How to Make Healthy Smoothies:
As with any food, the healthfulness of a smoothie will all depend on what basic ingredients you start with. Jump-start your busy day with a combination of fruit, protein and healthy fat.
- For lean protein and calcium, use non-fat yogurt (regular or Greek will work), skim milk, non-dairy milk (such as soy milk or almond milk), tofu or fat-free cottage cheese.
- For fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, throw in a hefty handful of fresh or frozen fruit. Even some mildly-flavored vegetables can be added without negatively altering the taste. Common smoothie veggies include spinach, cooked sweet potatoes or pumpkin, avocado, cucumbers or carrots.
- For some healthy fat, add in a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds or your favorite nut butter.
- Additional nutritious add-ins could include 100% fruit juice, oats, seeds, spices (cinnamon and nutmeg work well), unsweetened cocoa powder or protein powders.
Banana-Berry Smoothie (Serves 2)
1 cup frozen berries
1 medium banana
1 cup plain non-fat yogurt
Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Makes 2 servings. Per serving: 196 calories, 8 grams protein, 5 grams fat, 33 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams fiber.
How to Buy Healthy Smoothies
The old Latin phrase "caveat emptor" (which means "let the buyer beware") should be applied to smoothie purchases. Many smoothies sold in stores, drive-thru restaurants or at smoothie bars promise a plethora of health benefits. But remember--if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Additionally, smoothies have what's commonly referred to as a "health halo" over them, meaning consumers automatically perceive them as being healthy, regardless of their actual nutrient content. Some smoothies purchased away from home can have more calories than a cheeseburger!
Your best bet is to seek out the nutrition information before you order. You can visit the company's website to search for nutrition stats, or ask if they have a brochure that lists the nutrition facts. Some fast-food restaurants and smoothie stops are notorious for providing so-called "fruit smoothies" that contain upwards of 500 calories or more, mostly from added sugar, and contain no real fruit.
Avoid smoothies made with high-calorie, nutrient-poor ingredients like sugary syrups, higher-fat dairy products (whole milk, 2% milk, full-fat yogurt, ice-cream) and artificial additives.
Also, remember to keep portion sizes appropriate--it is possible to get too many calories if your smoothie is giant-sized, even if those calories come from healthy ingredients.
The Bottom Line
Smoothies can definitely be a flavorful, nutritious, convenient addition to your already-healthy diet. Whether you like to whip up your own smoothies at home, or you prefer to quickly grab this summer staple at a fast-food restaurant or smoothie stop, be sure to choose healthy ingredients and practice portion control.
Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children. If you would be interested in working with Kari one-on-one, sign-up for FitDay Dietitian.