How Healthy is That Smoothie?

By Maylin Rodriguez-Paez, RN

Chances are you’ve probably drank a delicious smoothie at one point during your life. They’re everywhere — from your fancy organic health stores to the fast food restaurant lining our neighborhood street corners.

Whether they deserve it or not, they are often perceived as healthy.

It’s true … smoothies do have some health merits. They’re rich in antioxidants provided by all of the tasty fruits they contain. They’re also fast, convenient, and relatively easy to make.

For many people on the go, smoothies seem like an obvious, healthy choice. But just how healthy are they?

Most Smoothies Aren’t as Healthy as You’d Think

As part of an anti-aging program, we should monitor the amount of sugar we eat on a daily basis. A sugar-rich diet can spike our blood sugar levels and increase our risk for numerous diseases, including cancer and metabolic syndrome.

One study has even linked the consumption of sugary drinks to cardiovascular disease.1

Smoothies, depending on how they’re made, can sometimes contain more sugar than a can of soda. For example, a popular 20 ounce can of soda has about 69 grams of sugar,2 compared to up to 133 grams in a similar sized smoothie.3

Since some fruits contain more sugar than others, watch out for smoothies that contain watermelon, pineapple, and mangoes. These fruits contain a high amount of sugar and are more likely to increase your blood sugar levels.

Generally speaking, your best bet is to order a smoothie that contains berries, since berries have a lower impact on blood glucose.

Be sure to also investigate the other ingredients that are added to your smoothies. Many places add sorbet, table sugar, and syrups which contain high fructose corn syrup.

Obviously, it’s best to skip these unnecessary additions whenever possible.

Smoothies Aren’t as “Lite” as You Probably Think

A smoothie can contain more calories than a dessert. We looked at the calorie count of different smoothies at a popular smoothie joint.

The calories ranged between 250 to 590.4 Contrast that with a typical serving of vanilla ice cream (not light) — 144.7 calories.5

Ask for the nutrition facts at your local smoothie bar. There may be lighter options on their menu.

A Healthier Way to Make Smoothies

It’s actually healthier to eat fruit in its natural state, but we know just how addictive smoothies can be. So, instead of giving them up altogether, consider making them yourself at home. Here are some ways to make them healthier:

  • Pick a better “base”. Many smoothies use apple or banana juice as the “base”. Opt for low calorie almond milk instead. Some almond milk brands contain 40 calories per cup. Low calorie soy milk is available as well.
  • Substitute veggies for fruit. Veggies tend to contain less sugar than fruits. There are certain vegetables such as spinach, chard, and kale which give a nice kick to your smoothies without making them taste like vegetables. Go easy on the carrots - they're packed with natural sugars.
  • Protein blunts the sugar spike that may occur when eating carbs. Protein signals the body to secrete hormones which keep your appetite at bay. You can add extra protein to your smoothie by including hemp, whey, spirulina, soy, or vegetable protein powders.
  • Add fiber in the form of flax seeds, chia seeds, rolled oats, or wheat germ. The fiber slows down the absorption of glucose in your digestive tract. And it fills you up.
  • Fat is filling and guards against blood sugar peaks. Consider avocado as a healthy source of fat in your smoothies. Flax seed and olive oil may also be added.
We need to be careful about the “health foods” we select. Next time you go to your favorite smoothie place, rethink that smoothie or make your own healthier version at home!

Recipe: Avocado Berry Smoothie

Here’s a smoothie recipe, courtesy of choosingraw.com. The beauty of this recipe is that it is not heavy on the sugars. Notice it contains healthy fat from avocado and fiber from berries, hemp seeds, and spinach. Use a low 40-calorie almond milk brand.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup strawberries
  • 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 1/2 small avocado
  • 1 tbsp hemp seeds
  • 1 handful spinach
  • 1 1/3 cup almond milk
Blend all ingredients until they’re smooth, serve and enjoy!

References

  1. Circulation. 2012 Apr 10;125(14):1735-41, S1. Epub 2012 Mar 12.
  2. Available at: http://www.pepsicobeveragefacts.com/infobyproduct.php?prod_type=1026&prod_size=20&brand_fam_id=1051&brand_id=1000&product=Pepsi. Accessed August 13, 2012.
  3. Available at: http://www.smoothieking.com/smoothies/nutritional-chart.php. Accessed August 13, 2012.
  4. Available at: http://www.jambajuice.com/component/nutfacts/type/11 . Accessed August 13, 2012.
  5. Available at: http://calorielab.com/foods/ice-cream-and-frozen/115. Accessed August 13, 2012.

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9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't like the taste of plain yogurt, so I use 2 or 3 heaping TBS plain organic Greek yogurt, coconut milk, raspberries/strawberries/blueberries/blackberries, organic vanilla extract, a shake of cinnamon, and I vary it from time to time. Yum.

Lewis Goudy said...

Carrots get panned for their sugar content while chard gets a pass notwithstanding a sodium burden of greater moment than the sugar in the carrot and apple I take in a cup of orange juice daily.

Wheat germ at 13% dietary fiber is a better source than wheat bran at 43%? At a third of the cost that's about a ten-fold difference price-wise.

Bran is better as well because of the protective effect of the oil it contains against colon cancer. http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/60/17/4792.abstract

smoothie maker said...

I agree with anon, plain yogurt is too bland for smoothies.

Anonymous said...

nice article

Life Extension said...

Anonymous - Thanks! We’re really glad to hear that you liked it. ;-)

Shaun Marsh said...

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Life Extension said...

Shaun Marsh - Thank you! We really appreciate your kind words and support. 

Justine said...

Good Article! This is definitely important for people to know. Just because it has fruit in it doesn't always mean its healthy. At smoothie shops I always ask them if they will make a custom smoothie just for me. I've always had good luck with that! It's better to get turned down than drink a sugar bomb:)

Life Extension said...

Justine - Thanks for reading! And yes, watch out for those sugar bombs. ;-)

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