Smoothies are all the rage. They are touted to increase energy and be low in calories,
but are they really as healthy as they are cracked up to be? It really depends on the ingredients, how they are made and whether or not they are consumed as a meal or a supplement.
Too Much Fruit In Your Smoothie Can Lead to Weight Gain
If you are choosing lots of fruit to put in your smoothie – especially strawberries and bananas – and a much smaller ratio of vegetables, then you could be doing yourself a disservice. First of all, strawberries are second on the list of the dirty dozen fruits and vegetables high in pesticides if you are not buying organic. Do you really want a heavy dose of pesticides when you are drinking these to be healthy?
Secondly, fruits are nature’s candy, so they are naturally high in carbohydrates. If you are making your smoothies with bananas then be aware that they are naturally high in carbs, especially if they are really ripe – the riper the banana, the higher the sugar-raising glycemic index. One large banana can have as many carbs as a large McDonald’s french fry. Even though you may be getting lots of vitamins A and C, you are also getting a lot of natural sugar that can spike your blood sugar. Depending on what else you are adding or having with your smoothie your blood sugar rise could be causing your pancreas to release extra insulin. The presence of too much insulin makes our bodies store the extra sugar as fat. Over time, this could lead to weight gain and even diabetes if you have a family history of type 2 diabetes and tend to carry your weight around the middle. Smoothies made this way are not “free” calories and they do not make a complete balanced meal.
Other Components to a Balanced Smoothie if it is a Meal
If you are making your smoothie as a meal then be aware it should contain some protein as well as some healthy fat. According to Douglas Paddon-Jones of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston in an interview with David Schardt from the Center of Science in the Public Interest, people should aim for about 30 grams of high quality protein per meal. In the April 2011 article on Staying Strong, this should come from good quality protein sources like fish, poultry, meat, eggs and dairy. If you are making your smoothies from just fruits and vegetables and intend them to be a meal, then you are not getting all the nutrients your body needs and your are probably starving two hours later.
Your smoothie should also contain a little bit of fat in order to help you absorb all those nutrients and to help keep you fuller longer. Fat helps with the absorption of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. fruits and especially vegetables like kale and spinach are really high the antioxidant vitamins A, C and K some you wouldn’t want to just eat your kale and not absorb all those antioxidants!
What Does a Balanced Smoothie Look Like As A Meal?
The right smoothie should contain about a 3:1 ratio of vegetables to fruit and aim for about 25-30 grams of protein as well as some heart healthy fat that you can find in seeds and nuts. It should contain organic ingredients depending on your choices using the dirty dozen list as a guide. So if you are going to use strawberries, you should buy organic – same with spinach. Obviously this could get quite expensive unless you have your own source! When I can’t pick fresh veggies from my garden I like to use frozen veggies and berries – they are flash frozen immediately after picking maintaining most of their nutrients and lasting several weeks in the freezer. I like to use broccoli and kale since they are much lower on the pesticide list, not requiring me to buy organic, and they are good sources of antioxidants, fiber and potassium.
I would also choose fruits that are lower in carbs like berries, especially raspberries since they are also low on the pesticide list. If you are going to use a banana then keep it to half a banana if you are adding other carbs to your smoothie or consuming some along with your smoothie.
Next, you want a good protein source. You could add a good organic protein powder like GNC whey protein powder that is made up of whey protein concentrate and isolate, delivering 24 grams of protein per serving and only 4 grams of carbs. Or, if you are more of a purist then you could use plain, fat-free Greek yogurt that delivers 3 times more protein than regular yogurt which is much lower in carbohydrates and has healthy probiotics.
Lastly, for balanced nutrition in your smoothie you need some healthy fats. I like to add ground flax seeds since they are a great source of Omega 3’s but you could also add some walnuts or peanut butter depending on your tastes. I have experimented with several combinations and I think I have the right balance now that delivers about 350 calories, 45 grams of carbs, 5 grams of fat, 31 grams of protein and 11 grams of fiber – and it tastes delicious! I have this for breakfast several days a week, it’s very portable and I’m getting 2 cups of super healthy veggies, a cup of super healthy fruit along with a good amount of protein and fiber. Now that’s how to make a smoothie! If you want my recipe, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org