Fruit smoothies: Nutritional pros and cons

July 11, 2018 in Leslie's Featured Content

Fruit smoothies: Nutritional pros and cons

A smoothie made with whole fruit, some milk or a milk alternative (e.g. soy, pea or almond milk) 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 (or lunch). Doing so could rev up your appetite – and possibly your calorie intake.  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.

Benefits of homemade smoothies

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).

Nutritional downsides

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.  

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.

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.

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.

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, roughly the same as a McDonald’s Big Mac.  

5 tips for a healthy smoothie

Clearly a homemade smoothie is more nutritious than an all-dressed burger.  My point is, though, that smoothies have a health halo that can blind people to the extra calories – or sugar – they deliver.

Practice the following tips to increase your smoothie’s satiety and nutrient value, while preventing calorie overload.

Choose whole fruit

Make smoothies with whole fruit instead of juice to increase fibre and reduce calories from sugar. Stick to one medium sized fruit or one cup of cut up chunks of fruit or berries.  Adding frozen fruit will help make your smoothie thick.

Enjoy the naturally sweet taste of fruit; avoid adding honey, agave or maple syrup.

Increase fibre

Adding raw oats (one-quarter cup), raw oat bran (two tablespoons), psyllium husks (two tablespoons) or chia seeds (one tablespoon) will boost fibre and thicken your smoothie, increasing its staying power.

Blend in healthy fats

To increase your intake of plant-based omega-3’s, add one tablespoon of ground flax, chia seeds, hemp seeds or a teaspoon of flax oil.  Or, try a tablespoon of almond or peanut butter or one-quarter of an avocado for an infusion of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat and, in the case of avocado, the B vitamin folate.

Get protein

One cup of milk, ¾ cup of plain yogurt or one cup of soy or pea milk add 8 g of protein to smoothies (Greek yogurt delivers 18 g per ¾ cup).  Almond, rice and coconut beverages have little or no protein; if using add half to one scoop of protein powder.

If using a plant-based beverage instead of dairy, choose an unsweetened product to avoid added sugar.  Fortified products also supply 300 mg of calcium and 100 international units (IU) of vitamin D.

Consider greens

Blending spinach, kale or other leafy greens into smoothies adds fibre, calcium, folate and lutein, a phytochemical that helps keep vision sharp. You’ll get more minerals and antioxidants, though, if you add cooked greens instead of raw.

Steam or blanch a batch of greens, puree them in a blender or food processor, and then freeze in ice cube trays. Once frozen, pop out and store in a freezer bag.

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.