Whether you’re throwing ingredients into a blender or juicer or shopping for a prepackaged smoothie or juice, you’re probably turning to these drinks because of their health benefits. After all, what’s not to love about lots of fruits and veggies combined into a delicious drink?
It turns out, depending on your nutrition and health goals, the ingredients you include can make some smoothies and juices better choices than others. Noel Ugarte, a registered dietitian with Banner Health, explained that a lot of juices and smoothies can be a great-tasting and convenient way to increase your total fruit and vegetable intake. “Most healthy adults could consider supplementing their meals with one of these drinks per day,” Ugarte said.
She explained more about how best to include smoothies and juices into your diet.
What’s the difference between smoothies and juices?
The main difference is the fiber content. Smoothies usually use all of the fruit or vegetable, so they include fiber. You get a lot of benefits from that fiber:
- You’re less likely to feel hungry.
- Your blood sugar levels are less likely to spike.
- You may lower your LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels.
- You can improve your digestive health.
“Because the fiber content is preserved, and it’s easier to incorporate other food groups such as protein and fat, smoothies can be more filling and nutritionally balanced,” Ugarte said.
Juices contain only the liquid parts of the produce. They have all the naturally occurring sugar from the fruit and the vitamin and mineral content of the juice, but they lose all of the fiber and most of the vitamins and minerals contained in the skin.
With juices, you consume more of the food than you would if you ate it. For example, you probably wouldn’t eat four or five large carrots. But it would be easy to drink the four or five ounces of juice that come from those carrots.
A small amount of juice can contain a lot of sugar, which can spike your blood sugar levels. And removing the fiber means you’re less likely to feel satisfied.
How to build a better smoothie
Ugarte recommends this formula for making a smoothie from different fruits and vegetables:
- One cup or more of a non-starchy vegetable such as kale, spinach, celery or cucumber
- One fruit—a cup of blueberries or a half of a banana can help counteract the taste of the veggies if you don’t like them, or you can choose a serving of mango, pineapple, orange, peach or another fruit
- One half-cup of protein such as peanut butter or nut butter, protein powder, Greek yogurt or silken tofu, which will optimize and balance the nutritional content of your smoothie
- Water, unsweetened almond milk or soy milk, coconut milk or coconut water, and ice
- Options such as vanilla or chocolate extract, spices like cinnamon or ginger, herbs like cilantro or parsley, and lemon or lime juice
What to include in a juice
Because of their fiber content, smoothies are generally considered a better choice. But juices can provide concentrated amounts of vitamins and minerals, which can benefit people who want to increase their nutrient intake without significantly increasing the volume or fiber content of the food they eat. Ugarte recommends juicing fruits and vegetables together since the vegetables can help offset the higher sugar content of the fruit.
What should you look for in bottled smoothies and juices?
When you’re choosing store-bought smoothies or juices Ugarte said to look at the ingredients and the added sugar content.
- Choose smoothies and juices that list fruit and vegetable purees as the top ingredients. “Ingredients are listed from most abundant to least abundant, so you’re getting the highest amounts of the ingredients that are listed first,” Ugarte said.
- Bottled beverages are often very high in added sugar content, which are sugars included in the drink in addition to the sugars that naturally occur in the foods. “Ideally, you should choose a prepackaged smoothie or juice with no added sugar. If you can’t find one, choose the option with the least added sugar,” she said.
And keep in mind that most of the micronutrients in juices and smoothies are highly reactive to heat, light and oxygen. “If you want the most nutrient content, I recommend consuming the smoothie or juice as soon as possible after it has been freshly prepared,” she said.
Should you try juice fasts, diets or cleanses?
Ugarte doesn’t recommend diets where you drink smoothies or juices exclusively. “I often get asked if I have a favorite juice cleanse. The answer is no. Juices do not have the power to cleanse our bodies—our livers do that. Long-term smoothie or juice diets or cleanses for organ health or to lose weight can lead to nutritional deficiencies. Juices and smoothies should supplement a diet centered around whole foods,” she said.
The bottom line
Smoothies and juices can be part of a balanced diet and can be a good way to boost your intake of vegetables and fruit. While nutritional needs vary with each person and their health concerns, supplementing your diet with a daily smoothie or juice could be a good choice.
Need help building a healthy eating plan?
Schedule an appointment with a dietitian.
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