A new client whose go-to breakfast is a fresh fruit smoothie for breakfast, recently asked me, “I think I’m making a healthy choice by having a smoothie but am I fooling myself? Would I get more nutritional benefits if I ate the same foods, whole?”. Here’s my answer.
A smoothie made with whole fruit, some milk or a milk alternative (e.g. soy or almond milk), perhaps even a little protein powder is certainly a nutritious way to start your day. When made right, smoothies deliver fibre, protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants – and water – nutrients that a toasted bagel, even one that’s whole grain, can’t deliver.
But there are potential downsides to sipping a smoothie for breakfast. Doing so could rev up your appetite – and possibly your calorie intake – at lunch. And if you buy your smoothie from the grocery store or a juice shop, you could be getting ingredients you didn’t bargain for, or need.
Good way to increase fruit and vegetable intake
Blending your own smoothie is one of the easiest ways to add fruit to your diet, be it berries, cherries, mango, peaches, melon, banana, kiwi, even pear and oranges. That’s a good thing for people who don’t think to add fresh fruit to breakfast or snacks.
Many studies have linked a diet that includes whole fruit to a lower risk of heart attack and stroke. Fruit is a good source of many cardio-protective nutrients such as fibre, vitamin C, folate and potassium.
There’s also evidence that fruit packed with flavonoids – apples, oranges, grapefruit, and blueberries – may guard against ovarian cancer.
There’s more to smoothies than fruit, though. They’re also a vehicle for vegetables (e.g. spinach, kale, carrots), calcium (e.g. milk, yogurt, fortified plant-based beverages), omega-3 fatty acids (e.g. flax, chia and hemp seeds) and protein (milk, yogurt, protein powder).
Missing the satiety factor
Even so, there are drawbacks to smoothies. Pulverizing whole fruit in a blender (or a Vitamix) changes the structure of the fibre in whole fruit which can diminish its filling factor.
A 2009 study published in the journal Appetite found that eating an apple before lunch did a better job of increasing satiety and reducing calorie consumption at mealtime that did eating applesauce (e.g. pureed fruit) or drinking apple juice before the meal.
Drinking a fruit smoothie doesn’t fill you up the same way that eating whole fruit does. Liquid meals empty from the stomach faster than solid foods, which can leave you feeling hungry sooner. Not to mention reduce your concentration and energy level by mid-morning.
Plus, you can drink a smoothie faster than the time it takes to eat, say, Greek yogurt and a cup of berries sprinkled with a tablespoon of chia seeds. Certainly quicker than the 20 minutes it takes your brain to register satiety and signal it’s time to stop eating.
If your go-to breakfast is a smoothie, you may need to add a mid-morning snack to prevent feeling too hungry by lunch time – or caving in to the pastry tray served at the office morning meeting.
Go for smoothies made from whole fruit, not juice
Even so, at least you’re getting heart-healthy fibre from smoothies made with whole fruit. That’s not the case if you make your smoothie with fruit juice.
Fruit juice smoothies pack in more calories and (natural) sugars than ones made with whole fruit. Blending one medium orange into a smoothie adds 62 calories and 12 g of sugar; swap the orange with one cup of orange juice and you’ll add 110 calories and twice as much sugar to your drink.
A recent large study from Harvard University, published in the British Medical Journal, found that eating more whole fruits – versus drinking fruit juice – was tied to a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Don’t assume store-bought smoothies are made from whole fruit. Bolthouse Farms Berry Boost smoothie lists apple puree concentrate and apple juice as its first two ingredients (a far cry from berries), followed by a medley of berry purees and banana puree. Read the nutrition label and you’ll see there isn’t a stitch of fibre to be found.
Ditto for Tim Horton’s Fruit Smoothie, which is blended with real fruit purees and juices. If you order the large (684 ml), however, you will get a one gram of fibre. Big whoop.
Depending on what you order at the smoothie bar, you could also be getting refined sugars. Booster Juice’s Ripped Berry smoothie, for instance, is made with sugary frozen vanilla yogurt and honey.
Consider portion size, calorie add-ons
Large portion sizes of juice bar smoothies can contribute excess calories too. A 24-ounce Booster Juice Funky Monkey smoothie (banana, chocolate almond milk, vanilla frozen yogurt) serves up 488 calories. Okay for a meal, but pretty hefty if your smoothie is a between meal snack.
Even if you blend your smoothie from scratch, you could be unknowingly piling on calories. A tablespoon each of flax, chia and hemp seeds and agave syrup (or honey) adds a solid 200 calories. Factor in the fruit, milk and protein powder and your healthy shake can cost you upwards of 600 calories.
Bottom line: A smoothie made with whole fruit – and other healthy ingredients in measured amounts (see sidebar) – is a healthy way to start the day.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.