Smoothies are regularly touted as a health food, but it’s important to be careful if you’re thinking about making them a regular addition to your diet.
Although smoothies can certainly be a great way to incorporate healthy foods into your meal plan, consuming them regularly – depending on size and ingredients – can be too much of a good thing, says Jamie Kandora, clinical nutrition manager at Tidelands Health, our region’s largest health care provider.
“It’s easy to assume smoothies are healthy because they typically contain fruit,” she says. “However, fruit is high in naturally occurring sugar so, depending on the size and the other ingredients of the smoothie, it may end up being a ‘sugar bomb.’”
A look at calorie and sugar counts of smoothies offered at national chains illustrates the point. A large smoothie packed with strawberries, blueberries and bananas at one chain contains more than 600 calories and 71 total grams of sugar. A small, 20-ounce smoothie that features peanut butter, dates and non-fat milk delivers 590 calories and 55 grams of sugar – nearly three times as much sugar as a half-cup of premium ice cream.
“The key is to measure everything you put in your smoothie,” Kandora says. “Aim for about 1 1/2 cups of produce total (fruit and any greens) and measure any additives as well.”
If a smoothie is planned as a meal replacement, she says it should offer a total of 350-500 calories. If it is meant to be a snack, it should contain about 150-200 calories.
Another consideration with smoothies is that people sometimes don’t find them filling, which can lead to snacking on other foods. To make a smoothie more satisfying, Kandora recommends including protein, fiber and healthy fats. She recommends aiming for about 10 grams of protein and about five grams of fiber.
“There are many protein options,” she says. “Greek yogurt, nuts or protein powders are good options. The key is to choose one. Adding more than one protein can quickly result in the calories adding up.”
The same is true for fats. Chia, flax and hemp seeds are each good sources of healthy fats. They should be limited to a teaspoon at a time, and people should stick to one, she says.
Another way to make a smoothie more satisfying is to make it thicker, put it in a bowl and sprinkle a few berries on top, she says.
“Many people find eating with a spoon is more satisfying than drinking through a straw,” she notes.