The Truth About Smoothies

by Karen Solomon
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The Truth About Smoothies

There can be a fine line between a smoothie and milkshake. Which one are you whirling?

Smoothies (and some juices), can be a deceitful health food. Commercial, store-bought smoothies can lug as many as 800 calories and almost 80 grams of sugar — that’s more than a can of soda! If your homemade smoothies are chock-full of juice blends, frozen desserts and more than a drizzle of honey, you’d be shocked to learn what’s really sliding up your straw. It’s probably no surprise that when Hollywood actors need to put on weight for a role, they turn to blended drinks to make it easy to ingest tons of calories.

But all smoothies needn’t be a sugar and calorie bomb. If made with care, homemade or store-bought smoothies can be a great source of fresh produce, vitamins and even protein and fiber. So what can you do to keep your daily smoothie in check? We’ve got five key tips:


Start with fresh fruit. Apples, bananas, berries and citrus all have natural sweetness that can go a long way. If you can’t find the fresh fruit you want, like mangoes or blueberries, buy them frozen, as they can also be a great source of fruit without additional sugar — and frozen fruit makes a smoothie cool and thick. Fruit juices are a distant second choice, as they have been drained of their dietary fiber before bottling. Avoid juice blends, juice cocktails or nectars, as all of them have added sugar or corn syrup.



Mix vegetables in with your sweet fruits to pack in extra vitamins with less sugar. Leafy greens like kale or collards are a great addition, but if the bitter taste is too much, go with cool cucumbers, fresh spinach or take on the peppery kick of watercress or arugula. Beets and carrots also offer tremendous sweetness and color with loads of fiber and other nutrients. Know that a handful of frozen cauliflower works like ice and adds almost zero flavor.


Ice cream, froyo and cookies? Now you’re really making a milkshake! For a chocolate-y flavor, try real cacao powder, which provides  a dose of fiber and magnesium at just 12 calories per tablespoon. For added protein, calcium and a creamier mouthfeel, go with plain yogurt or lowfat milk. A combination of pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds and/or chia seeds also help to make your smoothie feel more like a meal. Nuts, nut butters and coconut should be used sparingly, but they’re great sources of protein to help you feel full. If you’re going to use processed protein boosts and powders, carefully read the labels and serving sizes to know what you’re eating — don’t just scoop with abandon.



It’s tempting to make a smoothie taste better with added honey, agave or maple syrup, but all are simply sources of sugar. Train your tongue to get its sweetness from fresh fruit. Another trick to avoid sugar is it perk up the flavor of your smoothie with blend-ins like cinnamon, fresh, peeled ginger or turmeric or a dash of cayenne as a way to ween yourself off of the sweet stuff with a dose of spice.


When it comes to smoothies, think small. Don’t fill your blender with more ingredients than you would normally eat at one sitting. That 24-ounce mall smoothie may look tempting, but you’re better off with a small smoothie and a tall water to help quench your thirst. Making wise choices before you whirl — including a sensible 12-ounce serving — is your ticket to keeping the calories and sugar at bay.

About the Author

Karen Solomon

Karen is the author of Asian Pickles; Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It; and Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It (Ten Speed Press/Random House). Her writing and recipes have appeared on, in Fine Cooking, Prevention, Men’s Health, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Yoga Journal and the San Francisco Chronicle. You can also find her leading food tours for Edible Excursions through her neighborhood in San Francisco’s Mission District.


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