How Healthy Is Your Smoothie?

It’s time to rethink your on-the-go snack

Woman making smoothie

When you’re busy, hungry, and on the run, what could be wrong with grabbing a fruit-filled smoothie?

As it turns out, a lot. But it can all be fixed if you take the time to make a proper smoothie at home.

Overall, people think that smoothies are healthy “because in their minds, they’re just drinking fruits or vegetables. They’ll have it as a snack or as a meal but, depending on where you get it, smoothies can be loaded with sugar,” says Amy Shapiro, M.S., R.D., founder of Real Nutrition NYC. “It’s something that sounds healthy but has enough added sugars and calories that I tell my patients they might as well eat ice cream,” she says.

Remember, drinking a premade smoothie as a meal replacement will not necessarily save you calories. “Like drinking juices and soda, it will temporarily give you an energy boost, but they’re a quick source of sugar and calories so you’ll be hungry later after your blood sugar has spiked and crashed,” Shapiro says.

Let's compare a premade smoothie with that other popular drink:

A Mango A-Go-Go medium sized smoothie (24oz) from Jamba Juice has 400 calories, 89 grams of sugar, 3 grams of protein and includes a passionfruit-mango juice blend, mangos and pineapple sherbet. A medium sized all-fruit Strawberry Whirl Smoothie—which still contains an apple-strawberry juice blend—is a better option at 370 calories, although it has 75 grams of sugar and only 5 grams of protein.

For 20 ounces of regular Coca-Cola, you'll get 240 calories and 65 grams of sugar. It may have more sugar per volume, but should a smoothie meal replacement really have nutrition stats so similar to a soft drink?

Just because smoothies can be loaded with a lot of the not-so-good-for-you doesn’t mean that you should kiss blended fruit treats goodbye. Done right, smoothies can be a great meal replacement or snack. Your best bet? Make it at home. Follow these tips from Shapiro for a delicious, fruit-filled smoothie that can keep you powered up for a few hours.

  • Use Whole Fruit. When you use juice, you lose the natural fiber that helps your body process sugar. You also lose the filling volume of whole fruits. “A glass of orange juice has the equivalent of four to five oranges, but drinking a glass of orange juice isn’t the same as eating four to five oranges,” Shapiro says. Try whole or frozen fresh fruit in your next smoothie. Shapiro recommends freezing lots of berries (because of their high concentration of fiber and antioxidants) and just-overripe bananas.
  • Be Smart with Liquids. The added fruit juice that comes in premade smoothies provides unnecessary sugar, without any of the fiber or volume. Use unsweetened almond milk for creaminess. At 40 calories per cup it’s “really nutritious and tastes great,” Shapiro says.
  • Make It Heart-Healthy. Up the nutritional power of a smoothie by including a heart-healthy fat, like a tablespoon of almond butter or ground flax seeds.
  • Go Green. “You can put in any greens you want because they are pretty benign in flavor, but high in nutrients,” Shapiro says. Because they’re low in calories, feel free to add as much as you’d like. Try spinach, kale, or cucumber, which have a natural sweetness.
  • Use Filling Protein. Protein is what transforms a smoothie from snack to meal. “Our body takes the most time to break down protein so it’ll keep you full for a longer amount of time,” Shapiro says. She recommends using raw, vegan protein powders.
  • Skip These. Avoid yogurt, dairy, and additional sweeteners to keep calories, fat, and sugar down. Keep in mind that even one cup of non-fat Greek yogurt has over 100 calories.