Are Smoothies Good For You?
Fruit smoothies, green smoothies and protein smoothies are incredibly popular, but are they actually good for you?
Smoothies have been a popular wellness trend for the past decade and are often touted as the holy grail of nutrition and a solution to weight loss, but is it truly that simple? Although a cup of blended fruit might seem like an ideal way to start your day, there are both some benefits and some drawbacks to smoothies. It all depends on how they are made.
What are smoothies?
Smoothies are defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a creamy beverage made of fruit blended with juice, milk, or yogurt“. Although there are many different types of smoothies, the most basic smoothie begins with a base (fruit or vegetable) and includes a liquid (water, juice, milk or non-dairy milk). In addition to fruits and vegetables, smoothies sometimes contain additional ingredients such as ice, yogurt, nuts, seeds, protein powder, herbs and supplements. Unlike juices, smoothies are made by blending whole fruits and vegetables and therefore still contain fibre.
Types of Smoothies
Although smoothies come in many different shapes, sizes and formats, there is significant overlap between them. Some of the most common types of smoothies include:
- Fruit Smoothies: As the name implies, fruit smoothies are made primarily of one or more types of fruit. Although they are primarily made of fruit, they may also contain vegetables or additional ingredients, and are typically very sweet in nature.
- Green Smoothies: As the name implies, green smoothies are green in colour thanks to the inclusion of leafy green vegetables such as spinach or kale. Green smoothies can also contain additional ingredients, may or may not contain fruit, and tend to be less sweet in nature.
- Protein Smoothies: Protein smoothies contain a major source of protein and may contain fruit and/or vegetables. Common protein sources for smoothies include Greek yogurt, tofu and/or protein powder.
Variations in Smoothies
Because smoothies are essentially a recipe, there is no single standard way of making them and, therefore, there is a lot of variation among them. Generally speaking, smoothies are made of whole foods (fruits, vegetables, yogurt, milk, etc…), however, some store-bought and pre-made smoothies do contain additional, more processed, ingredients. Some of the most popular smoothie chains and fast-food restaurants offer “smoothies” on their menus, however, when you dive into the ingredients you often see that their smoothies are made with everything from frozen yogurt to refined sugar and preservatives. Notably, many of Booster Juices’ smoothies and Freshii’s smoothies are made with frozen yogurt, while many of Jamba Juice’s smoothies are made with sherbet, Baskin Robins’ smoothies are made with numerous preservatives and some of Tim Hortons’ smoothies contain three forms of added sugar.
It is important to understand that there is a lot of variation in the term “smoothie” and not all smoothies are created equal. When it comes to real food smoothies, especially when made at home, there are many benefits to them.
Benefits of Smoothies
Whether you are using smoothies as a quick breakfast, simple snack, or post-workout shake, there are many benefits to real food smoothies. Smoothies can help to:
- Increase Fruit and Vegetable Intake: Smoothies are a simple way to increase your overall fruit and vegetable intake without much effort. Fruits and vegetables are rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals and they have been shown to provide a wide variety of health benefits.
- Increase Fibre Intake: When made with fruits and vegetables, smoothies can help to increase overall fibre intake, which is essential for overall health. Fibre-rich foods help to support digestion, promote gut health, regulate of blood sugar, lower cholesterol, regulate weight and regulate appetite.
- Can Be Tailored to Meet Personal Needs: One of the best things about smoothies is that they are truly just recipes. Depending on whether you want to use a smoothie in addition to a meal, as a replacement for a meal, as a snack or a post-workout shake, the ingredient options are endless and you can create a smoothie with specific ingredients to meet your personal needs.
- Quick & Convenient: Smoothies are great as a grab-and-go breakfast or when you need a healthy meal in a pinch. Not only are smoothies quick to blend together, but ingredients can be pre-prepared, stored in the freezer and ready whenever you need them.
- Kid-Friendly: Kids are not always the biggest fans of fruits and vegetables, especially raw, so masking vegetables in smoothies with a bit of fruit is a great way to ensure they are consuming these nutrient-dense foods in their diets.
Drawbacks of Smoothies
Although smoothies can be a healthy option, when not made with care, they can also become a less than ideal option. Here are some of the potential drawbacks of smoothies:
- Can Be High in Sugar: When made with lots of fruit, fruit juice, sweetened yogurts and/or added sweeteners, smoothies can be incredibly high in sugar. Although many of these sugars may be natural, even too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Some pre-made smoothies will boast labels with “no added sugar” and although this may be true, the total amount of sugar in a smoothie can still be problematic, even if it’s coming from real food. A simple way to mitigate this is to a) limit the total number of sources of sugar (fruit, fruit juice, sweeteners, etc…), b) use smaller portions of fruit, c) use sugar-free liquids, and/or d) add more vegetables and sources of protein.
- Can Be Low in Protein: If you are not intentionally adding a source of protein to your smoothie it may end up becoming a bit of a sugar bomb, and this is especially problematic if you are using smoothies as a meal replacement or post-workout meal. Although not every smoothie needs to be high in protein, especially if you are consuming it along with other food, when using it as a meal replacement, adding protein to your smoothie will help to ensure that you are eating a more balanced meal and this will help to balance your blood sugar, keep you full, and mitigate additional cravings in the long-term.
- Not Optimal for Digestion: Although smoothies are often described as “easier on digestion”, that is not always the case. It is important to understand that the digestive process begins in the mouth and is stimulated by the act of chewing. The mastication of food helps to stimulate the enzymes in our saliva and stimulates the production of hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes in the stomach. Therefore, by drinking blended fruits and vegetables, as opposed to chewing them, the digestive process is not stimulated in the same way. Although it is not the case for everyone, individuals who struggle with digestion or gut health may experience more negative side effects from drinking smoothies, such as bloating, gas or indigestion.
Are smoothies as good as eating fruit?
It depends. According to some experts, blended fruit is not completely nutritionally equivalent to chewing whole foods as some of the fibre is lost in the process and digestion is not stimulated in the same way. However, generally speaking, most of the nutritional properties remain present and, therefore, using smoothies as a way to increase your overall fruit and vegetable intake is fine, especially when they are homemade.
Are fruit smoothies good for you?
It also depends. If you are consuming a smoothie solely made of fruit, it is important to consider the amount of sugar present and where you might consume additional sugars throughout the day in an effort to control your total sugar intake. If you are looking to use fruit smoothies as a meal replacement, it is best to limit the total amount of fruit to 1 or 2 servings, include a source of protein and a source of fat to ensure you are eating a balanced meal. If you wouldn’t eat 2 bananas, 1 cup of mango, 12 strawberries, and 1 orange in one individual sitting, don’t blend it all into one drink.
Are green smoothies good for you?
Again, it depends. If you have trouble consuming green vegetables, adding them (or masking them) in a smoothie with some fruit is a great way to work on increasing your total vegetable intake. Much like fruit smoothies, if you intend to use green smoothies as a meal replacement, be sure to limit the total amount of sugar, include a source of protein and include a source of fat to ensure it’s a well-balanced meal.
Are smoothies good for weight loss?
Although smoothies are often marketed as a weight loss tool, they are not always the best solution. Much like any real food, smoothies can support a goal of weight loss but do not always support a goal of weight loss. On a foundational level, in order for weight loss to occur there must be a deficit in total calorie intake over a period of time (i.e. calories expended > calories consumed). When created with care, smoothies can be a simple way to reduce calorie intake at a meal, however, this can also be done by adjusting the total amount of calories consumed from real food at a meal. Whether you consume 300 calories from a smoothie or 300 calories from eggs and toast does not make a difference. It is the deficit created by the total number of calories that is most important when it comes to weight loss.
For long-term success, my suggestion is always to focus on whole foods, learn to consume them in appropriate amounts for your personal goals and make choices that are sustainable. Yes, using smoothies as a meal replacement may help to reduce calorie intake, but if you don’t learn to do this will real food meals, do you want to be stuck drinking smoothies for the rest of your life simply to maintain your weight?
So, are smoothies healthy?
When made with real food, smoothies are most certainly a healthy choice. Whether you are opting for a fruit smoothie, a green smoothie or a protein smoothie, when made with whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, yogurt, nuts, seed or milk, smoothies can certainly be included in a healthy diet. The healthiness of a smoothie depends largely on its ingredients, its purpose and the context the individual’s overall diet and health goals.
How To Make a Healthy Smoothie
The best way to make a healthy smoothie is to make it yourself and, if you intend to use it as a meal replacement, create a balanced meal with fibre, protein and fat. Here are some general guidelines for creating a healthy smoothie:
- Use Real Food: Ensure that your smoothie is made solely of whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, yogurt or milk.
- Avoid Added Sugars: Limit any added sugars such as sweetened yogurt, sweetened fruit juice or sweetened milk.
- Include Protein: Ensure that you add a source of protein such as yogurt, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, tofu or protein powder to help create a more well-balanced meal.
- Include Fat: Ensure that you include sources of fat such as whole milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, nuts or seeds to help create a more well-balanced meal.
The Bottom Line
Some smoothies, especially homemade smoothies, are rich in nutrients, vitamins and minerals and can be a good source of nutrition in a healthy diet. When making smoothies at home, it is best to focus on whole foods, avoid added sugars and include a source of protein and fat, especially if you are using them as a meal replacement. If you are buying a pre-made or store-bought smoothie be sure to read the ingredients and choose varieties that are made with real food, have little to no added sugar, no artificial sweeteners, additives or preservatives. Moreover, when buying pre-made smoothies be sure to check the serving size as many brands contain more than one serving per container.