Even just a few years ago, about the only people who were talking about smoothies were professional athletes or hardcore gym-enthusiasts. They called them “protein shakes” and relied on them to quickly deliver protein and calories to fuel a workout or recover after a tough one.
Today, however, there’s a smoothie joint on practically every street corner, and many people drink smoothies believing they are a nutrient-rich alternative to meals or snacks. Unfortunately, many smoothies are likely to be loaded with calories with limited nutritional value (beyond protein).
Even if your smoothie is 16 ounces of blended fruit, that’s not necessarily good. A typical 16-ounce fruit-only smoothie requires four or more pieces of fruit, which is easily 400 or calories or more. That’s an entire meal’s worth of calories in a drink that has no protein to keep you satisfied or to prevent your blood sugar from spiking and crashing soon after. Sip that smoothie alongside a meal and that’s not a pretty picture for any weight-loss hopeful. Many smoothies contain 600 or more calories and are loaded with sugar from syrups, fruit-flavored juices, frozen yogurt, sherbet, sorbet or ice cream, etc.
So, how can you avoid these pitfalls and get the most nutritional value out of your smoothies?
Here’s how to build a better smoothie:
1. Start with your greens.
Greens are the number-one thing you can eat regularly to improve your health, and smoothies are a great way to consume more of them. You don’t have to chop them and yet they transform in just moments. And if you don’t love the taste of greens, you will hardly notice them given all of the other flavors in the smoothie. Here’s the green formula tips:
- Add one or two fistfuls (about 2 cups) of greens.
- Try romaine, chard, kale, parsley and mint, etc.
- Not a green lover? Go for spinach—it’s one the mildest and is barely detectable.
- Experiment and see which green you like best.
2. Toss in fruit.
Who needs to add sugar and syrups when fruit offers both natural sweetness and antioxidants? The key is to keep the portion in check to help limit the calories. The fruit formula:
- Use about half as much fruit (or less) as greens to keep the calories down, especially if you’re watching your weight.
- Consider frozen fruits—they don’t spoil and the texture makes the smoothie more like a milkshake. Good choices include a few frozen pineapple tidbits, some berries and half a frozen overripe banana.
3. Pack in some protein.
This is essential for your “satiety factor.” If you don’t add protein to your smoothie, be sure to eat a source of protein with your smoothie to keep you satisfied and prevent blood=sugar spikes and crashes. The protein potion:
- Good options include Greek yogurt, plant protein milk or low-fat/nonfat milk, hemp seeds, nuts (6 to 8 nuts) or nut butter (1 or 2 tablespoons), or a scoop of protein powder.
4. Add a liquid with benefits and without drawbacks.
If you don’t add a protein that’s a liquid (i.e., you don’t choose skim milk or plant milk), you’ll want to ease the blending process by adding a liquid that doesn’t pack calories or sweeteners. Here’s your winning liquid line-up:
- Add ½ to 1 cup of either:
- water (calorie-free hydration), or
- unsweetened nut milk (most are fortified with calcium and vitamin D and contain less than 50 calories per cup).
- coconut water (electrolytes and flavor for less than 50 calories per cup.
5. Add spices (and herbs) to your smoothies, your health and your life!
Spices and herbs add a burst of flavor and are loaded with powerful phytonutrients that help to prevent inflammation and protect the body against chronic disease. Try adding grated ginger or spices like cinnamon, which add natural sweetness, or turmeric, which gives a warm and bitter kick. Mint and cacao powder area also good ways to add a flavorful punch.
Makes 2 serving
- 3/4 cup non-fat Greek yogurt
• 1/4 cup 100% pomegranate juice
- 1/2 cup green grapes
• 1 cup pineapple pieces
• 1 cup packed spinach (about 2 fistfuls)
• 1 inch fresh ginger, peeled
• 1/8 cup pistachios (roughly 25 kernels)
- 4 ice cubes
In a blender, combine all ingredients. Blend until smooth.
Nutrition Facts per Serving: 170 Calories, 5 g fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 22 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber, 13 g protein
Makes 2 servings
- ¾ cup raw curly kale, broken into 1” pieces, loosely packed (two fistfuls)
- ½ cup frozen, unsweetened blueberries
- ½ cup frozen, unsweetened pineapple
- 1 large frozen banana, broken in half
- 2 teaspoons coconut flakes, unsweetened
- 1 cup plain Greek nonfat yogurt
- Splash of unsweetened vanilla almond milk (optional)
Place all ingredients in the blender (position the yogurt closest to the blade). Blend together all ingredients until smooth.
Nutrition Facts per Serving: 177 Calories, 32 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 15 g protein, 62 mg sodium, 7 g fiber
Expand your nutrition knowledge and learn how to translate that information into actionable lifestyle changes for clients with ACE's Fitness Nutrition Specialist program. For a limited time, save 50% on this program.