If you’re like most people, you’ve probably wondered at some point if smoothies are healthy. The answer depends on how they are made. All smoothies are not the same, and the ingredients that go in them make all the difference. Smoothies can be made unhealthy with the wrong ingredients, and they can be very healthy with the right ones. This is why it just isn’t right to place all smoothies under one umbrella and state that smoothies are healthy or they aren’t healthy.
So what makes a smoothie healthy?
If they are made mainly with vegetables and have only a little fruit, and no added sugar they are healthy. A good rule of thumb is at least 2:1 vegetable to fruit ratio. Add some nuts or seeds (like almond butter or chia seeds) and they become healthier with the addition of some protein and good fats. And, you could also add a natural protein powder (without added sugar and unnecessary ingredients) or some unsweetened Greek yogurt or cottage cheese.
If smoothies have added sugar or ingredients containing added sugar such as sweetened yogurt or sorbet or fruit puree, they are the most unhealthy and are as good as dessert. If smoothies are made primarily with fruit, then they can raise blood sugar levels quickly. Don’t get me wrong. Fruits are very healthy if eaten whole. Smoothies tend to concentrate the sugars from the fruit making them very easy to digest which can contribute to increased blood sugar levels. This does not happen when you have more vegetables in the smoothie.
Research says that smoothies can be an important way to top up fruit and vegetable intake along with their myriad benefits such as fibre and essential vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin A, C, selenium, potassium, iron and magnesium.
Some people are concerned about the fibre being destroyed during smoothie making, however, a recent study has shown that cell wall structures and fibre remain intact during the making of smoothies, so drinking smoothies contributes to all the benefits of eating fibre in a whole food form. This also contributes to smoothies having a lower glycemic index (at least compared to juices, which removes all the fibre). A study also found that even with fruit smoothies, the GI was low and the GL was medium and border-line low. What this means is that, adding vegetables, nuts and seeds and possibly some protein can further lower the GL of smoothies.
Ingredients to avoid if you want a very healthy smoothie –
-Added sugar in the form of refined sugar or even honey or maple syrup, high fructose corn syrup etc or ingredients which have added sugar.
– Too many fruits and little to no veggies (it should be the other way around to make a smoothie healthy – more vegetables and little fruit)
– Too little fibre. If you’re getting a store bought smoothie, make sure they don’t filter out the fibre and leave it as is in the smoothie.
For example, look at this smoothie from Cold stone Creamery made with “real pineapple”, mango juice and “lifestyle smoothie mix”
providing 600 calories, 8 g fat (saturated), 270 mg sodium, 112 g sugar, 1 g fibre, 1 g protein.
This smoothie made with 2 cups baby spinach3/4 cup diced pineapple1/4 cup blueberries1/2 cup water
1 tbsp ground flax seeds1 1/2 tsp ginger (peeled and grated)
providing 135 calories, 3 g fat (poly and monounsaturated fats), 52 ,mg sodium, 15 g sugar (from pineapple and blueberries), 6 g fibre, and 4 g protein
Which one do you think is healthy?
Smoothie vs eating a whole fruit
It’s always better to eat a fruit whole because the intact fibre and water makes the natural fruit sugars absorb very slowly into your bloodstream. While the fibre remains in smoothies, blending it so finely makes it very easily digestible and hence the natural sugars in the fruit appear concentrated and can make your blood sugar levels rise quickly. Eating whole fruit is much more satiating and you usually would not eat more than one in a sitting, whereas it’s very easy to have three or more servings of fruit in one sitting when it’s in a smoothie form.
While it’s always great to consume several servings of fruits (and vegetables) in a day due to their nutritive content, having only fruits in a smoothie will make you have more than you should per serving (without the buffering effect of vegetables – most of which have no sugar, nuts and seeds which add good fats and some protein, as well as some other natural source of protein). If you add all this in your smoothie, then your smoothie is healthy and you’re good to go. However, if your smoothie has only fruit, then you’re better off having just a whole fruit in its unprocessed form.
Are smoothies healthy for weight loss?
Not always. If the smoothie is taken as a meal replacement and has adequate amounts of fibre, good fats, and protein along with no added sugar, then it can be helpful for weight loss (provided it gives you enough energy and keeps you satiated long enough to avoid unhealthy snacking until your next meal). If, however, you choose an unhealthy store bought smoothie or add ingredients with lots of refined sugar and have little vegetables, nuts and seeds or protein in them then you’re just going to add in too many calories with no nutrition to show for it, and this might just fuel your cravings.
Are fruit smoothies healthy for breakfast?
Only fruit smoothies aren’t as healthy as smoothies that have vegetables, nuts and seeds and some protein. Only then can it be considered healthy enough to be a replacement for breakfast. If your smoothie has only fruit, you will digest it very quickly feel hungry very soon. It’s always better to eat fruits in their whole form. Or, simply add more vegetables than fruit in your smoothie plus add some nuts and seeds to make it more balanced.
Are vegetable smoothies good for you?
Yes. Vegetable smoothies are a great way to have several servings of vegetables in one sitting. Vegetables aren’t always easy to eat and most people do not meet their daily requirement for fruits and vegetables a day. Unless you add sugar in the smoothie, which will make it less healthy (depending on the amount). You can make a vegetable smoothie taste better by adding some lime, ginger or mint for flavour.
Disadvantages of smoothies –
If you choose store bought smoothies, or make your own with sugar-laden ingredients, you could be misled into believing you’re having something healthy when actually you’re not. Most store-bought smoothie cater to your taste buds, not your health. What this means is that, most store-bought smoothies are no better than dessert. On the other hand, making smoothies from scratch with real ingredients and no added sugar will give you a lot of nutrients and contribute towards meeting your daily intake of fruit and vegetable servings.