By Mandy Ferreira and Tiffany Ayuda
Just because your smoothie is packed with fruits and vegetables doesn’t mean it’s low in calories or good for you. Even green smoothies can cause weight gain if you aren’t careful about what you put in it. Whether it’s store-bought or homemade, your favorite blended beverage might be disguising unwanted calories, sugar, and fat.
Is it healthy to have a smoothie for breakfast?
Yes, smoothies can make a healthy breakfast, as long as they’re filled with a good balance of nutrients, including protein, carbs, and healthy fats, according to Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com, and author of Read It Before You Eat It – Taking You from Label to Table. Unlike juices, smoothies don’t strip the fiber from vegetables and fruits so they’re more filling.
“Smoothies can make a healthy breakfast, but they’ve evolved into having a health halo even if you put a lot of fruit juice and syrups into them,” Taub-Dix says. “It can make you feel invigorated for a little bit because of the sugar high, but then you’re left feeling hungry shortly afterward.”
To make your smoothie more filling and reduce the sugar content, dietitians recommend getting between 20 to 30 grams of protein at each meal. Protein powders are an excellent way to pack in this essential macronutrient, but be sure to choose varieties that have little to no sugar and have zero artificial sweeteners.
You also want to be wary about the kind of liquid base you choose. Fruit juices are loaded with sugar and lack protein and fat. Instead, go for low-fat milk or an unsweetened, non-dairy milk alternative of your choice, like almond, coconut, or cashew. They won’t have as much protein as cow’s milk, but they’ll have some healthy fats that’ll help curb hunger.
“I like using Almond Breeze’s unsweetened almond milk,” says Taub-Dix. “It’s only 30 calories per serving and is an excellent source of calcium and vitamins D and E. It’s also a good source of vitamin A and is lactose-, gluten-, and dairy-free so the whole family can enjoy it.”
Healthy fats can also come from unsweetened nut butter, and hemp, chia, or ground flax seeds; they add bit of crunch, too, for digestion. “Adding some 2% Greek yogurt also incorporates healthy fats and protein without loading too many calories. It also adds creaminess and volume, so it promotes satiety,” Taub-Dix says.
Moreover, adding low-sugar fruits to your smoothie is a good way to add infuse some natural sweetness without sugar—just remember to stick to only one or two servings. Overloading your smoothies with fruit can cause your blood sugar levels to skyrocket and crash quickly. Using frozen fruits instead of fresh ones also helps thicken your smoothie and makes them creamier.
To further promote satiety and aid digestion, Taub-Dix suggests eating your smoothie in a bowl with a spoon, rather than slurping it down with a straw.”It’s actually better to chew and swallow food rather than drinking food for fullness,” says Leah Groppo, a clinical dietitian at Stanford Health Care. For the record, there’s no evidence that blending your food increases how well you absorb the nutrients. Blended food just moves through you faster, which means you may end up actually absorbing less than if you were to chew the food.
Are smoothies as good as eating fruit?
Yes and no. If you load up on too much fruit and use fruit juice as your base, then you run the risk of consuming too much sugar and calories, Taub-Dix says. However, if you limit your fruit intake to no more than two servings in your smoothie, then you’re getting a healthy amount of fruit while reaping their antioxidants.
Are green smoothies healthy?
If you have trouble eating enough vegetables, smoothies are a great way to incorporate more greens into your diet with the flavors you love. Tossing in dark, leafy greens ensures you’re getting a hefty dose of vitamins A and K, as well as fiber, but frozen cauliflower, sweet potato, and zucchini are also great options. For an additional nutrition boost, consider popping in some turmeric, matcha powder, or adaptogens, and warming spices like cinnamon and cardamom for flavor.
“Some people who are vegetable averse will find it easier to sip on a green smoothie if it tastes like strawberry banana. And then, there are some people who like to load up on greens and blend it with fresh herbs instead of fruit. It all depends on your taste preference,” Taub-Dix says.
But you also want to be mindful of portions: Groppo recommends keeping snack smoothies under 150 calories and any that you drink as a meal under 350 calories, if you’re trying to lose weight. People who are trying to maintain their weight can go up to 500 to 600 calories for a filling meal replacement shake.
Now that you know how to turn a smoothie into a healthy meal, here are some other ways your smoothie can be sabotaging your weight loss—and how to fix it.
Your smoothie glass is too big
The mistake: You may feel virtuous gulping down a hefty smoothie, but you’re easily eating more than you realize. Smoothies can contain a pound or more of produce—significantly more than you would ever eat raw. All of that adds up to extra calories, carbohydrates, and sugar. A smoothie should be no more than eight to 10 ounces, according to Groppo. Most pre-made or made-to-order smoothies are nearly twice that at 16 or 24 ounces. Some smoothies are also overloaded with other foods, like granola and more fresh fruit. But in reality, you don’t need these add-ins.
How to fix it: Measure out 8 ounces and freeze the extra for later. When you order out, order the kid’s size—it’s usually closer to 10 ounces. Or, ask for two cups and divide it up so you aren’t tempted to drink the whole thing in one go. You can always freeze or share your uneaten portion.
Your smoothie has too many ingredients
The mistake: Even low-calorie foods—like fruits and vegetables—add up. And many smoothies include ingredients like yogurt, whipped cream, sweeteners, sorbet, or even ice cream that increase the calories. Bottled and made-to-order smoothies can easily pack in 300 to 600 calories in 16 ounces. “Don’t assume that one package or one bottle is one serving,” says Groppo. “Look at the nutrition label to see how many servings are in it.”
How to fix it: Keep an eye out for smoothies with added nut or seed butter, coconut oil, or avocado, as these all add significant amounts of calories. If you grab a smoothie for a snack, don’t forget to include it in your total calories for the day.
Your smoothie is loaded with sweeteners
The mistake: Your taste buds don’t lie: If your smoothie tastes sweet, it’s likely full of sugar—many store-bought options have almost as much sugar as a soda. Jamba Juice’s banana berry smoothie, for instance, has a whopping 59 grams in 16 ounces. The problem is, many store-bought smoothies have added sugars, often in the form of white sugar, syrup, honey, or maple syrup. Excessive sugar can leave you tired and cranky a couple of hours later and wreak havoc on your blood sugar.
How to fix it: Make sure your smoothie has more vegetables than fruits, and opt for low-sugar vegetables like kale, spinach, cucumber, and zucchini. Stick to no more than two servings of fruit in your smoothie.
You’re not eating your smoothie with a spoon
The mistake: The rush of sugar from a smoothie spikes your blood sugar and leaves you feeling tired and hungry just hours later. A lack of protein and healthy fats also means you get hunger pangs sooner.
How to fix it: Slow down. Eat a smoothie with a spoon instead of slurping it up with a straw. Plus, when you actually sit down and chew your food, your body secretes hormones that help increase satiety (or how full you feel), says Groppo. Adding fats and protein will help make you feel full longer. Half of an avocado is around 117 calories, and half a cup of Greek yogurt is around 100 calories. An extra boost of fiber and protein from hemp seeds, chia seeds, and flax meal can also help keep you full.
You’re drinking a smoothie at the wrong time
The mistake: Your body is better able to handle sugar at different times of the day. The more active you are, the better your body can process and absorb sugar. Better absorption means that your blood sugar won’t spike as much and you won’t be left tired and hungry hours later. Some people like to drink a smoothie first thing in the morning or as a meal replacement.
How to fix it: Enjoying a smoothie post-workout is best, but otherwise stick to lunch or another part of the day when you’re the most physically active. Taub-Dix says that liquids are more readily digested than solids, which makes it great as an after-workout beverage, when you need the quick carbs, protein, and sugar.