Is your smoothie as healthy as you think it is? Smoothies can be a great source of nutrients. But they can also be a source of extra sugar and calories.
“If you’re not making them right, smoothies can be a source of empty calories, leading to unwanted weight gain,” says Lindsey Wolhford, employee wellness dietitian at MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Extra calories can lead to obesity, and that can increase your cancer risk.
Follow these tips to make sure you’re packing your smoothies full of vitamins and nutrients – not extra sugar.
Watch the portion size
“One of the biggest mistakes I see people make with smoothies is making them too large,” Wolhford says. Keep your smoothies around 8 to 12 ounces, and consider how the calories in your smoothie contribute to your daily calorie intake.
Opt for smoothies over juice
Juicing fruits and vegetables strips them of many of their nutrients. Often, you’re left with high quantities of sugar and not much else. By blending the fruits and vegetables into a smoothie, you still maintain a lot of the nutrients, including fiber, which will fill you up and help you digest more slowly.
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make with smoothies is making them too large.
Don’t forget your veggies
Even if you pick a smoothie over juice, you’ll want to be careful your smoothie doesn’t contain too much sugar.
“The sugar in fruits is naturally occurring, which is preferable to added sugar, but it’s still sugar,” Wolhford says. Sugar is an empty calorie, meaning it offers no nutritional benefit.
Instead of making fruit smoothies, add in some vegetables, which typically contain less sugar than fruits. Beets, carrots, avocado, pumpkin and sweet potato will all bring a sweetness to your smoothie, but they have less sugar than many fruits.
Be careful with protein powders
Protein powders can be a good way to get the protein you need, but it’s important not to go overboard.
“Stick to 30 grams of protein or less in a smoothie,” Wolhford says. “Your body can’t process more than that at one time.”
Keep in mind that your body can also use nutrients from food better than it can from powders, so look for other protein sources. Whole food sources of protein include tofu, kefir, peanut butter and nuts. Wolhford recommends making cashew cream by blending cashews that have been soaked in water for a serving of a protein and healthy fat. If you’re using yogurt for protein, make sure it’s low in fat and doesn’t contain added sugar.
Go for variety
Different fruits and vegetables offer different nutrients and different benefits. So don’t just drink the same smoothie every day. Switch it up to ensure that you’re getting different vitamins and antioxidants.
Add in some extra nutrients
Take your smoothie to the next level by adding other ingredients to make them even healthier. Try blending in flax meal for some additional fiber and omega-3s, a type of healthy fat. Or sprinkle in chia seeds for some plant-based protein.
Follow these tips to make sure your smoothie gives you vitamins and nutrients – not just calories.