Smoothies are an easy and tasty way to incorporate more produce and other healthful ingredients into your diet, and they offer a lot of benefits that trendy juices don’t. By blending whole fruits and vegetables rather than extracting the juice, you get the full dose of heart-healthy fiber, and you waste less of your pricey produce. If you choose your ingredients carefully, smoothies can deliver a balanced blend of protein, fat, and carbs, making them a suitable substitute for meals. Juices, on the other hand, are mostly carbohydrate, and if they’re primarily fruit-based, they can be a concentrated source of sugar.
That said, smoothies aren’t always a healthy choice. Store-bought smoothies can contain more than 15 teaspoons of sugar from syrups and juices, and homemade smoothies can trip you up, too. It’s easy to get carried away when you’re dumping a little of this and a little of that into a pitcher-sized blender (I fall into this trap myself). Even if you’re being careful to use only nutritious, whole food ingredients, the calories can be excessive. To create a well-balanced beverage that won’t weigh you down, consider these suggestions.
- Limit added sweeteners. I recommend using whole fruit as the only sweetener in smoothies if at all possible. Unlike added sweeteners like maple syrup and honey, which supply only sugar, fruit provides fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial phytonutrients along with natural sweetness.Try using about a cup of fresh or frozen fruit as the base of your smoothie. Incorporate bananas, mango, pineapple, or orange slices for a sweeter profile, but steer clear of fruit juice, which is more concentrated in sugar and calories than whole fruit. To keep added sugar under control, you’ll also want to choose plain, unsweetened yogurt and milks (many non-dairy milks like almond and coconut contain added sweeteners). When you’re finished blending, taste the final product. If — and only if — it’s still not sweet enough for your liking, add 1 to 2 teaspoons of your preferred sweetener (or, add 1 to 2 dates in place of sweetener).
- Add some veggies to the mix. For an extra shot of vitamins and minerals, try to incorporate a vegetable into your drink. My go-to is a handful of baby spinach leaves, but you can also blend in carrots, beets, or canned pureed pumpkin. Celery and cucumbers are also smoothie-friendly, but they aren’t as nutrient-dense as deeply colored varieties. I like to combine leafy greens with berries, since the purple and blue hues mask the green color best.
- Puree in protein. Adding at least one protein-rich ingredient makes your smoothie more filling and substantial, which is especially important you’re relying on it to stand in as a complete breakfast. Good options include plain low-fat yogurt, skim or 1% milk, soy milk, and silken tofu. Keep in mind that many non-dairy milks, including almond and coconut, provide minimal protein.
- Watch the extras. You can enhance your drink’s nutritional profile by adding nuts and nut butters, avocado, chia or flax seeds, cocoa powder or cacao nibs, wheat germ, oats, and other healthful ingredients, but you’ll also be increasing the calorie count. For example, each tablespoon of nut butter tacks on another 100 calories, and you could easily add 2 to 3 times that amount if you’re scooping freehand from the jar. With high-cal ingredients, you may need to get out the measuring spoons to make sure you’re not going overboard with portions. Which brings us to tip #5…
- Do a rough calorie count. I recommend doing some quick math to make sure you’re not sipping more calories than you think, especially if you’re watching your weight. If you’re drinking a smoothie as your breakfast meal, 400 calories is a reasonable limit (men and active women can be more liberal). For a snack-sized smoothie, stick to around 200 calories.
By Johannah Sakimura, RD