Ask the Dietitian
Are Smoothies Good For You?
The short answer; They can be. It depends on what's in your smoothie.
Smoothies may seem like a healthy option, and they can be an excellent way to get fiber and other nutrition from fruits and vegetables. However, they can also be like drinking an oreo cookie milkshake!
One of the principles of eating well is a balanced plate, or in this case, a balanced cup. If your smoothie contains only fruit and ice, it is all carbs. This may be fine if it is part of a well-rounded meal or snack, is a reasonable size, and your day is balanced overall. If that smoothie contains added sugar, ripples of trouble are brewing.
But what if your smoothie is your breakfast? What's in a balanced smoothie?
If your smoothie is your meal or a significant part of it, adjustments are needed.
Here is what a balanced plate looks like.
A balanced plate combines proteins, healthy fats, grains, vegetables, and fruits. Visit the Harvard Healthy Plate.
Now, let's transfer that to a smoothie
Smoothies tend to be heavy on fruit and sugar, so be careful here. Fruits provide us with lots of essentials; vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. And they are excellent in helping us reach the 1 ½ to 2 cups of fruit a day recommended by The Dietary Guidelines for Americans for those consuming 2000 calories daily. As calories consumed go up, so should fruit. But, sweetened fruit, yogurt with sugar added, and other sugar-laden add-ins can up the sugar content beyond what a day should contain. That smoothie becomes more like a milkshake dessert. For those with blood sugar issues, smoothies can cause a blood sugar spike and, consequently, a bit of a crash.
We have solutions!
How to make a balanced smoothie
- Protein, fat, and fiber are your friends. Notice how the Harvard Healthy Plate contains ¼ protein, ¼ grains, ½ plate vegetables, and healthy fats are encouraged? Your breakfast smoothie should follow the same principle.
- Choose your fruit wisely. Some fruits are easier on the blood sugar. Berries are great here. They are high in fiber and loaded with potent antioxidant phytonutrients. that fight chronic inflammation. Use fresh, frozen, or canned fruit with no sugar added.; Aim for about 1 to 1 ½ cups of fruit total. Mix those fruits up for a variety of nutrients and flavors.
- If you're using citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit, lime, lemon), add a little zest by gently grating a bit of the peel into the smoothie. Citrus zest has been shown to have abundant antioxidants.
- Add veggies. Vegetables tend to be low in carbs and sugars (unless they are starchy vegetables like potatoes and peas). Some of us find it challenging to get the 2-3 cups of vegetables recommended daily. Adding a handful or two of fresh baby spinach or kale to your smoothie is simple and barely noticeable. You could also add some riced cauliflower to add thickness, this transfers to a smoothie bowl very easily.
- Add protein. Protein is a necessary macronutrient and will help slow down the rate sugars enter your bloodstream. It helps you feel full and keeps you satisfied longer than carbohydrates alone. Dairy and soy are great sources of protein. Go beyond yogurt and try adding cottage or ricotta cheese or kefir. Soymilk, tofu, and soy-based yogurt top the list for soy. Nuts and seeds add flavor, protein, and healthy fat. Expand beyond the usual peanut and almond butter and try sunflower or sesame seed (tahini) butters. Even beans….yes, it's been done. Not by me but, I'm told that they are easily hidden among the other smoothie ingredients. Beans also add beneficial fiber that supports a healthy microbiome and beans smooth the blood sugar. As soon as I'm brave enough, I'll give it a try! Last but not least, protein powder and peanut butter powder are easy options.
- Bring on the healthy fats! Fat helps stabilize blood sugar, provide satiety, and keep us full longer. It also supports our immune system, mood, skin health, and more. Nuts and seeds double as good sources of fat and protein. Flax, chia, and hemp hearts are excellent choices and provide omega 3 fats, which Americans tend not to eat often enough. Flaxseed needs to be ground; otherwise, it won't be properly digested, and you won't get its benefits. Avocado brings healthy fats and creaminess to your smoothie.
- Herbs and Spices. These little beauties bring a load of antioxidants and are anti-inflammatory. A little bit of fresh parsley or cilantro will add flavor and nutrient power to your smoothies. Turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, and allspice are powerhouse spices to consider, but any herb or spice you enjoy will add benefit and flavor. Using just a tiny amount of spice can boost flavor and provide the antioxidants your body needs.
- Probiotics and prebiotics – support your gut microbiome, and you support your health. Probiotics are in cultured dairy such as yogurt, cottage cheese and kefir. Or, you could empty a probiotic capsule into the mix. Prebiotics with smoothie potential include banana and wheat germ.
- Power up your smoothie by adding beetroot powder, matcha, spirulina, carob, or cocoa.
- Liquids. Water, ice, plant-based milks, dairy milk, and coconut water all work well here.
- Be mindful. Is your smoothie a significant part of your meal, or is it more of a drink? Adjust your serving size and ingredients accordingly.
All these ingredients are just as good in a smoothie bowl; just thicken it up a bit. Riced cauliflower, beans, banana, and avocado are good options here. Top it with your choice of chia or hemp seeds, ground flax, some chopped nuts, cocoa, or dark chocolate. Add a sprinkling of fresh fruit and your favorite herbs and spices, and you have a beautiful dish.
Smoothies can be a decadent dessert or a balanced meal with a plethora of phytonutrient wealth. It's up to you.
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