The Truth About Smoothies

Karen Solomon
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 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.


10 responses to “The Truth About Smoothies”

  1. Avatar janice northan says:

    Try using unsweetened cashew milk. Only 35calories per cup, and adds a creamy taste and texture.

  2. Avatar Paul Hardy says:

    I give up earning a living at shopritte and afterwards right now I’m making $75-97$ p/hour. How? I am only working via internet! My employment didn’t actually make me happy so I chose to take a chance on something new…after just 4 years it wasn’t easy to resign my day employment however right now I couldn’t be pleased.>>> S.ID/1dR

  3. Avatar Policywonky says:

    It’s “wean,” not “ween.”

  4. Avatar Jerome Barry says:

    60 grams kale. 4 oz whole-milk kefir, 1 frozen banana, 1 oz frozen berries, 30 g PB2, and 1 oz hulled hemp, ice. Blend. It’s not sweet, not bitter, not tart, but pleasant with good vitamins and macros. 350 or so calories depending on the size of the banana.

  5. Avatar Kathy Alexander says:

    I use a 2 cups frozen unsweetened fruit,strawberries ,black cherries,blueberries,mango pineapple…and 1/4-1/2 cup low fat cottage cheese!Fill to line of fruit with water…then blend!!!!!!!!This is my breakfast,I started adding cottage cheese for protein,instead of flavored yogurt,because of the sugar…works for me…Oh I add splenda for sweetness!!!!Fills me up,and gives me my fruits for the day…

  6. Avatar Judy says:

    I start the day blending a ripe banana, fresh seasonal fruit or avocado with coconut water and add some almonds to rough chop a bit. Then I pour into a tall glass, stir in two tablespoons of chia seeds. Nothing beats this to alkalinize your system!

  7. Avatar Jeff says:

    I use a cup and a half of milk, throw in a banana or orange or some frozen fruit. I then put in a cucumber, a lot of broccoli, or arugula, or kale, (just add lots of a fibrous green veggie, I mix it up each time)some oats, a handful of nuts, a couple of scoops of protein powder. If you put in kale or something else that has a bitter taste squeeze the juice in from a couple of lemons or limes, the acid removes the bitterness. To add flavor I sometimes add a green bell pepper, cinnamon, chia seeds, and other healthy spices. It will be a little thick but it has a lot of fiber and some protein and fat to keep you from getting hungry. The sweetness comes from the fruit so it is healthy. It will fill the blender but I have some glasses with lids that I use so when I make the smoothy I have breakfast made for the next 3 or 4 days, just keep them in the fridge. Depending on how think you make it, the smoothie might seperate the next day, just stir and it is back to original consistancy and flavor.

  8. Avatar Susan Townsend says:

    I love smoothies. I have learned to be very picky about the ones I buy – no added sweeteners, everything nonfat or very low fat, additives like protein powder only if I really need that (such as just came from a workout, need an on-the-way-to-the-next-thing protein snack), mix of fruit and veggies. Of course I’d rather make my own. I keep one-cup bags of cut-up fruit in my freezer to throw in with almond milk or tea (prefer green tea, chai, or rooibos) plus veggies. I also like to add vanilla, cinnamon, or nutmeg. Fresh basil is a really good thing to add. Fennel and ginger are also on my go-to list.

    Secret weapon: avocado, however much your food plan allows, adds a creamy feel to a smoothie!

  9. Avatar Laura Daniels says:

    My standard smoothie includes
    1 fruit (RIPE banana or 1 cup or strawberry or melon or pineapple)
    6-8 oz of Coconut H20 (making sure that this is the ONLY ingredient in the container)
    2 handfuls Spinach or Kale spring mix greens
    3/4 to 1 C of 0% PLAIN Fage Greek Yogurt
    1 Tb Jiff natural Peanut butter (I use this type because it’s inexpensive and I do not want to stir my PB every AM to mix it up)
    0.5 Tb chia seeds.

    Blend it, then I add ice and, the kicker, Pumpkin Spice, yes all year long, not just the fall 🙂

  10. Avatar Rosa Ibarra-Mesta says:

    I like the zone protein smoothie ( like at juice it up):
    -12 to16oz (depending on thickness you want) Unsweetened Soy, almond or(chocolate almond) or coconut
    -a half a cup of vanilla frozen yogurt
    – a 1/2 frozen banana or fresh
    -a tbsp of chunky peanut butter
    – half an apple

    I love this drink few calories but most of All I lost weight when replacing breakfast with this smoothies and of course changing other foods too.

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