Banner Health News Center  

Hidden truth behind smoothies: How to make sure yours is healthy


SmoothieThey’re fruity and full of calcium, and they seem so virtuous. No wonder smoothies are popular for breakfast, snack or even as meal replacements.

But don't be lulled into thinking these tasty combos of fruit and milk necessarily deliver the best nutrition for your calorie budget.

Adding it up
“A smoothie may have what feel like healthy ingredients, but that doesn’t make the calories disappear,” says Dr. David Patchett , a family medicine physician at the Banner Health Center in Gilbert, Ariz.

If you don't watch portion size or ingredient add-ins, your smoothie can end up looking like a calorie-laden milk shake.

Plus, there could be more drawbacks.

When you sip a smoothie made with fruit flavoring and not real fruit - which is the formula for some commercially made drinks - you're missing out on essential vitamins. These flavorings are high in sugar and lack the dietary fiber your body needs. And even though you feel full right away, you could have a mid-day crash because you're not eating solid food.

Nutrition tips
You can still indulge in smoothies, says Dr. Patchett, as long as you remember that you may need to cut back on calories elsewhere to compensate.

Here's what you should know to be a savvy smoothie consumer, whether you're ordering out or making your own drink.

  • Look for a nutritionally balanced smoothie with non-fat or low-fat milk and whole fruit for fiber.
  • If you're buying a smoothie, ask whether the vendor uses real fruit or fruit flavorings. Stick with fruit and avoid fruit juice or artificial fruit concentrate. Fruit juice without fiber will cause a spike in your blood sugar, so if you’re a diabetic, you need to be especially aware of that. Low-fiber foods can also mean you’ll be hungry again soon, warns Dr. Patchett.
  • Frozen fruit is fine, and in fact makes smoothies frothier and thicker. But use plain, no-sugar-added frozen fruit to save calories.
  • Opt for fat-free dairy products to get calcium, vitamin D and protein without the fat.
  • Decide whether you really need the add-ons that some commercial shops put into their smoothies. For example, you might be offered a concoction with caffeine, protein powder or an anti-oxidant cocktail.

Dr. Patchett cautions against drinking smoothies with added caffeine and also questions whether you need antioxidants in your drink. Having a fortified drink in addition to, for instance, eating fortified breakfast cereal, and/or taking a multivitamin, could result in nutrient overload, adds Dr. Patchett.

Do watch your serving sizes. "The jumbo size may just be 60 cents more, but it’s not worth it for your waistline," says Dr. Patchett. Stick to the smaller, 8-ounce portion, recommends Dr. Patchett.
Kids and smoothies
If your children balk at eating fresh fruit, smoothies seem like a great alternative, with their sweet flavor and silken consistency. But Dr. Patchett is concerned that smoothies could replace fruit in children's diets.

"Typically a smoothie is a more concentrated flavor and tastes sweeter, but eating a whole fruit is generally better because it has more fiber per serving and less concentrated sugar,” says Dr. Patchett.

What’s in your smoothie?
Here are some of the hidden diet busters in popular smoothie formulations (approximate calories).

Frozen yogurt 221 calories per cup
High-fructose corn syrup 53 calories per tablespoon
Honey 64 calories per tablespoon
Strawberries (frozen, whole, sweetened, thawed) 255 calories per cup
Sugar 48 calories per tablespoon
Whole milk 149 calories per cup
(non-fat milk is 91 calories per cup)

This smoothie recipe is a luscious way to get more dairy and fruit into your diet. Women, for instance, should eat 1-1/2 to two cups of fruit a day. This drink provides half or more servings of fruit.

Strawberry Smoothie

3/4 cup nonfat milk, well chilled
1/4 cup nonfat vanilla yogurt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup ripe whole strawberries, about 8 large (see note)

Combine milk, yogurt, cinnamon and strawberries in blender container. Puree. Serve immediately.

Makes 1 serving.
Per serving: 120 calories / 0.43 grams total fat (from the strawberries) / 10 grams protein / 29 grams carbohydrates / 7.5 milligrams cholesterol / 77 milligrams sodium / 3 grams dietary fiber

Note: For a thicker smoothie, slice and freeze strawberries for 1 hour before making the drink. Substitute frozen, sliced, unsweetened strawberries if desired.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. David Patchett at the Banner Health Center in Gilbert, Ariz, please call (480) 649-6600 or find a Banner physician near you.

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