Nothing satisfies your hunger as quickly as a smoothie. It’s tasty and convenient for breakfast, a snack, or as a portable meal replacement when you need something on the go. But you should know they’re not all created equal.
The nutritional content of smoothies varies widely. Some feature mainly fruits and veggies. Others have lots of sugar, leading you to wonder — are smoothies good for you?
Here’s a look at what might be hiding in some smoothies and whether they’re good for your health.
What Goes into a Smoothie?
Smoothies are a thick and creamy blend of your favorite health foods and other ingredients. The sky’s the limit when it comes to creating smoothie recipes. Just pile a mix of solid and liquid ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.
Some favorite smoothie ingredients include:
- Fruits and vegetables.
- Protein from protein powder, Greek yogurt, or tofu.
- Healthy fats from nuts, nut butters, seeds, or avocado.
- Liquid like regular or nondairy milk, coffee, tea, or fruit juice.
- Sweeteners like stevia, sugar, honey, agave, and maple or date syrup.
- Vitamins or other nutritional supplements, like probiotics, spirulina, or matcha powder.
- Herbs and spices.
- Ice cream or frozen yogurt.
If you’re making your smoothie at home, you can easily control what goes into it. But if you’re buying one, it’s a good idea to ask about the ingredients. That way, you can avoid anything you don’t want or add more of what you like.
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Are Smoothies Healthy?
Some smoothies are very healthy —others not so much. Before you stick a straw in it, make sure you consider the:
- Individual ingredients
- Added sugar content
- Calorie content
Provided they’re made with fresh or frozen produce, smoothies are an easy way to sneak extra fruits and vegetables into your diet. That’s a good thing because most people don’t get enough of them. Fruits and vegetables provide essential nutrients along with fiber to keep your digestive tract healthy.
Additional ingredients like a scoop of protein powder or a serving of healthy fats from nuts or seeds are also healthy. These ingredients, along with fruits and vegetables, can turn your smoothie into a complete and balanced meal. But a smoothie made with mostly fruit, fruit juices, or added sweeteners can quickly morph into a sugary dessert.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting added sugars to less than 10% of your daily calories. If you eat 2,000 calories, that works out to less than 200 calories or 50 grams of added sugar per day. It’s easy for a smoothie to surpass that if it has added sugar or syrups.
When deciding if smoothies are a healthy option, you should also consider the calories. Depending on the ingredients or size, some smoothies can take a big chunk out of your daily calorie budget. Even drinking a high-calorie smoothie after a workout can lead to weight gain.
To keep your smoothie calories on the lower side, choose those made with mostly vegetables. Hold any added sweeteners, and make sure it’s blended with water, unsweetened tea, or unsweetened almond milk.
The Downsides of Smoothies
Many people find smoothies filling and satisfying. But others feel fuller for longer when they eat because solid food stays in your stomach longer. If you’re in the latter group, your smoothie habit could leave you hungry and looking for something to munch on.
A potential concern about fruit-based smoothies is that they may raise your blood sugar too much or too quickly. Fruit is a natural source of sugar and carbs. But too much isn’t always a good thing, especially if you have diabetes or need to watch your blood sugar.
To balance the carbs in your smoothie, limit your fruit to less than one cup. And add a scoop of protein and a serving of fat from nuts, seeds, or avocado to help balance your blood sugar.
Finally, smoothies are often promoted as a tasty way to get healthy. But they are by no means a magic bullet for your health. You’ll get just as many health benefits from eating nutritious whole foods.
When Are Smoothies Good for You?
Smoothies are good for you when they’re made with whole fruits, vegetables, and other unprocessed, unsweetened ingredients. They’re also good for you when they provide the correct number of calories. For most people, that means about 300 calories for a snack and 500 calories for a meal.
And whipping up a smoothie is a healthy option if it saves you from hitting the vending machine or fast food drive-through. In that case, drink up.
U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. LINK
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Nutrition is vital for maintaining your overall health. UPMC Nutrition Services offers comprehensive diet and nutrition counseling on a variety of topics, including eating disorders, weight management, and heart disease. Our team provides medical nutrition therapy for chronic conditions such as celiac disease, cancer, and diabetes. UPMC’s network of registered dietitians is available to help guide all patients toward a healthier life.