Smart Smoothies

Smoothies are always a go-to for me during the Summer so I wanted to take a closer look at the good, the bad and the ugly. I turned to Justine Hays, M.S., R.D. to find out how to make smart decisions when it comes to smoothies. Here’s what she had to say:

Smoothies are having a real moment right now. Really they have been for about a decade, but who's counting? The trouble is, where there are nutritious liquid meals, there are also milkshakes in disguise. Now don’t get me wrong here - I love a good milkshake, but not for breakfast and certainly not every day. 

The name “smoothie” alone comes with a sort of health halo - making anything that falls under its auspices seem like a nutrient dense substitution for a meal, a liquid silver bullet to health, wellness, nutrition, and so much more. But often smoothies can be so much less and leave so much to be desired. Smoothies can be packed with added sugar, low in fiber, and low in protein. None of those features will have you sipping your way to better health.

I always recommend making your own smoothies at home, that way you can control exactly what’s inside. 

Here are a few pointers if you’re new to the smoothie game or you’re used to buying them premade or from a local shop:

  1. Skip the juice - You’ll need a liquid to help everything blend together. Choose milk or a milk substitute like soy or almond with no added sugar or flavorings. You can even use water. Skipping juice eliminates extra calories and sugar, even if it is naturally occurring.

  2. Add some vegetables - Reach into the freezer for frozen spinach, carrots, or broccoli. You can use fresh spinach or cooked and cooled veggies too; but I prefer frozen. It makes it thicker and chilly. 

  3. Add some fruit - Taste the rainbow! Toss in fruit- fresh, frozen, or canned they will all work. I like fresh banana, canned peaches, and frozen berries. 

  4. Add some protein - All that fiber is great but give yourself something to feel full on. Add a heaping tablespoon of almond or peanut butter. Use peanut powder if that’s your jam. Add in whey powder if you love it. Cube up some silken tofu and toss it in. Add some Greek yogurt. They will all be tasty!

  5. Seeds optional - I love adding chia seeds and flax seeds to my smoothie. This certainly gives an interesting texture. It adds some additional fiber, protein, and omega 3 fatty acids. 

  6. Blend away & Enjoy. 

Some of my favorite fruit & veg combos are frozen carrots, canned peaches, and a banana; spinach, frozen pineapple, and coconut kefir; blueberries, frozen spinach, banana and tofu. They all taste great and keep me feeling full for at least a few hours. 

Life happens and you may not always have the time to blend it yourself. You can plan ahead and pack your fruit and veggies in freezer bags or make your shakes the night before but if you love the convenience of picking up a shake or smoothie on your way to work or after a class on the weekend, keep an eye out for these red flags. They will be a sign your smoothie isn’t as healthy as you may think:

  • The “fruit” comes out of the carton as a liquid

  • They scoop ice cream or frozen “yogurt” into it (I’ve really seen this and cringed when it happened)

  • There is no protein or vegetable 

If you’re buying a pre-made, packaged shake, keep an eye on the nutrition label. Added sugars can creep up fast in these drinks. A good rule of thumb is a smoothie or protein shake should have more grams of protein than sugar, to keep you feeling full. Watch out for artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols which can cause bloating, cramps, and diarrhea in some people. Lastly, check out that fiber. The more naturally occurring fiber in a food, the more it will help you stay feeling fuller longer. 

Now raise your nutritious glass! I’ll cheers to that!

Justine Hays is a registered dietitian with a passion for community nutrition, individual wellness and, public health and nutrition policy. She regularly writes about nutrition and wellness for a wide range of online and print publications, sharing evidence-based nutrition information in a practical and fun way. She is driven by the opportunity to improve lives through realistic and attainable lifestyle changes. Finding different ways to stay active and trying different recipes at home are her favorite ways to unwind.

Elizabeth Kamp