Smoothies. The name itself expresses what smoothies are all about: Silky smooth and comforting, deliciously decadent and filling.
The world of smoothies is large and growing fast, with many recipes as well as a variety of ready-made options available at hand. (9)
If you have a well-stocked pantry and freezer/fridge and an efficient blender, the sky’s the limit. However, like everything else in life, moderation is key. Too much of a good thing can become a bad thing, and smoothies are no exception.
What are Smoothies?
A Smoothie is a blended drink that is thick in texture and yet has a smooth consistency because the ingredients have been blended very well. Smoothies are made by blending a milk/water base with other ingredients, fresh and frozen, to create a smooth concoction. (8)
What goes into your blender?
Smoothies can look quite different depending on the choice of ingredients. Most are classified into two categories: milk-based vs. water-based. As the names imply, milk-based rely on a base of milk, such as cow’s milk / almond milk, and have a creamy texture like that of a milkshake. Water-based smoothies, which can sometimes also be referred to as ‘green smoothies’, rely on a base of water or juice, such as lemons or carrots, and are usually high in leafy green veggies such as spinach or kale, so their texture can be more chunky and not as creamy, like that of a thick lemonade.
Typical smoothie ingredients for both types include:
- The liquid base: cow’s milk, almond milk, oat milk, soy milk, coconut milk, lemon juice, carrot juice, coconut water , plain water or ice chips. Enough liquid is added to ensure that the ingredients blend well, and the final product is drinkable.
- Frozen fruits, fresh fruits, or a mix of both: strawberries, bananas, kiwis, pineapples, mangoes, apples, blueberries, and other mixed berries.
- Leafy greens or other easily blended/juiced veggies, such as spinach, kale, beets, and carrots.
- Soft ingredients such as Greek yogurt, cottage cheese or silken tofu.
- Other ingredients such as plant extracts, seeds like Chia seeds, Flaxseeds, nuts, or their butters (like peanut butter or almond butter), as well as grains (such as oatmeal), herbs, spices, some plant roots (such as ginger), and powders such as Matcha powder and protein powders (vegan and animal based).
- Natural and artificial sweeteners, such as honey, agave nectar, maple syrup, stevia extract, and cane sugar. Need to be careful here as the amount and type of sweetener used plays a big role in defining the caloric value and effect of a smoothie on our bodies.
Some ingredients will mesh well together, while others not so much. It’s important to consider not only the flavor but the nutritional profile of any smoothie recipe, to figure out what works best for you. (13) What are your goals? Are you trying to increase or reduce your calorie intake? Are you doing a restrictive cleanse? Depending on your purpose, smoothies can either benefit your efforts or sabotage them.
Smoothies, yay or nay?
As mentioned earlier, there’s no denying that smoothies have picked up in popularity in recent years (9), and have become associated with wellness, cleanses and diet programs. But are they actually any good for you?
The simple answer is: Yes, But there is a caveat. Not all smoothies are created equal, and this is where it can get tricky.(14)
Because of their smooth texture and delicious flavors, smoothies can be consumed on-the-go, digested easily and absorbed thoroughly and quickly.(16) While that makes them ideal for a quick breakfast or snack, it also means you can gulp down an entire meal’s worth of calories, without eating a single bite.
For example, a smoothie that is rich in peanut butter, bananas and includes a high-fat cream or yogurt, may be very nutritious and filling, but could pack a walloping 700 calories or more in one glass. If you get into the habit of making and drinking smoothies blindly, it can hurt your weight loss and wellness efforts. (16)
With some care and planning, and by selecting ingredients that are high in fibre and nutrients, and low in calories, smoothies are a wonderful time saver, a healthy meal substitution, and a delicious way to get a variety of food into your diet.
In a study published on PUBMED (1), participants were put on a weight loss diet and replaced two of their daily meals with a pre-determined smoothie. The study measured the participants’ satiety levels after consuming the smoothies, as well their general well being and amount of weight loss at the end of the study, and found the results supportive of the use of smoothies as part of a weight loss and improving wellness program. (1)
Benefits of smoothies include:
Upping fibre intake
It is important to get sufficient fibre in our diet, yet most of us fail to do so. (11) By drinking smoothies that are high in fibre and made with fresh produce, most people can fulfill the required quota of fibre in their diet in an easy and delicious way. One smoothie can carry the fibre equivalent of two large salads, and can be chugged down in half the time, making it an easy choice for upping fibre intake for people on the move.
Ensuring five a day
While fruits and veggies can be satisfying to munch on, seasonal availability and lack of time can make it challenging to get the required five a day number of servings.(10) Smoothies solve this problem by utilizing frozen items. Frozen produce is flash frozen right after harvest so it retains all nutrients and benefits and can last in the freezer for a long time. Smoothies ensure we get adequate servings of fresh produce in a delicious and fun way, all year long.
A healthy option vs. the vending machine
Consuming a smoothie is far more satisfying and beneficial to our bodies than grabbing a snickers bar. Because smoothies can be pre-blended and stored easily in take-away bottles they make a great snack alternative to the vending machine.
Savvy parents’ helper
Parents sometimes resort to smoothies to introduce leafy greens and other veggies and healthy ingredients into their children’s diet, as smoothies can conceal some of the bitter or bland flavors from their little picky eaters.
Blender vs. blunder
If you have decided to put your blender to good use and incorporate smoothies into your daily routine, you are in good company. You may be wondering how to proceed? A quick rule of thumb would be everything in moderation. Whether your smoothies are homemade, or store bought, watch out for these common blunders!
One bottle or glass of smoothie may contain several servings, not just one. Remember that serving size can affect the number of calories and nutrients you consume, so consume the appropriate amount of servings of your smoothie and save the rest for later.
Too much sugar
You may be tempted to enhance your smoothie’s flavor by adding extra sugar or sweeteners, as many manufacturers do. While adding a teaspoon of honey or into your smoothie is not too bad, some recipes and bottled products contain well over that amount, sometimes in the form of fruit juice. Adding a lot of sugar, not only changes the caloric value and nutritional profile of the smoothie, it can have a negative effect on your body, causing your insulin levels to spike and increasing the levels of inflammation in your body(12), adversely affecting your health.(14)
Too much of one food group
Nutritionists recommend preparing a well-balanced plate at every meal, with a balance of lean protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and fibres.(13) The same principle applies to smoothies. If we are not careful, smoothies we concoct might be low on protein, high in simple carbohydrates, or high in saturated fats. An unbalanced smoothie with too much of one food group, could sabotage healthy eating goals and cause more harm than good. (13)
Too much fruit
Sometimes it is too easy to incorporate a lot of fruit into our smoothies to create a flavorful drink. Smoothies can get to be too heavy on the fruits and as a result, have too much fructose, the fruit sugar found in most fruits, which would derail healthy eating goals. (14)
Watch out for Shelf/Fridge life
Once the ingredients for a smoothie have been blended, the clock starts ticking on their viability. Even when a smoothie is bottled and vacuum-sealed by a manufacturer, once opened, it expires quickly. If stored properly, smoothies can keep after blending for some time (till evening or the next day) (15) but most need to be quickly refrigerated, especially milk-based ones. Smoothies can go bad and if they do, they should not be consumed. Always smell and taste your smoothie before you drink it, and if in doubt, opt to throw it out.
Recipes for success
Even when starting with the best intentions, it’s easy to wind up with a smoothie that is too high on carbohydrates and too low on protein, or to come up with one that delivers nutritionally but not so much in terms of flavor. In terms of best practice, what most healthy smoothies have in common are:
Starting off with a good base
Successful recipes usually rely on a good base such as skimmed milk or Greek yogurt. Choose a base that is high in calcium, protein and low in saturated fats.
Incorporate successful combinations
Strawberries and bananas. Cocoa powder and peanut butter. Vanilla extract and raspberries. These combinations are known for tasting good together. If you are unsure of what goes well together, think back to meals you’ve had where you have combined ingredients together, and draw some inspiration from them.
Make it interesting
Sometimes throwing in a pinch of spice like cinnamon or turmeric, or a piece of ginger root, is all that’s needed to bring a bland smoothie to life.
The internet is full of recipes that suit every taste and every preference, so be sure to look around and try different things. Happy blending!