The Pros and Cons of Smoothies

About to Smoothie

Smoothies are perceived as a win-win food for people trying to lose weight and eat healthfully. They are both tasty and nutritious, or so it seems. But when examining the nutrition facts for smoothies, you have to wonder just how healthy they really are. For example, a small (16 ounce) Jamba Juice Aloha Pineapple Smoothie clocks in at 290 calories and 63 grams of sugar. That’s about 16 teaspoons of sugar!

While it’s true that the sugars are from fruit and yogurt, this is an outrageously huge amount to ingest in a 10 minute slurp-fest. If the same ingredients were consumed using mandibles, it would probably take much longer to eat the same amount of food. When the sharp blades of the blender do all the chewing for us, in advance, the result may well be too many calories consumed, too fast.

We asked several dietitians what they thought about smoothies.

Jackie Topol, MS, RD, CDN, a NYC based dietitian had this to say:

Smoothies can be tricky… It all depends on how they are made.  If you make them at home with pure ingredients (ie fresh/frozen fruit, yogurt, nut butter, and the like) they are a great start to the day and a perfect grab-and-go breakfast. I don’t think it’s an issue to not chew your meal once a day.

Smoothies that are purchased really run the gamut, most have sweeteners or use fruit in syrup or are just too large of a portion size so you end up consuming a lot of calories and sugar (whether it be natural or added). 

Jackie’s  suggestions:

1. Look at the calories, sugar content and ingredients to make the best choice that you can.
2. People should choose smoothies over juices because they retain the fiber.

Lori Kaley, MS, RD, LD, MSB, managing partner at nutrition consulting firm LA Sutherland Group, is a bit more skeptical;

I think smoothies and shakes are viewed as a silver bullet – easy, simple, quick and you can get in all your nutrients. In other words, you don’t have to think, just drink something quick and portion controlled and the weight will come off.

I think if someone is going to spend the time to put together those ingredients and get them into a blender, they would be better off preparing a meal or a snack, sitting down and eating it, mindfully (with chewing and perhaps silverware involved).

Lori suggests:

If you’re going to collect all those wonderful ingredient for a smoothie, how about making a salad or healthy snack instead?

Las Vegas based dietitian Andy Bellatti MS, RD suggests the word “smoothie” may be too broad:

The term “smoothies” reminds me of the word “fat” in the sense that just like there are very different kinds of fats, there are very different kinds of smoothies. Many commercial smoothies are nothing more than a bunch of fruit purees mixed together with fruit juice (sometimes with added protein isolates or tacked-on fiber). These are total sugar bombs that don’t do much toward satiety.

Homemade smoothies are a different story. If you take, for example, bananas, milk (dairy or non-dairy), 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, and some oat bran, it is really no different from eating/chewing that. The end result is a fairly think concoction and, most importantly, keeps you satiated.

The concern about drinking calories has more to do with a) thinner liquids that are caloric (there has been research done on how thicker smoothies help with satiety) and b) higher-calorie/higher-sugar concoctions that don’t offer much in terms of protein/fat/fiber (3 keys to satiety).

Our take: If you’re going to have a liquid meal, make it yourself, make sure to include as much fiber from the original fruit as possible, and mind the portion size.

What do you think?

  • Joe
  • Homer J

    Smoothies are the perfect way for me to eat vegetables. I hate them cooked and would never eat them, and wouldn’t eat most of them raw. But if I blend some combination of spinach, carrots, beets, squash and some frozen fruit and protein powder, I can drink down several servings of vegetables and fruits at once.

    • Billy Crowe

      I’m the opposite. I love veggies, but do not like eating fruit. I had a childhood allergy toward some of the acids. I outgrew them, so I never had a taste for fruit. I use non-fat vanilla yogurt, a small amount of pure fruit juice and frozen fruit in mine. It tastes like a milkshake (that I miss SO much) and I get the nutrients from all the fruit.

  • Z

    I definitely think vegetables are the key ingredients to good smoothies. Fruits are so high in sugar that they should be minimally added.

  • Monica

    I make my smoothies at home with water, lemon and lime juices, fresh greens of all types, fresh fruit and/or frozen, a pkage of Truvia and whey protein. Sugar is not high and the calories are low. They’re delicious and healthy and have improved my stamina, skin elasticity, health and much more. I recommend making them at home and not buying them outside because you know exactly what is going into them.

  • Andrea T

    I’m pro-smoothie but feel that all the smoothie chains (e.g. Jamba Juice) are healthwashing and serving poor quality versions. Most smoothie chains are like the fast food versions of smoothies. It’s the difference between making a burger with meat from the butcher, and eating a quarter pounder from McDonald’s. I once went to a smoothie store because I hadn’t had time to make my own and was shocked that all of the smoothies were high in fruit and that I had to pay extra to make it “green”. Then it tasted powdery. I think that those stores “dumb down” smoothies for the general taste, but in doing so they’re not training people to like the green smoothies, they’re encouraging the idea of smoothies as fancy milkshakes. In Frank Bruni’s book Born Round he talks about a phase in which he and a friend were into smoothies and didn’t realize that the chocolate-peanut butter combo was doing more harm than good. Smoothies aren’t milkshakes. People need to be informed. I intended to post a rant about this to my own blog a long time ago but never got around to it. As I’m typing this comment I can’t believe I didn’t.

  • waynecollections

    I tried making green smoothies before for the extra punch of nutrition from the veggies but I can almost always taste the veggies. I would rather just eat it plainly then tasting them in a smoothie.

  • Gallucci

    Total agreement with the end note. I’m always in a morning rush, so I’ve relied on homemade breakfast smoothies for the past 6 yrs. They keep you full because the liquid is thick & the ingredients are real. There are times when I have to force myself to sit down for lunch. That’s the fiber talking. They’re also fun to play around with- as Homer said, it’s a great way to add another veggie serving to your list (beware, don’t ever add kale to the recipe).