It may be fresh and fruity, but is it worse than a soda?
Sure, the idea of a smoothie seems healthy and refreshing—fruit is all-natural, right? But, before you take a sip, do you really know what’s in your favorite blended concoction?
Sodas in Disguise
As concern about sodas and high fructose corn syrup continue to take center stage, fruit smoothies are popping up on nearly every fast food menu, and the pre-bottled options seem to have multiplied exponentially in the grocery store— and gas station— coolers in the last couple of years.
While these are marketed as healthier alternatives, what you probably don’t realize is that on average, they contain the same amount of sugar as a regular soda.
The UNC-Chapel Hill researcher who blew the whistle on the dangers of soda in a 2004 landmark study is now warning against sugar-laden smoothies and fruit juices. Barry Pipkin told the Guardian, “Smoothies and fruit juices are the new danger. It’s kind of the next step in the evolution of the battle.”
According to Pipkin and his research partner George Bray, since their 2004 study was released, the big soft drink giants like Coke and Pepsi have been buying up fruit smoothie companies to diversify their market shares. In response to Pipkin’s latest study, these manufacturers claim that smoothies “contain the same amount of sugar that you would find in an equivalent amount of whole fruit.” But what’s important to ask yourself is how much “whole” fruit is in that smoothie, or a more accurate question, would you eat 6 oranges in one sitting?
Fast Food Options? Not so Fast.
Taking this all into account, grabbing a smoothie at Jamba Juice or even McDonalds may seem like your best option in a pinch. However, it’s important to keep a few factors in mind.
- Check the ingredients. Most chains and all pre-packaged brands provide nutritional information online, so if it’s not available in store, do a quick search on your smartphone to check ingredients and grams of sugar. Besides the fruit itself, watch for honey, turbinado, syrups, sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, etc. It all adds up. And when it comes to protein, say no to soy!
- Diet or light doesn’t mean healthier. Yes, the calorie count will be lower, but that’s usually thanks to loads of splenda or aspartame.
Consider this…A 20 oz Strawberry Hulk Smoothie at Smoothie King (with 990 calories, 52 grams of fat and 19 grams of saturated fat) racks up more calories than a Burger King Double Cheeseburger with a medium order of fries!
If you’re a smoothie fan like me, the good news is there’s no need to be discouraged. However, unless you’re lucky enough to have a local smoothie bar that’s conscious, you’re probably going to have to blend it up yourself.
Anatomy of the Ideal Smoothie
Here’s what the make up of a healthy smoothie looks like:
- Water (not fruit juice!)
For a true pick-me-up that’s not purely a blood sugar spiking cocktail, protein powder is a must. Aim for as close to 20 grams as you can and look for non-denatured whey protein or plant-based sources like rice and pea. Avoid soy-based products at all costs—beyond its estrogenic properties, 91% of US soy crops are now genetically modified. And, as with anything, always read the label for chemicals, fillers and sugar!
- Low Glycemic Fruits
Avoid overloading your smoothie with especially sugary fruits like bananas, melons and grapes. Instead go for low glycemic berries (any variety), apples, peaches, cherries or pears. As a rule of thumb, a serving size of fruit should be roughly 1 cup.
For extra health benefits, consider these add-ins:
For tons of great smoothie ideas and combos, check out our 31-Day Smoothie Calendar!