Are Smoothies Healthy?
A deititian explains the healthy attributes and the unhealthy pitfalls.
Smoothies can be a fresh and fun part of your healthy cooking repertoire, but don’t fall into the trap of believing that every blended beverage is good for you. Here are some of the most-common healthy attributes and the unhealthy pitfalls.
Smoothie Green-Light Ingredients
After writing Healthy Quick and Easy Smoothies, filled with more than 100 smoothie recipes with 5 ingredients or less, I have learned that healthy smoothies are possible, especially when you keep it simple. My best tip? Focus on fresh ingredients combined with flavor, texture and nutrition in mind. The ideal combo to achieve healthy smoothie bliss includes fresh or frozen fruit and veggies, a protein source, and finally a blending liquid that’s free of added sugar. This could look like frozen berries, Greek yogurt and coconut water, or a frozen banana with oats, chia seeds and milk.
This trifecta of ingredients has the potential to offer fluid, antioxidants, fiber and nutrients to support healthy digestion, immune function, muscle and bone health, and even heart health.
Appropriate smoothie portions will vary depending on what’s in them, but in general 8 to 16 ounces is a good range. A quart-sized smoothie — even one made with healthy ingredients —can stack up to way more calories than most people need from a drink. (Remember, a quart is equal to 4 cups!)
Smoothie Yellow-Light Ingredients
Smoothies come to life with delicious add-ins, but inflated portions can lead to an undesired calorie overload. These healthy ingredients should be used in moderation:
- Added sweeteners: A touch of honey or maple syrup can add depth and the right amount of sweetness to your smoothie — each tablespoon has 45 calories, so be sure to measure it out before adding to the blender.
- Coconut milk: A very popular ingredient for a creamy plant-based smoothie, coconut milk contains a whopping 9 grams of saturated fat per 1/4 cup serving.
- Nuts + nut butters: These are also decadent ingredients. Nut butters contain about 210 calories per 2 tablespoons — a little goes a long way!
- Avocado: This fruit literally tastes good in everything, including smoothies. Keep in mind each one of these babies contains 250 to 300 calories, so use sparingly.
Smoothie Red-Light Ingredients
Head to a local smoothie chain and there’s a good chance some of these sugar bombs are in the ingredient list. Treat these types of add-ins as the occasional indulgence.
- Ice cream: With nearly 5 teaspoons of added sugar in just a half-cup, ice cream turns a smoothie into a milkshake. Don’t be fooled.
- Frozen yogurt: Same here — milkshake. Some brands of frozen yogurt have more added sugar than ice cream.
- Sherbet + sorbet: This is another popular (and seemingly heathier addition) to many smoothie shop menus. They are lower in fat, and sorbet is dairy-free, but they average 7 teaspoons of added sugar per half-cup.
- Fruit juice + juice concentrates: Be wary of too much juice, even if it is 100% fruit juice, as it can add hefty doses of calories. You are better served with whole fruit in your smoothie.
Smoothie Nutrition Boosts
From a boost of caffeine and inflammation fighters to digestion-promoting prebiotics and probiotics, there are so many finishing touches you can add to smoothies to boost the nutrition even further. Here are some of my top suggestions:
Want caffeine? Add brewed green tea or espresso powder.
Want electrolytes? Add coconut water or sea salt.
Want fiber? Add dried prunes or wheat germ.
Want omega-3 fats? Add chia seeds or flaxseed.
Want prebiotics? Add lentils or banana flour.
Want probiotics? Add kombucha or kefir.
Smoothies CAN be healthy if you are mindful about the ingredients and the portions.
Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. She is the author of four cookbooks First Bites: Superfoods for Babies and Toddlers, The Healthy Air Fryer Cookbook, The Healthy Instant Pot Cookbook and Healthy Quick and Easy Smoothies.
*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.
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