Integrative Nutrition Blog
Is That Smoothie Really Good for You?
It’s easy to tout the many health benefits of smoothies. They can be high in protein and are usually packed with antioxidants from fruits and veggies.
However, they can potentially add a significant amount of calories to your diet, and that “good-for-you” smoothie can turn into a diet buster.
You can always opt for a lighter smoothie or juice versus a more meal-based smoothie or post-workout recovery shake, if you’re looking to cut down on calories or have a quick snack. (Here’s the difference between a juice and a smoothie.)
Still, what mistakes might you be making when it comes to drinking your calories? Here, a dietician shares five tips for preparing a healthy, satisfying smoothie that won’t add to your waistline and will bring more energy to your day.
Adding in Too Many Foods
It’s a great idea to add a variety of foods to your smoothie, for a quick and easy way to nourish your body. However, if you’re adding in too many at once, sugars, fats, and calories might skyrocket.
“It’s a lot faster to drink three apples than it is to eat them. Speed is convenient when you’re in a hurry, but quick calories don’t allow time for the gut-brain connection to recognize satiety hormones,” says Maggie Moon, MS, RDN, author of The MIND Diet.
“Higher calorie smoothie add-ins include agave syrup, honey, coconut milk, dried fruit, orange juice, apple juice, avocado, nut butter, canned fruit in syrup, apples, and strawberries,” she says. “I want to be clear that the foods themselves are not the problem – it’s that the calories add up especially fast in smoothie form.”
A few tips? “Base your smoothie on greens and unsweetened almond milk to start off with a high nutrient-to-calorie ratio. For the rest, balance it out with smaller amounts of healthy fats (nut butter, tofu, avocado) and fiber (apples, pears, raspberries, figs, oats) within appropriate portions,” she says.
Making It Too Sweet
“There is no need to add sweeteners to a smoothie. Use fresh or frozen fruit instead,” says Moon. That means, agave syrup, coconut or almond milk that’s sweetened (or any sweetened milk or juice, really), and honey aren’t necessary. Moon recommends filling it up with some good veggies and then adding in some sweetness as an accent rather than the base.
If you’re craving a sweeter smoothie, just use a little bit for some taste instead of pouring it into the blender. You might try tapering the amount of sweetness you use down little by little so you adjust to the new flavor. Ingredients like cinnamon and almonds can help add an element of sweetness without actually adding a sweetener.
Using Excess Fats
“Excess portions of a healthy fat depend on what you need for the day, but for most people who are looking for a 300-calorie total smoothie, overdoing it on a healthy fat looks like an entire avocado (230 kcal), a half cup of coconut milk (260 kcal), a quarter cup of peanut butter (380 kcal) or chia seeds (240 kcal),” says Moon.
A good rule to keep portions in check: Pick one or two fats and be mindful of the serving size. For instance, instead of an entire avocado, choose half, or use a quarter if you’re also looking to include chia seeds, for example.
Not Using the Right Protein Powders
Protein powders are generally well tolerated if there’s no sensitivity or allergy to their ingredients present. “However, high doses can cause bloating, cramps, fatigue, headache, nausea, thirst, and more,” says Moon.
And, if you don’t tolerate a type well—like let’s say whey, which can be problematic for those who don’t do well with dairy—steer clear. Instead, look for one that doesn’t cause a reaction. (A good option could be pea protein.) Also, “one thing to keep in mind is that like other supplements, protein powder isn’t regulated by the FDA,” adds Moon.
Using the Same Ingredients
Sure, if you absolutely love bananas and need them in your morning smoothie, or if you found a recipe you crave a few days a week, that’s totally fine. However, it’s a good idea to bring in variety, so you consume a spectrum of different essential nutrients throughout the week.
“Variety is important because no single food can supply all the nutrition the body needs. For example, eating bananas in your smoothie every day offers plenty of important potassium and fiber, but won’t do much toward calcium or iron, which are also essential nutrients,” explains Moon.
Mix it up. For inspiration, try Moon’s favorite recipe. “My smoothies usually start with about 4-6 oz unsweetened almond milk, a fifth of a soft tofu block, a handful of leafy greens, and a piece of fruit (usually an apple or banana). From there, I might add a few frozen raspberries, a spoonful of fresh ginger or mint, a few nuts, and maybe some cinnamon, chai, matcha or turmeric,” she says.
By having so many different varieties, you can easily play around.
How do you like your smoothies? Please share your recipes below!