the keys to a healthy smoothie:
Keep your smoothie “bulky” by adding ice and not blending the fruit fully. This will increase satiety and enable you to sort of “chew” your smoothie.
Add a fat. Consider adding one teaspoon of cold-pressed flax or walnut oil, one tablespoon of nut butter, some nuts or a slice of avocado (great in a strawberry smoothie). Or, enjoy a small handful of raw nuts on the side.
Use a soy, almond, rice, etc. milk instead of ice cream or fro-yo. Check the nutritional label to make sure the milk is not sweetened (some of the soy “drinks” can have tons of calories and sugar).
Add spices! Cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, cayenne… get creative! Spices like these are cleansing, healing and can boost energy and caloric burn.
If necessary, add just a bit of natural sweetener.
Throw in a veggie. Spinach, kale and other mild leafy greens work really well (add a small handful of spinach to your smoothie and I promise you won’t even taste it). Squash, pumpkin and carrots are also my favorites to add.
Read more about my favorite smoothies here.
Please share your smoothie recipes below! I’m always looking for something funky to put in the blender…