It’s as easy as throwing a bunch of produce into a blender and whizzing up a quick snack or breakfast. Or so it would seem when making a smoothie.
Yet all smoothies aren’t created equal, says Sonja Max, a Bellingham registered dietician. Smoothies are often too large, have too many high-calorie ingredients, and contain too few high-nutrient fruits, vegetables and seeds, she says.
Max says smoothies can be a great addition to your daily diet, but how they are included depends on your health goals and on the ingredients you add.
When to Use Smoothies
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Max recommends smoothies more as a supplement or snack, instead of a meal replacement. She says that if you are drinking your calories, you could end up with more than you need for a meal.
People who are trying to lose weight should watch their portion size and their ingredients closely, she says. And while smoothies are a great way for athletes and exercise enthusiasts to get an energy boost of complex carbohydrates from fruit and vegetables before a workout, that can add on the pounds if the smoothies aren’t figured into their overall calorie count for the day.
A typical smoothie as a snack should contain 150 to 200 calories, and generally be about 8 to 12 ounces. Athletes and highly active people can shoot for 200 to 250 calories.
Using an online calorie-counting program or an app, such as myfitnesspal.com, and measuring all ingredients is key to making sure you’re not underestimating calories.
How to Start
Generally, the proper ratio for a smoothie is two or three times as much fruit and vegetables as liquid in the blender. Additions of thickening fruits, such as bananas or avocados, require a little more water. Watery citrus fruits, such as oranges and pineapple, require a little less water.
For herself, Max stays away from dairy products and uses just water to blend her smoothies. But dairy milk, plain yogurt, almond milk and other milk substitutes are great additions to smoothies. Also, hemp, flax or chia seeds soaked in water add thickness to smoothies, she says.
Frozen or Unfrozen?
Using frozen or unfrozen fruit in your smoothie is a matter of preference, Max says.
“I use room-temperature fruit, since I think cold drinks are tough on my stomach,” she says.
Other people prefer their smoothies icy cold and use frozen fruit, which means they don’t have to add ice to their blenders.
Frozen bananas, slightly thawed, are great additions to smoothies, and are a great way to reduce waste when your bananas have gone black on the countertop.
If you’re new to smoothies, Max suggests going light on the addition of greens, at first. The bitter flavor of greens can turn off even the most health-conscious eater. She suggests adding a few pieces of kale to a fruit smoothie for extra fiber and for phytonutrients. As your taste buds adjust, you can add more greens and less fruit.
Max says lightly steaming greens helps to remove some of the bitter flavor. Once you’re ready to get a dose of greens with your smoothie, most any green can be blended into your concoction.
Max suggests adding bok choy, red leaf lettuce, spinach, and even herbs like parsley, mint and basil, for calcium and a variety of antioxidants. Other greens, including collards, mustard greens, mizuna and tat soi, are great immunity boosters.
Calorie-free seasonings include ginger and turmeric, both powerful anti-inflammatories. Turmeric will also add a vibrant orange look to a smoothie of pineapple, mango or orange.
Chia and flaxseeds are great for adding soluble fiber, as well as healthy Omega-3 fats. Rolled oats can be added for fiber, as can oat groats, which should be soaked in water overnight to soften.
Protein powders are generally unnecessary, Max says. Many greens contain enough protein to keep a smoothie satisfying, she says.
She also cautions against a lot of added sweeteners.
“Most fruit is sweet enough, especially if it’s ripe,” she says. “Still, a teaspoon of honey or maple syrup can help mellow the taste of bitter greens, if needed.”
Smoothies on the road
Smoothies are popular menu items at drive-through restaurants as well as sit-down establishments. But Max says it’s wise to ask about the ingredients before having a smoothie away from home.
Some restaurants use juice extracts with added sugars and artificial flavors and colors. That means the smoothies lack fiber from whole fruit, and are typically high in calories and sugar, some with as much as 44 grams of sugar in a small smoothie, more than found in a can of soda.
“This is not good for anyone concerned with diabetes or blood sugar control,” Max says.
Max says a Vitamix blender is ideal for pulverizing ingredients into the smoothest smoothie. But the high-end appliance can cost hundreds of dollars, so it might be out of reach for many.
Otherwise, blenders designed for liquefying meals, like the Magic Bullet, are great for the occasional smoothie. Regular blenders vary in quality, so additional liquid might be needed for a smooth consistency.
Large frozen fruit, such as whole strawberries, might be too tough on some blender motors, so they should be slightly defrosted and chopped before added.
To find a variety of recipes, Max suggests simplegreensmoothies.com.