Are smoothies that healthy? Over the years, as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, I’ve received this question more times than I can count from clients and readers. In a short and sweet answer, a lot of smoothies, especially popular fruit-based ones that I’ve seen shared online, can easily climb up to 50g of sugar per recipe. For most of us, that’s entirely too much sugar in one serving. Plus, the sugar usually isn’t balanced with the amount of protein, fiber, vegetables (i.e. leafy greens), and healthy fats in the mix.
Common Ways Smoothies Can Become Unhealthy
Too Much Sugar
Smoothies, especially ones you get made at a restaurant or a local juice spot can be loaded with extra sugar in order for them to “taste good” to the majority of people. Fruits like mango, pineapple and banana are naturally high in sugar, and can sometimes be used to mask the “green” flavor in smoothies. Instead, turn to antioxidant-rich berries for great flavor and less sugar content. Many smoothies also contain sugar-laden fruit juice; try subbing in plant-based milk that’s full of healthy fats instead. Using ingredients like zucchini, cucumber, carrots and avocado are great to use in low-sugar smoothies.
Not Enough Greens
Challenge yourself to get those greens in! Adding them to smoothies is a great way to increase the fiber in your diet — aim for a 3:1 ratio of vegetables:fruit this could look like 3 handful of spinach and 1 cup fruit. Many popular smoothies may have a higher ratio of fruits to greens, and they won’t pack the nutritious punch you’re looking for. Green leafy vegetables, known as cruciferous vegetables, are incredibly nutrient dense, and should be the base of every smoothie you order. You can, of course, add a green powder to the mix, but nothing beats the nutrient density of fresh, simple “superfoods” like spinach and kale. They help fight cancer, boost your immunity, balance hormones, reduce inflammation, and they pack plenty of fiber to help you feel fuller, longer.
Too Much Of A Good Thing
Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to smoothies, especially if you’re enjoying a smoothie as a snack in between meals. Based on your food and nutrition intake that day, a smaller serving size may be the best option, especially if it’s protein-rich with ingredients like peanut butter or almond butter. Does the smoothie include superfoods like spirulina or chlorella? These superfoods actually pack plant-based proteins, so there’s no need to pile on additional protein.
That being said, green smoothies can serve as powerhouses for your health when you look at their nutrient density, and they can be a beautiful, balanced blend of nutrients if the proportions are aligned. Thanks to their high fiber content, they support a healthy, efficient, and regular digestive system. Since they’re blended, they’re basically “pre-digested” and ultimately easier on the digestive system to process.
The “Equation” to Follow
Whether you’re enjoying your smoothie as a meal or a snack, it can be both delicious and satisfying — without processed additives or fillers. Think of the following “equations” as blueprints when you’re building a healthy smoothie at home.
If you’re making a smoothie to serve as a meal
3 parts greens + 1 part fruit + 1 citrus + 1 part protein + 1 part healthy fat + and/or 1 part carbohydrate addition to fruit (+ optional superfood toppings) + liquid to your desired texture
3 handfuls spinach + ½ banana + juice of ½ lemon + 1 scoop vanilla protein powder + 2 tablespoons of almond butter + 2 tablespoons rolled oats + almond milk to your desired texture
If you’re making a smoothie as a snack
2 parts greens + 1 part fruit + 1 citrus + 1 part protein OR healthy fat (+ optional superfood toppings) + liquid to your desired texture
1 handful spinach + ½ banana + juice of ½ lemon + scoop of almond butter + almond milk to your desired texture
Don’t know where to get started? Try one of these popular recipes from the Nutrition Stripped archives: