Smoothies: Healthy Substitute or Diet Bomb?

Smoothies are a go-to choice for busy people who are trying to eat healthier. But how healthy are they, really? Nutrition experts say smoothies really are great for you—as long as you’re paying close attention to what goes in them.

Smoothies are helpful as part of a healthy diet because they provide nutrients you might not otherwise get in your diet, explains Anne Van Beber, professor of nutritional sciences at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. 

"Many people do not consume enough dark leafy green vegetables, and adding vegetables such as kale, spinach, collards would be an easy way to include these in the diet if they do not like to eat them alone,” she says.

Smoothies are also a helpful way to get kids to eat more fruits, says Kathy Wright, registered dietitian and nutrition program director at Mansfield University in Mansfield, Pa. But even though they have the potential to be healthy, both as a snack and as a meal replacement, the calories and sugars in smoothies can quickly add up.

"Smoothies can be a good way to consume nutrients when you don’t have time to eat healthy, but they can also be a source of excess calories,” says Wright. 

Smoothie fans should keep portion control in mind for their ingredients, too, warns Van Beber. 

“An average fruit contains approximately 60 calories, so using multiple fruits and their juices can quickly add up to hundreds of calories and possibly too many calories,” says Van Beber, explaining that in contrast, a one cup serving of veggies is only around 25 calories.

"A smoothie that is low in sugar, higher in protein and fiber can serve as a portion controlled meal replacement if fruit and vegetables are used to provide much needed vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals,” says Susan Fisher, associate professor of nutrition at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C., who compares the choice to choosing a granola bar over a candy bar. “Just as in making traditional meal choices, the items chosen for the smoothie will determine if it is a meal replacement or just a calorie-laden snack." 

So what are the best ingredients to use? 

A variety of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables that are brightly colored are one essential component. Whole fruits and vegetables are much better for you than using their juices, says Fisher. The whole fruit, she explains, adds much needed fiber and has less concentrated sugar than the juice alone.

And as for store-bought smoothies, checking to make sure these standards are met is key. 

“Just because a smoothie is blue from blueberries or green from spinach does not mean it is healthy,” Fisher adds.

Finally, adding ingredients like nut butters, nuts, seeds, yogurt or other sources of protein creates even more health benefits and keeps you fuller longer. 

"Protein is an important ingredient in smoothies because it would help balance the load of carbohydrate and help regulate blood glucose,” explains Van Beber. "These ingredients also contain some fat which is important to nutrition and will help regulate blood glucose and keep someone satiated longer."

Source Contact Information

Texas Christian University
Professor of Nutrition
Mansfield University
Registered Dietician and Nutrition Program Director
570-662-4628 (office)
Meredith College
Associate Professor of Nutrition