I just want to start out by saying I love smoothies! Not only are smoothies extremely delicious and quick to make but there are so many different types that you’re guaranteed to eventually find a combination you like. And, there are endless recipes to create your dream smoothie.
Smoothies are perfect, go-to drink for people trying to lead healthy lifestyles or those that want to eat clean on the go. When you add the right ingredients, smoothies can also be a great post-run or recovery drink after workouts. They can be great for weight loss, but I think the best part about smoothies is that they’re fast and can pack a lot of nutrition into an easy-to-consume meal.
Unfortunately, in today’s foodie scene, store-bought smoothies or smoothie chains give this awesome drink a bad name. Don’t be fooled because not every smoothie out there is healthy for you. I want to debunk this myth and tell you exactly how and why smoothies can be unhealthy – and how you can make your own, super healthy smoothie at home using my go-to smoothie recipe.
So, are smoothies healthy?
The short answer is, YES! Smoothies can be super healthy (and delicious) and they’re great for a quick, nutrient-packed breakfast since you can fill them with fruits and vegetables. I particularly like them after a long run or hard workout when my stomach isn’t quite ready for whole foods but I know I need to refuel. I would drink a smoothie after nearly every long run during training for the Boston Marathon last year!
What’s important to remember is that not all smoothies are created equal. Just because it’s called a “smoothie” doesn’t automatically make it good for you. The ingredients that go into a smoothie are key to making it either a healthy, nutritious drink or another glorified junk food.
For example, if you want a healthy smoothie for clean eating or weight loss – you most definitely should NOT have a smoothie with ice cream or sherbet in it not be having one with ice cream (or sherbet) in it. If you want that for dessert, sure, go for it! For a healthy, filling, satiating meal? Not your best option.
It’s actually pretty easy to tell if a smoothie is healthy or unhealthy.
When you add nutritious ingredients that are beneficial for your body – it’s likely a healthy smoothie. If the right ingredients are added, smoothies can be nutritious, delicious, and filling. If the ingredient list looks like it has a lot of sugar, that’s not going to be the healthiest option.
So, let’s talk about the types of sugar you might see in a smoothie. Does it have lots of added sugars (e.g. honey, maple syrup, etc.), fruit juice (stripped of satiating fiber), excessive servings of fruit (1 banana, 1 apple, AND 1 mango, etc.) and sherbet on top of that? Not the healthiest option. Does it have a reasonable amount of fiber-filled whole fruit that’s balanced with healthy fats and ideally some greens? That’s a much healthier option.
That may seem like an extreme example but the first sentence is literally the ingredients of a smoothie I just looked at from a popular smoothie chain. 🙂
How to make healthy smoothies
Keep the sugar content of your smoothie low
Sugar-loading smoothies is just way too easy to do, so it’s important to watch what you are putting in it. Many whole fruits already have a high sugar content, so you probably don’t need any extra added sugars (like honey, stevia, or agave). I know they make the smoothie more sweet, but loading up with sugar first thing in the morning can make your blood sugar crash, leaving you tired and hungry soon after you eat.
Some smoothie recipes or smoothie shops like to use fruit juice as the liquid of choice for taste and for blending. But fruit juice (along with any added sugars in them) can spike your blood sugar levels unnecessarily. If I want a fruity taste in my smoothie, I always use the full fruit to reap all the fiber benefits rather than just using the fruit juice. If a smoothie recipe calls for juice, I’ll use 1/4 the amount or skip it altogether, replacing it with almond milk or frozen fruit and water instead to help keep the sugar content down.
Now, the one time you may want to use juice is if you need to up your carbs to support your level of training. (Read more here about the case for carbs and how many athletes need!) It can be hard to get the amount of carbs you need during marathon training, for example, and fruit juice and/or added sugars like honey can help with that. But unless you are exercising intensely and for a long duration, you likely don’t need that extra dose of carbs and sugar from fruit juice.
Don’t be afraid of adding fruit and veggies in your smoothie
I love, love adding veggies into my smoothies. They add more flavor depth and obviously vegetables are SO good for you, packed with vitamins and minerals that are essential for health. It’s a rare day that I want to eat a salad for breakfast, but dumping greens into a smoothie basically lets me have the benefits of a salad without munching on kale at 9 a.m. Blending greens into a smoothie is a super easy way to get your green veggies for the day.
Spinach or kale is my go-to greens of choice for smoothies since they both blend well and don’t alter the taste. Spinach will be more neutral than kale so I recommend starting with that leafy green if you’re new to greens in your smoothie. I’ve even added small amounts of cauliflower and broccoli to my smoothies so if you’re feeling brave, experiment a bit!
Think outside the box with your ingredients
I love adding fun (and nutritious) ingredients into my smoothie recipes. One ingredient that I love and highly recommend is nut butter. Peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, and even pumpkin seed or sunflower seed butter are phenomenal in smoothies. Nut butters add good fats and protein to any smoothie. They also add another layer of flavor in the mix and the healthy fats help you feel full for longer.
One fun ingredient I like to add to my smoothies are chia seeds. Seeds, in general, are packed with essential amino acids and minerals. Chia seeds are a great choice for smoothies because they don’t have a strong flavor and can be added to any smoothie recipe without worrying about changing the taste.
While adding fruit to a smoothie isn’t revolutionary, adding in some frozen fruit can make a big difference. Using frozen bananas in particular versus fresh ones makes a BIG difference in how creamy it will get. Nice cream is a thing for a reason.
Another great thing to add to your smoothie is an avocado. They make smoothies VERY creamy, add fiber and healthy fats to keep you full longer. You can even use frozen avocados to save avocados on the brink of the garbage.
Get your protein in other ways
I know protein powders seem to be everybody’s go-to for a smoothie ingredient – but it isn’t the only protein on the block. I love protein powder as much as the next gal (or guy) but I like adding natural protein in my smoothies, too.
Some great protein options are unsweetened plain greek yogurt (this also helps make for a thicker smoothie), peanut butter or almond butter, hemp seeds, and dairy milk. I don’t use greek yogurt or dairy milk in mine since it upsets my stomach, but if you tolerate it, dairy will add protein to your smoothie.
My Healthy Smoothie Recipe
I’ve included one of my all time favorite smoothie recipes below. It’s very simple but delicious. You can follow this version or make some of the additions I outlined above, like trying cauliflower, avocado or a different nut butter. This particular smoothie is packed with protein, greens, healthy sweetness, and a creamy taste that will leave you full and satisfied.
- 2 handfuls of fresh spinach
- 1/2 cup of frozen blueberries
- 1 heaping tablespoon of peanut butter
- 1 scoop of protein powder
- 2-4 ice cubes
- 1 cups of milk of choice + more as necessary to blend
Add all ingredients to a high-powered blender. Make sure the protein powder isn’t on the bottom since that may prevent it from fully blending.
Blend for 1-2 minutes until creamy and well-blended.
Yields one smoothie.
That’s it! And that’s what I love most about smoothies – they are SO easy and quick to make!
- Use frozen berries in the winter when fresh ones aren’t available. It’s more economical and the flavor will be better. And frozen berries give the smoothie a creamier texture.
- I often freeze almond milk into cubes and use those instead of ice. Sometimes ice can make the smoothie watery and this helps prevent that.
- I like both vanilla and chocolate protein with this. My favorite brand is Garden of Life Raw Protein.
- This is a good template to experiment with. Try subbing in other fruits and veggies to find your own personal combo you love!
- I SWEAR by a Vitamix blender for creating the best smoothies. It makes them incredibly creamy and they last forever. I’ve had mine for over 8 years, use it almost daily and it’s still going strong!
You can see more smoothie recipes here!
Are you ready to start making your smoothies healthy? What’s your favorite combo?