Not all smoothies are created equal. Some are truly nutritional powerhouses, with healthy doses of low-fat protein, fresh fruits or vegetables, and plenty of vitamins and minerals. Others, however, use very few fresh and natural ingredients and rely on high amounts of sugar to carry the taste. It’s not always easy to tell which smoothies are best for you, but it can help to learn more about potential ingredients and what each has to offer.
Regardless of whether or not you’re trying to lose weight, the calorie count of a smoothie is important. Some smoothies that you may buy in coffee shops and restaurants are economy-sized and contain calorie-rich ingredients such as full-fat yogurt, ice cream and nut butter. They may not be bad meal replacements, especially as an alternative to fast food or processed products, but they can add a full meal’s worth of calories to your daily totals if you regularly down them as snacks. All of those extra calories, no matter how healthy they may be, can add up to weight gain over time.
It can be difficult to buy or make a sugar-free smoothie because added sugar enhances flavor, and some natural sugar is found in most smoothie ingredients, including milk and fruit. Although sugar-rich smoothies may boost your energy level temporarily, they’re not the healthiest choices because they can result in an energy “crash” after the initial buzz wears off. For more sustainable energy, pick a smoothie that contains just natural sugar or that uses only small amounts of added sugar, such as a drizzle of honey or maple syrup.
Whenever possible, check the nutrition facts label of a packaged smoothie or inquire about nutritional information if you’re purchasing a made-to-order drink. That way, you can make an informed decision about whether the smoothie is a healthy choice or not. Even better, make your own energy-boosting smoothie at home. Use a base of nonfat milk, 100 percent juice, nonfat Greek yogurt, nonfat vanilla frozen yogurt or low-fat cottage cheese for extra protein, as recommended by U.S. News. For a non-dairy smoothie, “Eating Well” magazine recommends using a base mixture of soy milk and silken tofu. Add fresh or frozen fruit and finish with wheat germ or ground flaxseed for fiber, unsweetened cocoa powder, a drizzle of chocolate syrup or a dollop of nut butter. For even more fiber, U.S. News suggests white beans.
To find the nutritional profile of a smoothie you make at home, use an online calorie counter. Plug in the total amounts of each ingredient you use and add them up, then divide by the number of servings in the drink recipe. Finally, remember that a healthy smoothie is only one part of a balanced diet. For the best health, consume a mixture of lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and veggies every day.